The Educational Value of Wordsearches

A while back I trod the perilous path of a supply teacher. I would rant to myself on a daily basis, of course, but number one rant was the wordsearch. I really hate wordsearches. Nothing against the literary form, as I extend this revulsion of the "search" type puzzle to those deviants involving numbers, musical notes, chemical equations and so on, ad infinitum.

It's the sinking feeling I experienced every time I spotted the freshly photocopied stack of mindless teasers. Sorry, tormentors. You'd think that as a supply teacher I'd have been grateful that work had been set. So why do I despise these stalwarts of the cover lesson? Well, let me explain.

Firstly, there are many teachers who believe that a word / number / symbol search will last every pupil the whole hour. They obviously take the associated origami session into account too, also known as making paper aeroplanes and testing their flying capabilities in restricted spaces.

Secondly, but not separately: these puzzles are not a bit of light relief or an easy lesson for the pupil and teacher; they are dull as particularly dank dishwater. Whilst there are some devotees, the majority of the pupils greet these "treats" with groans and an immense amount of fussing over highlighter pens - yep, even Year 10s.

Thirdly, I would like to ask: of what educational value are wordsearches? Some might say that they help with literacy, especially now it's expected in all areas of the curriculum, but that's poor justification in my humble opinion. I may have only been a supply teacher, but I still had the same desires as a normal teacher: I wanted lessons with learning outcomes and interested children. I'd like to see the inspector's face the day an observed teacher announces to the class: "By the end of this lesson, you will have filled in a wordsearch after carefully selecting the correct colour of highlighter pen and resisting the primal urge to fold the paper into aeroplanes."

Mind you, now that I work in a school where teachers, as a rule, set absolutely diddly squat for cover lessons, perhaps I'm grateful for the existence of automatic puzzle maker sites such as Puzzlemaker.com. Just don't use it if I'm about to cover your lesson!

There's a PS to this rant too. As I saved the file, I called it "Worksearch" - typo or Freudian slip?


Since writing this page, I've had a flurry of comments on it - it seems wordsearches are indeed a contentious issue! Here are a couple of the comments:

Ceejay wrote on 26/8/03:

Cracking piece on wordsearches. Don't you love the way the nice (but let's be frank...dim) kids ask for a variety of highlighters to do the vertical and horizontal words differently ? I really enjoy doing covers with wordsearches when the kids ask for my help, I teach Maths and Science so to be honest if it contains more than 5 letters and/or is spelt correctly I'm lost, the look of disgust when I can't find Knight in the History wordsearch or Gorge in Geography is a joy to see !

Love the site, why do we do it ? Oh yes those little s**s we actually enjoy working with.

Another message received on 26/8/03:

Hi ranting teacher - I saw the item about your site in TES and had a look as I am just back from hols and need cheering up before I start 'preparing' for September.

Sadly I have to tell you that in the challenging school I spent 2 terms in last year the wordsearch was promoted as a great 'starter' activity for the first 10-15 minutes of each lesson. I have been in the job for 30 years and was quite horrified and resistant at the time it would take from my 'proper' lesson especially as I can never do the b****y things myself. Alas the kids LOVED them nearly as much as the 'how many words can you make from today's key words' which a colleague gave them -not that their spelling mattered of course. SO you see dumbing down is the name of the game so it seems in some schools at least!

Back to the Homepage

Go to the Contents

© Copyright laws apply to the contents of this website. 2003