Purpose of word finds for students

by Crystal
(New Jersey)

Do word finds really help students improve their spelling?

Hey there Crystal. Excellent question. The reason I really like this question is that people tend to assume that just about any game or puzzle that involves words is automatically great for spelling and vocabulary. Not true. Did you know that some of the best English-language Scrabble players in the world are from Thailand and barely speak a word of English?!

Framing a word game or puzzle to enhance its educational value takes work...

To make a word find (at Word-Buff, I usually call them Word Searches, incidentally) really helpful for improving spelling, the puzzle maker has to put in some effort. You have to do things that force the solver to scrutinize the spelling of each word on their list. How?

Here are two tips for making your puzzles better spelling helpers...

1. Make sure you choose word lists containing frequently misspelled words. Don't give the student a chance to relax and go into autopilot. Every word should force the solver to think twice about how it's spelled.

2. Include carefully chosen 'red-herrings' (i.e. tempting detours) in the puzzle. For example, if one of the words on your list is ACCOMMODATE, make sure you include some common misspellings in the grid too - like a version with one C or one M, or both even! (See the picture I've included at the top of this post.)

Both these practices make it harder to produce a word search puzzle, but they force the solver to constantly compare a sequence of letters in the grid with the 'correct' spelling of the word given in the list, making it much more likely that the correct spelling will consciously register.

Like most things, if you take the easy road and just churn out a bunch of quick word finds, the students will cruise on through and probably not learn much. If you construct the puzzle really carefully, it can have a tremendous impact on spelling.

I hope this idea is helpful to you Crystal. And if anybody else has got any tips or opinions on 'word finds and spelling' please chirp in using the comments link below this post.

All the best,

P.S. If you're a bit time-strapped, like me, and use puzzle helpers (here's the word search maker I use, for example) to build your puzzles quickly, here's a handy tip...

Input a word list that contains lots of misspellings, such as...


Let the word search maker build the grid with all the correct and incorrect spellings included.

Print out the grid for your students, but instead of using the word list containing incorrectly spelled words, just print out the word list with the correct spellings.

That's a quick way to take my advice above without doing much grunt work yourself. All you have to do is think up a bunch of common misspellings.

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