Thanks for your question. I think the answer lies in getting word
searches and other word puzzles into perspective. They can be useful
but they are certainly not essential in developing a child's ability
to read and use language.
A word game of any kind is just one item in the teacher's toolkit.
Word search puzzles can help with:
Letter and word recognition
When a child plays with letters and words s/he gets more used to their
look and feel. Beginners increase their familiarity with letters and
combinations of letters like 'ai' 'th' etc. Older children build more
awareness of words and their correct spelling.
This can be an important part of learning to read. A child who has
had fun and success in word games may be more secure about their
language skills and more likely to feel comfortable with reading and
A child may learn new words this way, even though it can't compare
with coming across new vocabulary while reading an enjoyable book
It's always useful for a teacher to have a choice of different
activities for students. Word games may be the right thing at a
particular moment or for a particular child when a fun element is
needed while pursuing language development.
Other educational reasons for word searches include:
Independent learning and creativity
Letting a child or a small group of children invent word puzzles can
help them develop a sense of responsibility for organising a part of
their learning activity. They may also benefit from the experience of
'creating' the puzzle. Even when a computer does a lot of the work,
they have to choose the words themselves.
Word searches can be used in connection with a particular subject
you can have 'maths' or 'zoology' word searches.
Later on I'll give you links to educational sites where it is clear
that word searches etc. are definitely a resource that most educators
consider worthwhile. But first we should have a look at the other
side of the story.
Because word search puzzle software has become so widely available,
it's always easy to find promotional reviews emphasising the
'educational value' of these games. They aren't exactly wrong but
they may give an unbalanced view. Many excellent programs for learning
to read don't mention word searches. And word puzzles are only one of
a whole bunch of resources that a teacher might turn to.
The US Department of Education puts out useful advice on children's
reading (not including word searches!)and other educational topics in
the "helping your child" series. Although they're aimed at parents,
anyone wanting to find out more about ways of helping children learn
to read would find them useful:
"Helping your child become a reader" is about pre-schoolers and
"Helping your child learn to read" is about older kids.
You can download these booklets if you have 'adobe acrobat reader' on
your computer or find out how to order them here:
There are various other booklets on reading programs at:
If a child enjoys word games and finds them helpful, remember there
are games that need only pencil and paper. Find suggestions (aimed at
parents but possibly useful in the classroom) here:
When it comes to buying word search software, some teachers might
rather the money was spent on books. Letting children have access to
attractive books chosen to reflect their individual tastes is a top
piece of advice for developing their enjoyment and skill in reading.
Here's a useful collection of links on children's books and reading,
put together at the University of Calgary:
I'm not sure if you're a parent of a child learning to read - but if
you are, and you have any concerns about your child's education, I'd
urge you to talk to someone at his/her school. I have experience on
both sides of the fence, as teacher and parent, and know that good
school-parent communication can really help support the child's
learning and development.
Links and references:
Word search programs are included in the list of resources recommended
by The English Language Institute at Oregon State University, see:
and in the resource lists of many school boards, for instance this one
Word searches are included in reading programs developed by university
education departments, for instance: "During the 1994-1995 academic
year, Drake University, with the cooperation of the Des Moines Public
Schools in Iowa, implemented a technology-based reading curriculum in
selected fourth-grade classrooms.." which included word searches.
This chapter on the University of Missouri site discusses the uses of
computers, including word searches, in learning:
The University of Minnesota Center for Education was also involved in
a young children's reading program using word searches:
A review by someone who thinks word puzzles have "little educational
value except to improve spelling and increase vocabulary" is here:
By the way, sorry some of the links are so long but that's the only
way of accessing material that used to be on a university site but is
no longer there.
To sum up, the majority of education professionals see word searches
as a useful resource but no more than that. If a child enjoys them,
they are a good 'extra' in language development
I hope this is helpful to you - if anything here isn't clear, please
feel free to ask for clarification.
Regards - Leli
I used these terms: word search, game, puzzle + language development,
reading, language skills
and I restricted some of my searches to education sites only (sites
with the .edu ending)
When I used "educational value" I found a lot of links to sites
reviewing and selling software!
Clarification of Answer by
16 Sep 2002 09:24 PDT
Oh, Brenda, that sounds tricky. Unfortunately, as you and I both
know, wordsearches are just one aspect of teaching language and I
haven't been able to find any large-scale studies focussing on
Here are my best suggestions:
SUPPORT FROM GOVERNMENT AGENCIES:
US Department of Education Office of Educational Research and
Improvement, in a booklet called "Help Your Child Learn to Write Well"
(April 1993) said:
"Use games: there are numerous games and puzzles that help a child to
increase vocabulary and make the child more fluent in speaking and
writing. Remember, building a vocabulary builds confidence. Try
crossword puzzles, word games, anagrams and cryptograms designed
especially for children."
as quoted here:
and see it here:
Wordsearches have been used by the National Center for Education
This is the "Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC), a
federally-funded national information system that provides, through
its 16 subject-specific clearinghouses, associated adjunct
clearinghouses, and support components, a variety of services and
products on a broad range of education-related issues."
There's a large database of articles at 'Ask Eric' "with more than 1
million abstracts of documents and journal articles on education
research and practice"
Searching here provides you with references which I'm afraid would
have to be followed up in an education library, but they might provide
the most solid evidence to convince your principal that wordsearches
have a role to play in education. The most obviously research-based
are on word games in general, though if you got hold of the complete
articles some of them might well include wordsearch puzzles.
A university study of word games used with beginner readers:
Research on word games in vocabulary development:
Research on 'Instructional Applications of Computer Games', including
And there are plenty of references to guides like this:
Here are some of the results from a 'word puzzle' search on ERIC:
This is on "Logic and Language Learning through Puzzles":
One of MicroSIFT's evaluations of word search software is abstracted
(MicroSIFT is a "clearinghouse for information about
microcomputer-based educational applications.....established at the
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL)") see:
Psychological research that might support your case:
And a Mid-South Regional International Reading Association paper
supporting word searches:
"Word Search" on the ask Eric database brings references to 95
articles, though they won't all be useful. Find the search box here:
REPUTABLE EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS SUPPORTING WORDSEARCHES
I already gave you some suggestions but you could also try:
University of Washington:
Florida State University:
Ongoing research into word games and motivation at Portland State
Sheffield College of Education, England:
BBC Education Service in the UK
A study including wordsearches as a way to help poorer students:
I do hope this helps discussions with the 'demanding' principal.
Regards - Leli