Vocabulary puzzles are another idea, like Stercus that have many different originators. They are another way to diversify instruction and learning. It is a quieter, often more intense activity and makes a good contrast to some of the kinetic games that can be used to accomplish the same things.
To make a vocabulary puzzle, you take a sheet of 8 x 11 paper and fold it in half 6x. That's right - six times . When you are done, you will have a folded piece of paper, the size of a postage stamp. When you unfold it, you will get a grid that's 8x8. Then take a ruler and carefully mark out the grid along the folds.
Now, along each rectangular border, write a Latin word and on the other side, write it's meaning. Take a sharp, thin pen to do this. Here's what I mean:
One thing this picture doesn't show is that fact that you should number each corner. Put a "1" in the top left piece and a "2" in the top right, "3" in the bottom left and "4 in the bottom right. I made this puzzle to review for the National Latin Exam but of course any vocabulary can be used. As you can see, small words are best because you don't have a lot of space to work with. This works best as a partner activity. Hand out one puzzle to each pair of students. Make sure they move their desks adjacent to each other so that there are no gaps. Otherwise, pieces will fall on the ground and this will lead to stress in the completion.
Next, students carefully cut up the puzzle along the lines. I hand out scissors to everyone and instruct the students to cut the puzzle in half first and then give half to their partner so that both partners can be cutting at the same time.
Now be warned here - since the students know that the next step is to put the puzzle back together, a few groups may cut up the pieces and keep them in the row. That way, the puzzle takes only 20 seconds to put together. I actively go around and stir the pieces on the desk. Sometimes I ask everyone to switch desks. Here's what it should look like when it is cut up:
The way to put together the pieces is to find the meaning of the Latin word. You may notice that the piece on top square says "Quis." Students need to find the piece that has "who" along the edge. I strongly suggest that you counsel students to use traditional puzzle strategy to piece this together. They should take out the corner pieces (the numbered ones) and then separate all the edge pieces. The edge pieces will have three words instead of four. They should build the frame first and then build the inside. Here is a puzzle in progress.
A vocabulary puzzle of this size takes students about 30-40 minutes to complete. You can of course make a smaller puzzle by folding the paper less times and making bigger pieces but I find those puzzles take less than 10 minutes to complete that it's rarely worth the effort to set up. You will also find that your "puzzle stars" are often not your top students. Often my A+ students wind up staring grimly at a half completed puzzle while a pair of students who struggle a bit have already completed the puzzle. To keep everyone on task, I usually offer a small prize for the first team to finish the puzzle.
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