Do Spelling Word Searches Help Kids Learn to Spell?

spelling word searches

While there’s plenty of research around the benefits of crossword puzzles in the classroom, there’s little available research on the potential benefits of word searches. They have a bad reputation amongst some teachers as “busy work” with no viable research to refute it. Still, many teachers still create educational word searches on My Word Search. This suggests at least some benefit.

Spelling word searches are particularly popular. There are over over 1,000 on My Word Search alone! But do they actually help kids learn to spell?

There’s not a clear “yes” or “no” answer to this question. Based on the puzzles and commentary from teachers and researchers, the benefits word searches to improve spelling depend on how they’re used. These four concepts cover the primary ways to use word searches to improve spelling in the classroom.

1. Quality word searches require logic

First and foremost, a spelling word search needs logical parameters to help students reinforce concepts. Clark Aldrich works as a designer for educational simulations and serious games. He shared with the Chicago Tribune that any game “that gets you thinking about structure and what letters come before other letters” can help students. This, for him, includes word searches.

And that makes sense. Word searches reinforce patterns of words by requiring students to find double letters, common vowel pairings, and other such trends in English, or any language.

2. Don’t use a spelling word searches as an assessment

It’s obvious to most teachers, but spelling word searches shouldn’t  be used as assessments. And the teachers who use My Word Search seem to agree. Many of the examples on My Word Search have the word “review” in the name. A long list of words in a large puzzle requires students to focus more, such as with the review word search below.

More importantly, these puzzles should only be used as one component of a larger lesson. It sounds equally obvious, but this is also backed by research. Multiple studies have found that any learning tool works best when used in conjunction with other tools. Spelling word searches are no different.

3. Having one cohesive thread in a word list may help

Teachers must always follow the lesson plan first. However, if a spelling word search can have a word list with common elements, it may help students. A number of the spelling word searches on My Word Search focus on words with one vowel sound, or similar vowel sounds like “short vowels”.

This teacher, for example, made a word search that focuses on an “aw” sound or [ɔ], such as in the word “author” or “awful.” This way, students build their understanding of how to sound out letters in pairs rather than individually. They also develop connections between similar sounding words.

4. Age may be a factor in the benefits of spelling word searches

While spelling exercises are already more common for younger students, some age groups may benefit more from word searches than others. Very young students might not yet differentiate letters enough, or may not understand the concept of letter pairings. Older students, on the other hand, may find the exercise too trivial to be engaging. Only you will know if your class is the right age for a spelling word search.

The best way to know if spelling word searches will help your students is to try them out. If you have already added a spelling word search to your lesson plan, share what worked for your class to help inspire other teachers.

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