6 Vocabulary Puzzles that Students can Create and Enjoy!

vocabulary puzzles

Puzzle solving has an inherent appeal to ESL students and is an active way of learning or revising vocabulary. Students associate vocabulary puzzles with recreation and can be less daunting as review tools or even as a test. By substituting a visual-spacial relationship between meaning and definition, puzzles engage more students with the materials and deepen their mastery of the English lexis. No wonder why puzzles have been used in the classrooms for many years!

There are many types of vocabulary puzzles for all ages including adults! I like the fact that I can have a number of different unique vocabulary puzzles created to printout on the same topic. So when we are studying a topic in English, say “Family and Friends”, I can print out six different sets then split the class into six groups and give them each a unique puzzle to solve.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Easy-to-use Online Vocabulary Games Generator

Recently, I decided to let the students (in their groups) create the puzzles themselves for their classmates to solve. I assign each group their “mission” and explain the kind of puzzle they should make online (you can download the instructions here). They have to send me the digital copy at the end of the lesson so I could produce enough copies for the rest of the class. During revision time, the group that created the puzzles take the center stage and discuss the answers. I can’t almost handle their excitement!

Here are some vocabulary puzzles I use in my class.

Some of them sound complicated than they really are so don’t faint. If my students were able to do these, so can you! You will find the step-by-step guide how to create these puzzles on the links provided.


1. Double-Puzzle

A double puzzle is a puzzle where students first need to unscramble clue words, then use letters from those clue words to decode the final word/phrase. The letters for the final phrase can be numbered, making the Double Puzzle slightly easier to solve.

2. Word Search

Word Search is a word game that consists of the letters of words placed in a grid, which usually has a rectangular or square shape. The objective of this puzzle is to find and mark all the words hidden inside the box.

3. Crossword

Probably the most popular of all, a crossword is a word puzzle that normally takes the form of a square or a rectangular grid of white and black shaded squares. The goal is to fill the white squares with letters, forming words or phrases, by solving clues which lead to the answers.

4. Caesar Cipher

The Caesar cipher is one of the simplest forms of encryption and is named after Julius Caesar who used it to communicate with his army. Also known as a shift cipher,  each letter in the original alphabet (called the plaintext) is replaced by a letter some fixed number of positions up or down the alphabet.

5. Cryptogram

A cryptogram is a type of puzzle that consists of a short piece of encrypted text where each letter is replaced by a different letter or number.. You solve the cryptogram with a trial and error process, guessing the letters that have been replaced.

6. Polybius Square

A Polybius Square is a table that allows someone to translate letters into numbers. Each letter is then represented by its coordinates in the grid. In order to fit the 26 letters of the alphabet into the 25 spots created by the table, the letters i and j are usually combined. To encipher a message you replace each letter with the row and column in which it appears. To decipher a message you find the letter that intersects the specified row and column.


The following links are lesson plans from Education World that provide an easy way to incorporate specific puzzles into your curriculum.

And if you are looking for ready-to-use printable puzzles, Teacher Vision has got it all for you!

What do you think about this activity? Let us know in the comments!

Author: Melchor Bernardo

Melchor is a professional educator from the Philippines based in Saigon. He teaches ESL and this website is a bit of copy of his teaching styles and philosophy.

8 thoughts on “6 Vocabulary Puzzles that Students can Create and Enjoy!”

  1. This is a fresh site Mel! Thank you for sharing these fresh ideas. My middle school kids will surely love it. I can’t wait to try these tomorrow!

  2. I’m interested in it. can I get this game for my students and I’d like to give it for them later in the classroom. thanks

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