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Teaching with Crossword Puzzles

On this day in 1913, the first known crossword puzzle was published in an edition of the New York World newspaper. Its inventor, journalist Arthur Wynne, called it a “Word-Cross Puzzle.” The title was accidentally flipped a few weeks later due to a typesetting error, but it ended up sticking! Check out Wynne’s very first Word-Cross Puzzle here. (Can you solve it?)

The first crossword puzzle

Games and puzzles have an inherent appeal to most people, but especially children and teenagers. By employing them in the education arena, educators can sharpen students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Puzzles can also be used to help reinforce skills in subject areas such as English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. Crossword puzzles are especially helpful with vocabulary retention for any subject. Therefore, crossword puzzles can also be useful with ELL/ESL students as they try to retain new words in a different language.

Providing definitions in the crossword puzzle format challenges students to explore past experiences, recall recently learned information, and manipulate vocabularies to find the right word. The process of filling in a crossword puzzle encourages independence, creativity, and active engagement.

Here are a few key elements to consider when designing your own crossword puzzles for the classroom:

  • Use one word answers. Trying to squeeze multiple words into one answer can be tough. So if you’re trying to get students to fill in “Pythagorean theorem,” just use “Pythagorean” as the answer, and use this as the hint: “This theorem: a2 + b2 = c2.”
  • Try to compile words that make sense together. It is tougher to remember unrelated elements than it is to remember a group of somewhat similar elements. For example, with ELL/ESL students, try creating different puzzles with only food words, or just action verbs, or only months of the year.
  • Provide adequate and concise hints. If you use similar vocabulary words, it’s easy to confuse students with vague hints that could relate to more than one word. Therefore, use keywords in your hints that relate to only one answer.
  • Have students create their own crossword puzzle. This is a more engaging task than simply filling in the answers to a premade puzzle, and promotes creativity and critical thinking skills.

In honor of National Crossword Puzzle Day, we’ve created our own Where Learning Clicks crossword. So before you set off to build puzzles for your students, you can exercise your brain and test your knowledge of some common education and technology terms! For many clues, we’ve linked to additional hints in our previous articles.


Answers can be found at the bottom of the article.

Crossword Puzzle Clues


1. Using virtual education to help close achievement ______
4. Instructional strategy that reverses traditional homework and the classroom environment
5. Education that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
10. Learning in which content, pace, structure, are tailored for individual students
13. The ideal ratio of devices to students
15. Monitor and analyze this to track student progress
16. Use the _________ goals framework when planning an online learning program
17. Webb’s ______; a model that defines the depth of understanding of tasks within an activity
19. “C” word for learning in terms of specific skills mastered rather than time spent in class
20. Learning Management System


2. Adding art to the mix in clue 5
3. “A” word for the type of learning in which content and pacing are adjusted to respond to the level of the user
6. Bloom’s __________; a set of hierarchal models used to classify educational learning objectives
7. Response to Intervention
8. Using game mechanics to drive participation, engagement, and motivation
9. Learning that combines online content and instruction with traditional classroom teaching and experiences.
11. Education act signed into law by President Obama in December 2015
12. “P” word for the art or science of teaching – Look for the hint in a book title!
14. Bringing technology and education together
18. International Association for K-12 Online Learning, which hosts a large annual symposium



Jaramillo, Carlos Mario Zapata, Losada, Bell Manrique, and Fekula, Michael J. “Designing and Solving Crossword Puzzles: Examining Efficacy in a Classroom Exercise,” Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning 39 (2012): 213-222. https://journals.tdl.org/absel/index.php/absel/article/download/86/83.

Mohammadi, Mohammad. “Impact of Crossword Puzzle Teaching on Vocabulary Retention.” Academia.edu. 2016. Accessed December 15, 2016. http://www.academia.edu/11003999/IMPACT_OF_CROSSWORD_PUZZLE_TEACHING_ON_VOCABULARY_RETENTION.

“Teaching with Puzzles.” Education World. 2016. Accessed December 15, 2016. http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/strategy/strategy064.shtml.

About the Author


Ashleigh Lutz

Ashleigh graduated from Arizona State University with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She spent over three years in higher education developing resources and helping students succeed in online courses. During her tenure at Edgenuity, Ashleigh was eager to support Where Learning Clicks and the team’s commitment to helping teachers and students meet important goals and explore their passions. In addition to writing, a few of Ashleigh’s favorite things include rock climbing, chocolate, and cats.