Crossword puzzles are ubiquitous. Everyone has seen them and most people have tried their hand at solving them at least once while in their dentist’s office or cross-country flights. Crosswords are also one of the most versatile puzzle formats for instructional use. Here are a dozen sample instructional applications of this type of puzzle:
Entry test. Create a test to check if participants have all the prerequisite information and knowledge. Convert this test into a crossword puzzle and distribute a copy to each participant as he or she arrives at the training location. At the beginning of the session form participants into teams and have them solve the puzzle as an icebreaker activity. Go through the solution to the puzzle, providing just-in-time review of the necessary content.
Interactive lecture. Prepare an outline for your presentation in the form of short-answer questions. Create a crossword puzzle based on these questions and distribute copies of this puzzle at the beginning of your lecture. Make your presentation, and stop after about 10 minutes. Ask participants to solve as much of the puzzle as possible. This interlude helps participants to review your presentation and preview the topics to come. After a suitable pause, continue with your lecture. Repeat the puzzle-solving interludes once every 10 minutes. At the end of the session, make sure that all participants have solved the entire crossword puzzle.
Jolt: MY FAULT. Prepare two sets of clues for the same crossword puzzle, one with easy clues (example: How much is four minus two?) and the other with difficult clues (example: number of planets in the solar system that take a longer time to rotate around their axes than to revolve around the sun). Make copies of the same puzzle with different sets of clues and randomly distribute them to participants. Ask everyone to solve the puzzle as soon as possible and to stand up when they have solved the entire puzzle. Participants with the set of easy clues will stand up sooner than the others. Stop the activity at this juncture and ask those who have not yet solved the puzzle how they feel. Learning point: Most people attribute failure to their incompetence rather than to external conditions.
Jolt: AMONG TEAMS. Prepare four different sets of clues for the same crossword puzzle. Assemble participants into teams and announce that all teams will solve the same puzzle but with different clues. If a team solves the puzzle within 5 minutes, it wins. The best strategy is for the teams to share their clues because the different clues to the same word makes it easier to solve. However, most teams will mistakenly assume that only the first team to solve the puzzle could win the game. After 5 minutes, explain that all teams could have worked faster if they shared the clues. Learning point: It is important to share information and other resources among different teams.
Jolt: TEAM POWER. Distribute a crossword puzzle to all participants. After 5 minutes, ask participants to stop working on the puzzle and count the number of words they have solved. Read the clues one at a time and ask participants to yell out the solution. It is very likely that no individual participant would have solved as many items as the group. Point out the wisdom of the statement, "No one of us is as smart as all of us".
Hidden message. Create a crossword puzzle with some of the clues printed in italics. After solving the puzzle, the words for the italicized clues reveal an important message.
Construct and solve. At the end of the training session, divide participants into two teams. Supply each team with squared paper (or crossword puzzle software). Ask the teams to construct a crossword puzzle using key words from the training content. Ask teams to exchange their puzzles and solve them.
Optimum level of difficulty. Divide participants into three teams and ask them to create a crossword puzzle that is neither too easy nor too difficult. After a suitable pause for puzzle construction, have each team solve the puzzles created by the other two teams. Keep track of the time required to solve each puzzle. Identify the team that solved the puzzles the fastest as the champion puzzle solvers. Then identify the team that constructed the puzzle that required the middle amount of time as the champion puzzle constructors (because their puzzle was neither the easiest nor the most difficult).
Closer: DOUBLE CROSS. Create a crossword puzzle and print out the partial solution sheets. Participants at one side of the room have half of the correct answers already filled in. Participants at the other side have the remaining half of the solutions. Teams take turn asking the other team for a clue for one of the missing words in their version.
Closer: FINAL TEST. Distribute the final test for your training session in the form of a crossword puzzle. Give 5 minutes for participants to tackle the puzzle individually. Then ask them to get into teams and share their solutions. Ask them to identify unsolved clues and provide immediate remedial review.
Web site follow-up. Here's an interesting strategy for administering a delayed post test. Ask participants to visit your web site a week after the training session. Publish an interactive crossword puzzle on the web site based on the contents of your training session.
E-mail game: Collaborative crossword compiler. Send an e-mail note to all participants asking them for a list of three to five key words from your training session along with crossword-type clues for each. Use the words and the best clue for each to construct a crossword puzzle and display it on your web site.
Solve a Crossword Puzzle
Download a crossword puzzle (PDF: opens in a new window) with the theme of interactive training strategies. Print out the puzzle (and the clues) and try your hand at solving the puzzle.