I absolutely LOVE using puzzles with my students. In addition to helping students build confidence, they are great for so many things! Here are some of my favorites:
Introducing a unit
Review before a quiz
Prep: Before explaining my different strategies, I want to note that I do not make enough puzzles for an entire class of 30 students. I do usually try to make about 20, to make sure students can choose whether they’d like to work on their own and in pairs. Having 20 on hand also helps me to offer all of the opportunities that I do below. To save time, I always save my puzzles from year to year. My ziploc baggie system isn’t pretty but it has definitely helped me stay more organized. 20 puzzles fit very easily into a sandwich-sized ziploc.
If you want to keep track of pieces, some teachers have suggested color coding each puzzle by flipping it over and making a dot in a certain color on the other side. That way, if you find a piece on the ground, you know “Ok this comes from one of the puzzles with a BLUE dot on the back.” I haven’t done this, but it’s something I may try in the future.
This set of 2 triangle puzzles for the conditional tense can be found right here
1) Introducing a Unit
Many times, I have used puzzles on the very first day of a brand new unit. Teaching grammar explicitly is not something that teachers love to do (and students don’t love it either), but some of us follow curriculums that call for us to do so. To make it as comprehensible and engaging as possible, I try to present my students with as much input as possible, while asking them for small pieces of output along the way. Puzzles are an awesome way to do that, yes even on the first day of a new unit.
For example, I may give this Future Tense puzzle (the regular verbs only one) on the very first day of the unit. This helps students build confidence because they are able to use the process of elimination along with the infinitives they are familiar with to make connections and complete the puzzle. When students work in pairs or groups of 3, they are able to work even quicker as they discuss the connections out loud. They recognize many endings even before discussing the tense, since they have seen pieces of these language patterns before! Finishing the puzzle before studying the tense at all helps them to feel stronger and build confidence. Before we even begin our unit, they realize “Oh I can do this!”
I typically have my students complete warm-up activities (such as matching or multiple choice) on the board, but sometimes I like to mix it up by handing them a puzzle as they walk in the door. I tell them to choose a partner in their group and get started when they’re settled. Often, this means that puzzles are done before the bell even rings 😉 because students are eager to sit and get it done before others in the class. Sometimes they even try to finish it before their partner arrives… and then their partner completes it on their own as well. The change in routine and hands-on warm-up is a great way to get my students ready and focused for the day in a very short amount of time!
I don’t do stations often, but they are something that I want to incorporate more into my lesson-planning. Especially in my eighth and ninth months of pregnancy… I know that I need to be mindful of my planning and choose activities that allow me to effectively teach without necessarily singing and dancing in the front of the room, as I usually do 😉
Puzzles are a perfect station activity. They are great because you only need 5-6 puzzles for the entire day, rather than prepping enough worksheets or copies for each student. I most commonly use puzzles as a preview of a new tense/vocab unit (I love showing students “Look, you CAN recognize patterns and make predictions about this tense and we haven’t even studied it yet!), or as a warmup during a normal class day; however, I also love using my triangle and square puzzles as a station activity.
When we complete puzzles during a normal class day, my students work in pairs. To use puzzles as a stations activity, we treat them a little differently. I provide enough puzzles at the station for each person in the group. While at this station, students race for the best time. They complete the puzzle once, and the last person to finish is “out.” They continue this until they are down to one person. If there is time, they start again. After two people have gotten “out”, it is then their job to race each other so that they are not just watching for the remaining few minutes.
These six puzzles for the future tense (provided in color and black and white) can be found right here.
After we have completed the puzzle at least once, whether it be as a warm-up or intro to a unit, students sometimes ask to race one another. I’ll often offer 1 bonus point on an upcoming quiz to the winner of the paired races. (1 point on a quiz that’s out of 50 is really not much at all, but they act like it’s winning the lottery.)
You can also choose to only award the CLASS winner by keeping track of the best time in the class up on the board, and challenging the students to beat that time. “Tim finished in 37 seconds. You guys have 5 minutes to try and beat that time. With your partner, one person times while the other person keeps track of time. Then switch. Good luck!”
5) Take-home review
Sometimes students ask for extra practice before a quiz or project. When we are working on a current unit, I have my little “baggie” (it’s really a huge ziploc bag filled with OTHER ziploc bags….) of activities on my desk at all times. Students know that if they want to borrow a puzzle, all they have to do is ask. They can do this during class time if they have a few extra minutes, or they can also take something home to review on their own time. Once you offer this, you may be surprised how many students take advantage of the opportunity for extra review.
I always ask them to just check the puzzle one last time when they return the next day, before returning it to the bag. That way they make sure they didn’t lose any pieces in their backpack, and I’m sneakily making them practice one last time 🙂
Out of all the activities I have prepped in these bags (Tiburones, Cacto Conversación, Café Charla, Sonidos Secretos, Maracas, Task Cards, etc.) the puzzles are the ones the students take home the most. They like racing themselves and building confidence each time they complete it correctly. And I love that they are choosing any type of extra practice 🙂
6) Review before a quiz
I often give my students 10 minutes to review before a quiz. I let them choose an activity that they feel will help them best prepare/address any areas where they feel they need extra support. This could be reviewing quietly on Quizlet or racing me to get the best “Matching” time of the class 😉
Again, I also offer up my crazy ziploc of wonders. And again, the puzzles are the most commonly requested review. Students take one last opportunity to race one another, or to quiz one other aloud using the puzzles. “Which piece do I need to find for this edge?”
Want to see my examples before you go?
You can see all of my available puzzleshere, includingEDITABLE TEMPLATESso that you can create your own very easily! The templates include two designs, each with two versions ready for entering text or ready to print and make on go. I hope these ideas help you to find new ways to use puzzles this year with your classes 🙂
Thank you for reading!
My name is Erin and I have 8 years of experience teaching high school Spanish. I love building positive student relationships and bringing a bit of fun into my lessons to keep my students engaged!
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