Phonics crosswords

I have a student working on vowel spellings who’s keen to do crosswords, so I went looking for ones with words organised by spelling pattern.

I found lots of crosswords in the book “Activities for Successful Spelling – the essential guide” by Philomena Ott.

I’ve had this book for a long time, but I found incorrect information in the introduction e.g. it says “oo” as in “cook” and “oo” as in “pool” are diphthongs, and that some people are auditory learners, others kinaesthetic learners etc, so I was put off, and after having spent a lot of money on this book, haven’t really used it.

Here’s a crossword from this book:

Crossword that doesn't crossThis crossword provides practice with “ay” as in “bray, betray, jay, hay” etc. So it ticks my “does this activity make a point about spelling?” box.

It does not include the words “says”, “kayak” or “quay”, another bonus when working with beginners. I’m always amazed at how many spelling activities focus on what words look like, and ignore what they sound like.

It also has cloze clues,  which learners often find easier than definitions, and which provide helpful information about both word meaning and use. However, learners with vocabulary and/or word-finding difficulties would probably need a word bank to complete this activity.

Problems with clues

Many students with language difficulties won’t know all the vocabulary in this crossword (e.g. bray), and some of the clues aren’t much help in Australia where we have parrots and wrens in bush, not jays in woodland. I also noticed, flicking through some of the other crosswords in this book, that other clues include, “Mrs Thatcher held the … when she was Prime Minister” and “Sir Steven Redgrave has … more gold medals in the Olympic Games than any other sportsman”. So they don’t translate well to 2014 Australia.

Some of the clues contain words with spellings which come later in my teaching sequence than the target spelling, for example the “ey” in the word “donkey”, the “air” and “or” in “airport”. So this crossword assumes that the learner can read pretty well, which many poor spellers can do, because our education system focuses on reading more than spelling. If given equal emphasis and taught well, these skills should mirror each other fairly closely.

Call yourself a crossword?

My other problem with these crosswords is that the words don’t cross. How are these even crosswords? They’re just lists of words in boxes. Now, that does make me cross.

I like to introduce vowel spellings in one-syllable words first (play, clay, hay etc.) , and then move on to use them in longer words and with other tricky spellings (betray, delay, driveway). However, it’s hard to make a good crossword using only short words. There simply can’t be much crossing without at least a few longer words.

A word list would allow some longer words to be included without increasing the difficulty level much, and also prevent errors from being practised. The word list could be covered up while writing if visual copying rather than sounding out is a major problem.

Make your own crosswords

I decided to try making my own crosswords, and this turned out to be fairly easy thanks to the amazing internets.

There are a number of websites where you can make your own crosswords for free then download them (some allow you to make them, but then it’s not obvious how to download them other than by taking a screenshot), and the words actually cross, easily peasily.

I tried out a site called The Teacher’s Corner, and was able to make a version of the above crossword in about 10 minutes:

ay words crosswordHow cool is that? I even impressed myself.

The aim of this activity is to maximise my student’s opportunities to successfully read and write “ay” words, not to dazzle with cryptic cleverness.

It still needs more work to make the clues 100% decodable for learners whose reading isn’t ahead of their spelling, but it will do for the student I’m thinking of right now. Writing decodable clues, or any other meaningful, interesting decodable text is very difficult. Let’s not pretend it’s not, or forget to take our hats off to everyone who does it well.

So now I have another task for my summer holidays list: making up crosswords that provide systematic practice with sound-spelling correspondences, with at least 95% decodable clues (I’ll use the sequence in my workbooks) so learners can tackle them independently.

I want the wordlists more separate from the crossword, so that they can be used as an optional extra/hint (e.g. folded over and only referred to if stuck), so will have to muck around with different websites to see if there is one that makes this easy to do. Or maybe someone reading this can point me in the right direction.

Next I went looking for free phonics word searches on the internet, and found some promising-looking ones at Boggles Word ESL. These start with a word-to-picture matching activity, which ensures learners’ vocabularies are engaged, as well as the parts of their brains dealing with sounds and letters. Nice. However, they seem to only contain a small handful of target words in a very large grid. Anyone out there know of ones that cut down the grid size, and thus speed up the discovery rate?

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One thought on “Phonics crosswords

  1. caroline marks

    Hi, just found you and will be delving into your stuff! Great thanks!! You made me laugh, “call yourself a crossword”!!! Indeed. What I do is to take a screen shot of the puzzle and then I paste into Publisher (that’s my preferred choice anyway) and then I crop it and do it again and crop and you have the two parts separate. Hope that helps!

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