5 activities using only a crossword and a pair of scissors!

Robert Dobie

Robert Dobie is an ELT teacher and owner of the popular ESL resource site All Things Grammar. In this series, he shares downloadable worksheets for each level created exclusively for Cambridge University Press! To start, Robert provides a downloadable crossword and 5 ideas on how to bring it alive using only a pair of scissors.

Scissors: they are small, simple, easy-to-use tools. In this blog post I look at how scissors can make the process of lesson planning much more fun, creative and exciting – and breathe new life into your teaching.

Imagine this common activity instruction that you have likely come across in your teaching: “Work with a classmate and complete the crossword puzzle below.” You might think to yourself that crosswords are kind of fun (especially on a Saturday afternoon at a coffee shop), but that this is a low energy task for your students. Therefore, you might consider passing this activity over in favor of something more dynamic, and assigning the crossword for homework. Alternatively, you might decide that a quiet activity is preferable and proceed with the activity as suggested.

When I begun my teaching career, I used to think and teach exactly like this. One day, however, I realized that I didn’t have to follow the instructions exactly. I didn’t have to just distribute the crossword puzzle handout to my students and “have them complete it” as is. I let my mind wander… what if I took a pair of scissors and separated the clues from the puzzle? What sorts of activities could result from that? Below are 5 different ‘scissors’ crossword activities that came as a result of that thought!

Here is a sample crossword you can use, aimed at beginner learners: Elementary places-themed crossword

1. Cut the clues and tape them to your learners.

Cut up the crossword clues (before class) and tape them to your students’ backs (consider having some students help you if you have a larger class)! Then, have your learners walk around the classroom and read the clues to fill in the missing words. This is especially suited for younger learners (or the young at heart) and really a lot of fun!

2. Cut the clues and tape the clues to the classroom walls.

Tape the cut-up clues to the walls around your classroom. Have your students stand up and walk around the classroom to read the clues.

3. Cut the clues and use them with seated pair work.

Have your students sit in pairs. Distribute half of the cut-up clues to one student and the other half to her partner. They then take turns reading aloud the clues.

4. Cut the clues and use them with standing pair work.

Distribute the cut-up clues evenly among all your students who memorize them (give them a set time limit of about one minute to do this) – and then stand, walk around the class and speak aloud their clues to their classmates.

5. Cut the clues and use them with a team competition.

Tape half of the cut-up clues onto one wall of your classroom and tape the other half of the clues to another wall. Then, divide your class into two teams. Have the teams stand up to read the clues on the two walls. Your students will have to do some running back and forth (expect a little chaos!). Whichever team finishes first (with no mistakes) is the winner!

‘Spot the Differences’

Very similar results can also be achieved with another common ESL classroom activity called ‘Spot the Differences’ in which a learner is first asked to look for and find a set number of differences in two similar pictures. Finally, they describe the differences.

But, by using scissors and separating the pictures, you can create an information-gap activity in which two learners sit opposite each other and first describe their picture. Finally, they find the differences.

This approach is similar to suggestion #3 above in which a crossword is used as a seated pair work activity. Now, imagine that you taped the cut-up ‘Spot the Differences’ pictures on your students’ backs. Alternatively, that you taped the pictures onto walls on opposite sides of the class and made the activity into a team competition.

What else can you do? What you can do with a pair of scissors as an ESL teacher doesn’t have to stop here. Think about how you could use a pair of scissors with a vocabulary matching activity, or with a reading passage. What are your ideas for using scissors to make activities more active, engaging and fun?

Robert will be back with activities for intermediate learners, but in the meantime, if you’re looking for more worksheets, check out this one from Chris Bentley on teaching spelling when time is limited.

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