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Crossword Puzzles for Vocabulary Development

What Magic?

Crossword puzzles are magic in the world of English teaching. I know what you’re thinking – another tedious worksheet for my class or tutoring students to fill out? Aren’t crossword puzzles an old-fashioned game from the 90’s, especially in a world of tablets and phone apps that are all the rage?

Nope.  Not if you do it right.

Trust me on this one.

I’ve used crossword puzzles for vocabulary development for years. Sometimes it still surprises me that the most challenging students love to build their own puzzles, figure out other students’ clues, or race to complete the task.

Wait…build a crossword puzzle? How?


Crossword Weaver and Word Search MakerWell, it’s super simple. All I do is use Crossword Weaver software from Variety Games, which I used way back in 1999 with my first tutoring student. Now, it’s true that it’s pretty basic.

(The interface might make you tech wizards cringe a little), but it does the job quickly and keeps your students learning.

I love making bullet point lists, so here is the one for this post on the best way to use this software:



1. Use Vocabulary They’ve Just Learned

Crossword puzzles are perfect for reviewing vocabulary at the end of a unit. This works especially well for English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, as it helps them solidify their understanding of even simple words.  My favourite way to use Crossword Weaver is in halfway through a novel. I create a “Chapters 1-6” Crossword, for example for a novel such as Roald Dahl’s Matilda.


matilda-crossword2. Let Kids Build Their Own

Kids love this software! Really! I know it’s basic and simple, but elementary and junior high students I teach like to choose the colours, fonts and borders, create the clues and press the play button. It scrambles the crossword every time you press play, so you can easily create different versions. Then, save them as .pdfs with or without the solutions.  They work well as homework activities, too!


3.  It’s Not Just For Kids

Adults have fun with these puzzles, too. Trust me! Even adults learning English as a Second Language find creating the definitions for words they’ve just learned very helpful. The trick is for them to remember the words for the next week’s lesson, when you bring back a differently scrambled version!


4. Try It As a Game with Teams

For classes of kids or adults, games make vocabulary learning fun. Try making crossword puzzles in pairs or teams. Then, print out the crosswords students have made and swap. Give Team A the puzzle Team B made and vice versa. You can even set a timer to make it a race and see who wins!


5. Use Word Search Maker For More Fun

What’s the point of a word search, you may ask? Yes, it’s just word recognition, but finding a word does increase exposure to it (linguists debate how many times you have to see/use a word for vocabulary knowledge to be solidified, but the more the better!). Kids especially love this. Halloween or Christmas themed word searches add a little festive fun (and cultural knowledge for ESL students) to the game. 1-2-3 Word Search Maker is bundled with Crossword Weaver, which makes it the perfect package for easy lesson planning.


I hope these tips are helpful! You can grab your copy of Crossword Weaver by following this link.

Have you tried out Crossword Weaver or 1-2-3 Word Search Maker in your class? Leave a comment below and tell me about it. I’d love to hear your opinions!

Happy Teaching!


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