Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Using Crossword Puzzles for Increased Fluency, Spelling, General Knowledge

We have all probably heard about the benefits of doing crossword puzzles and similar mental exercises to stave off Alzheimer's and other disorders, but there are many other benefits to doing these fun word games. Crossword puzzles demand perfection in spelling -- spelling of not only common words, but also names and places. In addition to the demands of placing the correct answers into the grid, there are many mental demands to get to the correct answer in the first place. One must understand the cultural reference, popular quotes, crack a pun, and decipher which item is actually referred to (in the case of heteronyms). The puzzler will learn which letter combinations are the most common, possible, and probable. This will aid in not only their ability to do later puzzles, but also to spell in their own writing.

There is a great deal of "incidental learning" that takes place while doing crossword puzzles that can be very beneficial to a young, sponge-like learner. They may absorb new foreign terms that are common in their untranslated form. They may put names and events of history together. They may learn how to spell something they were previously unsure about. They will surely increase their vocabulary as they encounter words that are rarely encountered except as the synonym of a clue's answer. They will also surely pay much more attention to words that ambiguous without much context. This last point is extremely important. This new attention to detail and ability to sift through the various possible definitions of a word is an analytical skill that will aid them greatly throughout the life span.

Finally, as the puzzler looks up the items they are not sure of, they will surely come across other interesting material that will waylay them momentarily. If the puzzler asks someone else first, this is a great icebreaker that may segue into other interesting information, a "teaching moment," or just a great conversation that otherwise wouldn't have happened. So, consider adding a crossword puzzle a day to your curriculum or daily routine.

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