Word search puzzles as spelling aids... it's just so wrong!

I didn’t want to hijack JFLuvly’s thread so started a new one on a similar subject. Over the past few years I’ve noticed an astonishing number of word search puzzles in my kids’ homework. It didn’t bother me too much when dear daughter brought them home, because she usually finished them pretty quickly. But it annoyed me that these were graded homework assignments (there’s one in each week’s spelling homework). I always felt they were a waste of time from an educational standpoint.

Then last year dear son started bringing lots of them home. Holy crap what a colossal fiasco that was! He simply cannot do a simple word search in any remotely reasonable period of time. And I’m talking about a kid here who is pretty frikkin’ bright… gifted program bright, and he can spell words most adults can’t even pronounce. So middle of last year (5th grade for him) I decided it was time to boycott word searches. He is under orders from me to give all his word search assignments to me. I complete them for him in a couple of minutes, freeing up literally hours of his time for homework with a more discernable purpose.

I wish I could eradicate this scourge of American education.

Maybe you need to teach your son some strategies for completing them. He might learn how to aproach his assignments from a problem solving perspective, and, you know, learn something.

Also, why are you doing your son’s homework instead of talking to his teacher about the problem?

Are you sure these are intended to be spelling aids? They might be intended to exercise certain types of reasoning.

I’m not saying they’re necessarily a good idea, just that they might not be intended as spelling aids.

At the very least, you should also teach him to do them. It’s got a lot to do with spatial reasoning and the ability to find things which are not directly visible when you open the drawer (“have you looked under the socks?”). Search strategies are a good thing to have.

Okay, here’s the deal. I’ve got a huge chip on my shoulder when it comes to “busy work” in school, especially if it’s graded. Is my kid done with his work already? Then by all means, give him a word search to entertain him until the others are ready. But don’t send it home and tell me I have to stand over his shoulder forcing him to complete this “fun” assignment for a grade! He can spell and define every word on that list in his sleep, he just can’t pick them out of a random assortment of letters. Whether that’s a function of ADDPI (attention deficit disorder, primarily inattentive) or not, I don’t care. I’m willing to bet that a word search never helped a 5th-grader “learn something” he didn’t already know. I can see their possible benefit if you’ve got a kid in the early reading stages, or learning English as a second language, but I seriously doubt they’re much good beyond that.

My viewpoint is admittedly difficult to defend with a simple online search. There must be thousands of sites selling or giving away “educational word searches”. But are they really educational?

This basically supports my viewpoint.

This seems to present a balanced viewpoint. But notice how the benefits are mostly for very early reading skills, not 5th graders.

I love a good rant, especially when I agree.

As for talking to the teacher, sure I should have. Who among us has never taken the “don’t make waves” approach? The kid was ace-ing 5th grade after skipping 4th… why should I go be superMom and complain that my little darling couldn’t handle the “fun” stuff? It’s just going to make me look like… oh, I don’t know… a sneak-bragger? I am going to speak to his 6th grade teacher soon. And I’m going to tell her that I don’t feel these assignments are appropriate for him as an individual. But honestly, I don’t think they’re appropriate for any kid other than the exceptions I noted earlier. I truly believe they are almost useless from an educational standpoint. As an interesting enrichment activity, sure… but not as part of a kid’s spelling grade.

Believe me, I have tried.

They are most definitely included solely as part of the spelling curriculum. He gets plenty of puzzle-solving skills in other areas.

A year or two ago, my daughter was given a mof*er of a word search puzzle. No letters, just numbers in what must have been a 20X50 grid. She had to find at least 20 five-digit numbers in that mess. For a grade! I didn’t hear about it until it was over, or you can bet I would have been in there to complain.

What do you think she “learned” that day?
a) How to waste time while pretending to do something of value
b) How to shut up and take it when The Man hands you a big plate of shit
c) How to jump through the hoops provided by the administration regardless of their apparent pointlessness
d) All of the above

I admit it’s a valuable lesson… I guess I shouldn’t complain.

Believe me, we work on this kind of stuff all the time. Is a word search really gonna help him find his shoes?

