Making Custom Crossword Puzzles

Using crossword puzzles in the classroom can run the risk of seeming too juvenile. I picked up a couple of crossword vocabulary books in Paris and admittedly, their target audience is probably around the age of ten or twelve, with cartoon illustrations and very basic topics (safari animals, going to the movies, etc.) But as any crossword enthusiast knows, they can be incredibly complex puzzles that require more than simple word-image association. They draw on both popular culture and knowledge of classical literature and history. They can use as complex of a vocabulary as the puzzle creator wishes.

For the aspiring Will Shortz in all of us, I suggest the Crossword Forge software. I have used an older version that wasn’t able to create as complex of puzzles à la New York Times, but it was still a great tool. With the new version, you have even more possibilities, as the puzzles can be much more dense (i.e. more words on the page). It works like this: You type in the clues and answers first, and the software will create a crossword for you. You can have it retry the configuration if you’re not happy with the way it came out. Once you’re satisfied, you can then print it out or export it to a website to make a paperless online exercise like this example.

Possible uses:

~ In a unit on defining words, use student-generated definitions in a review crossword puzzle.

~ When introducing new vocabulary, like that of poetry analysis, make the clues be examples of the concept. For “alexandrin” have the clue be “(versification) II nous verse un jour noir plus triste que les nuits.” For “comparaison,” “(figure de style) pèse comme un couvercle” For “personification,” “(figure de style)l’Espoir,/Vaincu, pleure.” (These examples are taken from Baudelaire’s poem “Spleen.”)

~ Sentence completion: you can make this a grammar exercise by having students complete sentences using the correct verb tense or mood. For example, “si” sentences are always difficult, so practice concordance des temps with a sentence like “Si j(e) [être] riche, je partirais en voyage tous les mois.” The students will have to identify the second part of the sentence as being in the conditional, to complete the first part with the imperfect “étais.”

The least useful application of this exercise – one to avoid at all cost – would be a list of English words to translate. Any other ideas? Please share!

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