Does it seem strange that an activity that is as visually based as a puzzle can be used for communicative activities in the ESL classroom?
With some preparation, you can use puzzles for a series of activities in your classroom that require your students to talk with one another and practice speaking and listening in a real context with tangible results. Read on to find out just how puzzles can make for a highly effective speaking class lesson.
How to Proceed
How to Make the Puzzles
Have you ever played one of those games that requires you to move square tiles around a grid to form a picture? Though some people may have a knack for this type of puzzle, even when all of the puzzle pieces are square, most people will struggle to complete the puzzle. You can challenge your students to a puzzle completion race which requires them to communicate in real time for a real purpose. Your groups should be three or four students large, and you will need one puzzle for each group. To create your own puzzle, first think about how large a scale you want to attain for your game.
To go big, you can purchase some inexpensive posters at a local store, getting one copy of one poster for each group which will be working on the puzzle. If you can, mount each poster to poster board or cardboard so your students will have an easier time of manipulating the pieces. The easiest way to do this is with spray adhesive. You can also have the poster laminated to give it some substance. Then cut the poster into equal sized rectangles. Around 20 squares is an ideal number, but 16 or 32 pieces may be easier for division purposes. Then put all of the pieces for each puzzle in their own zip top bag so each group has theirs ready for the race.
For a smaller scale puzzle, print a picture from the internet or a photo you have taken of your students. Again, adhere it to cardboard or have it laminated and cut it into rectangular pieces. Finally, put each set of pieces in its own bag and you will be ready to play.
Have Students Make the Puzzles
If you do not want to prepare the puzzle pieces yourself, you can also have your students transform the posters into puzzles. Each poster will still need to be mounted or laminated, preferably before class, and then you can have groups of students cut each poster into pieces. Your students will need to follow two specifications as they cut the posters: they should end up with twenty pieces and each piece should have only straight edges. They may end up with some rectangular pieces, but more likely your groups will have a variety of triangular pieces for the other groups to work with. Make sure, in this case, that each group has a different picture to transform into a puzzle than it will have to put back together.
Ready, Set, Go!
When the time for the race is at hand, give your groups enough room to work (you may want to let them work on the floor) and let the contest begin. Encourage students to talk with each other as they solve the puzzle. You may want to review the imperative form with your class before putting the puzzle together so they will be familiar with how to give instructions to one another. Award points to the first team to finish. If you like, plan a survival tournament and award points to second and third place as well.
You can take this puzzle to an even greater challenge level by having students work in pairs to complete the puzzle. The challenge does not come from limiting the number of players to two; the challenge comes with the blindfold that one person will wear. The person who wears the blindfold is the only one who is allowed to touch the puzzle pieces. The person without the blindfold gives instructions to the one moving the pieces. Because this activity is so challenging, you may want to keep the number of puzzle pieces to a minimum, no more than eight. Again, award points to the team who finishes first, second and third.
A Personal Touch
Younger students may enjoy seeing their own illustrations become puzzles. You have at least two options if you want to make your students’ pictures into puzzles. One option is to have your students draw on a precut puzzle. You can purchase inexpensive blank puzzles at your local craft store. Give one completed puzzle to each student and ask him or her to draw a picture on the puzzle pieces. (Note: markers will probably work better for this than crayons or pencils since there is often a glossy finish on the premade puzzles.) Each person can then separate his or her puzzle into its pieces and put them into a zip top bag. You can then use these puzzles for any of the other activities.
A second option for making students’ drawings into puzzles is to scan pictures that they have drawn into a computer, and then laminate and cut them into pieces. If you opt for this method, you may not want to tell your students what their drawings are for. Make the pictures into puzzles before class and then use them for the group activities. As your students work to put the puzzles together, they will realize that the puzzles are their own pictures. You can do a follow-up activity by asking your students to share how they felt when they realized that the puzzle was their own picture. Were they excited? Were they embarrassed? Did it make it easier to complete the puzzle? You can have your students write their reactions as a freewriting or a journal entry.
Almost anything can be used in an ESL classroom to encourage discussion and communication, and puzzles are a good example.
These visually based activities, when used strategically, can encourage your students to communicate in real ways with their classmates, using their language skills to strategize and evaluate. Whether you prepare the puzzles ahead of time or have your students do it during class, they will enjoy putting the pieces together in a race against their classmates!