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Scramble Puzzles to Engage Your Students

I used to love it when my mother made scrambled eggs for breakfast. And now scrambles are one of my favorite kinds of language puzzles to create for my students. A coincidence? I think not.

You can take any language target you want the students to conquer, and cut it into manageable, manipulatable pieces. The manageable size ensures that the learners will not be overwhelmed or intimidated. The manipulative aspect gives the learners a role of control. The language becomes something they can literally “handle.” 


Scramble puzzles can service a wide range of language targets: individual letters to be arranged into words—for spelling/phonics; individual words and/or phrases to be joined together to form sentences—for grammar; longer clumps of text to be arranged into stories—for narrative work. 


A super-easy-to-make kind of scramble puzzle is produced by simply printing out a body of text and then cutting it up into individual lines. These slips of paper are randomly distributed to the students, and the students then unscramble them into their proper order. 


This can be done with something that can be ordered logically, such as a conversation: 


     Hi, Dave. 

          Oh, hello, Wendy. How are you? 

     Not bad. Did you hear about Carol and Aziz? 

          No. What about them? 



But I personally use this kind of puzzle for things that require the students to listen to an audio file or video. They unscramble the pieces as they listen, over and over—as many times as they need. You might think the students would get bored of hearing the same thing again and again, but unless the material is far too advanced for them, they don’t. They really don’t. They are too caught up in trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. So they  get repetitive yet engaging listening practice, with natural input that becomes clearer with each listening. Each time the students hear and read the lines, the input becomes a little more firmly reinforced in their minds. The students negotiate the material at their own pace, and by the time they have everything in place, they have a much better grasp of, a much better hold on the material.


Great sources of natural language for this kind of listen-and-unscramble activity are comedy routines (think “Who’s On First?”) and songs.


What’s that? You say you want a specific example? You say you don’t want to bother searching out a suitable song or skit and typing out the words yourself? You say you want a link to a song or comedy bit that I have used myself to save you all that trouble? You’re so demanding! (I love that about you.) OK, here’s a link to a comedy routine called The Heads. It includes the dialogue to print out, cut up and distribute, and an audio file for the students to listen to. 


I also want to offer you another specific example of a scramble activity, one that I have designed, created and used myself. It is a sentence-building grammar game that I call Potluck. In this game each of several sentences is broken up into its component pieces—individual words and/or phrases—plus an affiliated image for each sentence. Each of these pieces, including the image, is on a separate tile. The tiles are randomly distributed among the players, who then swap out the pieces they don’t want until they have what they need to form a sentence that matches whatever image they are holding. 


If you want to get a better idea of what I’m talking about—or if you want to try it out in your own classroom—you can see my original version of it here. There is a detailed explanation of the game as well as a PDF of the tiles that you can print out and use yourself. And while you can just print on thick paper (I recommend Kent paper or gayoushi 画用紙), if you want to make a nicer version, see my instructions for making puzzle pieces here


So there you are. Everything you didn’t know you needed to know about Linguistic Scramble Puzzles! Questions and comments are immensely welcome. Gosh, I’d almost be willing to pay for them! So if you have a question or comment, don’t be shy.


Next time, everything you didn’t know you needed to know about Completion Puzzles.

Alan Miesch

Alan Miesch

After years as a ‘professional dabbler’, Alan Miesch found himself drawn into teaching English to non-native English learners. He has experience in a wide range of milieus, both in the United States and Japan, teaching young children, teens, and adults. He is now the proprietor and sole teacher at a private English classroom in Numazu, Japan.
Alan Miesch

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