A word search might help students who can’t spell well (which is not the case for the OP’s child), providing the words are already familiar. Otherwise, it’s more like training for fine-ordering in a library (eye-cognition). Even so, I don’t think it’s a very efficient way to teach spelling

I’ve seen it help people who couldn’t find the shoes unless the shoes were in the expected configuration.

While my own shoes may have an expected configuration, I only expect to find my kids’ shoes where ever they last fell off their feet.

I agree. Teach him the word-search strategy - say you’re looking for the word HOMEWORK, scan the puzzle for Hs, and for each one, look at the square of letters around it and see if one is an O. That way you can quickly home in on the word.

If you can teach him to see it as a methodical process rather than randomly scanning the puzzle and giving up, it will be worthwhile.

Not having any kids, and personally enjoying word searches myself, I am nevertheless with you on this, Looey. I’m sure lots of kids gain word comprehension and spelling skills this way, but your son doesn’t. He can spell, so he doesn’t need this learning tool. And IMO the best way to kill a kid’s interest in learning is to force him to do something he doesn’t like/isn’t good at, and call it fun.

I loved to read as a child, but the horrendous books we were assigned in high school–and the terrible teaching methods that went along with them-- seriously wounded my enjoyment of literature. It took me a long time to go back to reading serious fiction (although I enjoyed SF and other “lighter” genres in the meantime).

Randomly scanning the puzzle?? Are you kidding? I’ve been doing exactly what you suggest and more for a long time now. The kid just has a hard time with it. I don’t know how his brain is wired differently than yours and mine, but it doesn’t work for him.

So are you going to all his homework that he finds difficult and time-consuming?

You’d better brush up on your calculus.


So now we’re equating the importance of word searches and calculus? Puh-lease. Even my 10-year-old knows that’s just silly.

My real lament is not that he finds this particular exercise difficult. The problem is that teachers seem to find these particular exercises to be a good use of their students’ time, to the degree that they are graded on an equal level of importance with other homework tasks. I believe that’s wrong.

Does anyone know of any studies done that would indicate the usefulness of word searches as teaching tools? I would be genuinely interested in any research showing either pros or cons.

I can see the value of using word search puzzles for teaching problem-solving and spatial-relation skills. But all of my daughters (ages 23, 19 and 10) have had them as spelling homework, and I just don’t see the puzzles helping them learn to spell anything. They might help, I suppose, if the word, mis-spelled but close, were in the word search a couple of times, and the kid had to circle the one spelled correctly, but that’s not how it is.

I am so glad that now that my youngest is in middle school, the only homework she has is either reinforcement for something she learned that day, or something she failed to complete in class.

It’s just another example of so-called ‘teachers’ not teaching, not doing their job, not even knowing how to do their job, and prescribing time-wasting activities because they can. No surprises there. It’s what a lot of teacher do all the time.

My math ‘teacher’ once told us to work through 50 simultaneous equations from a textbook, purely because he was in a bad mood and wanted to sit, sulk and read that day. They weren’t graded or progressively more difficult. They were just 50 of the same type of problem.

Even assuming there’s a need to know how to do simultaneous equations, which is very dubious, and even granting that practice is necessary to achieve proficiency and to prove competence, whatever use this exercise served was served by the time we’d done 9 or 10 of the darn things. The need to plough through 40 more was just time wasted, and time in my life that I’ll never get back. But teachers get away with this crap because they can. If they were in some useful or productive line of work, they wouldn’t be able to waste their own and other people’s time like this.

Telling kids to work through tons of Word Search puzzles? Wow, what a fulfilling career. Guess they should have worked hard at school so that could actually get a proper job.

BINGO! It might teach you the first 2 or 3 letters of a word, but by then you’ve figured it out and circled the darn thing without even reading it. What’s worse is that I bet these puzzles are absolute torture for kids with reading disabilities such as dyslexia and the like.

I am a teacher, and do use word searches to practice review lists. It does make them look through the whole word if your puzzle maker uses ‘distractors’ (places where it puts almost the correct word in). I don’t grade them, and most kids love them. However, I usually let them work in groups, so that one kid doesn’t get too frustrated.

An occasional word search is certainly fine, it creates variety, which helps keep learning interesting, but from the OP I get that it is overdone to the point where it is wasting time and that I can agree with.

Anyway wouldn’t Jumbles be better at teaching spelling…and corny puns?