3 Types of Puzzles & Games for ELA

Have you tried incorporating puzzles and games in your ELA classroom? Well, I’m here today to talk about my favorite ways to do so, and the benefits I see in students. Using puzzles and games in the high school classroom is a great way to build collaboration, critical thinking, and a growth mindset. Puzzles can be particularly powerful in the ELA classroom because they allow students to approach words logically, mathematically, and visually, creating cross-brain connections.


Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)

I’ve talked before about my love of puzzles at my blog, and how I’m good at some (jigsaw puzzles, woot woot!) and terrible at others (tanglement/mechanical puzzles… you know, the metal or string ones that supposedly pull apart? Yeah, those are tough for me), and today I want to extend that conversation and offer up some new ideas.

1.       Word Games


Word Games are the easiest thing you could possibly integrate in ELA, and they have so many benefits! They foster critical thinking, extend student vocabulary, and create multilingual connections. I’m a huge fan of word games, such as Taboo® or Scattergories®. These can be great as filler games, but they can also be incorporated into your teaching, too. They make fantastic reviews.

You can use the Taboo® set-up to review any list of vocabulary words, characters, or actions in a novel or short story. Simply create five words that students aren’t allowed to say when giving their clues. You can also have students create these for another team or group. For example, I split my class into groups of four or five, and have each student create five cards. Then, I have them duplicate the cards, creating two piles. Their whole group combines the cards into two duplicate sets. Then, they pass these sets to two other groups. Now, each group should have two sets of 20-25 cards, for a total of 50.

I also LOVE sharing Cryptograms with students. A Cryptogram is a single puzzle (often a quote or a list) where a cipher has been used to encrypt the message. Generally, this is a simple substitution cipher (A transforms to F, B transforms to X…) and the player must figure out the message. These are incredibly powerful in the classroom because students have to think about common letter clusters (t-h-e, s-t) and common double letters to begin unlocking the code. They have to develop a sense of patterns and possibilities and rarities (h-h isn’t a possible double letter in English, and the letter j is pretty rare).

Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)


Download these free literary-themed Cryptograms to get started using these in your classroom today. :)

2.       Team Bellringers


I’ve also introduced Team Bellringers in my classroom.

I love going to play trivia each week at a local restaurant, and they have an ongoing competition where our points add up for the whole month. Our team members are committed to coming every week because we know the group is counting on us to win the grand prize.

I decided to introduce the same concept in my classroom. I created two sets of forty mini-quizzes (similar to one round of trivia) to be used as bellringers, and students split into teams of 3-4 and keep a running score over the course of a month. Each mini-quiz is focused on literature, movies, and music, and has some sort of word game twist to it. For example, one mini-quiz asks students to identify classic novels and authors based only on their initials. Another asks students to identify the children’s book depicted as a cake. There’s also a literary math puzzle that I love (“The number of Winnie the Pooh’s friends minus the number who are female…”)!

Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)


These mini-quizzes can be used as daily bellringers or exit slips, a closing activity on a Friday, or as an entire reward day. They encourage collaboration and challenge students to think critically. They are also engaging and make use of everyone’s expertise.

You can grab these bellringers at my TeachersPayTeachers store: Volume 1 and Volume 2.

3.       Escape Rooms


Lastly, I am planning on incorporating Escape Rooms in my classroom next year. In a traditional Escape Room, you are led through a series of puzzles that eventually culminates in you receiving a key (to “escape the room”). You can also play Breakout Boxes, with the end result of the puzzles being a key to access a box that has some sort of prize.

I recently developed an Escape Room Review Game for Romeo & Juliet to use with my students in the fall. As a test review, I wanted to make sure that each puzzle focused on a different element (Plot, Character, Conflict, Figurative Language, Quotes, etc.) of the play.

Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)

Making a “room” takes a lot of work (luckily, there’s TpT!), but students are engaged and motivated throughout the review. You’re not exactly fooling them (they know they’re reviewing), but you’re giving them stakes for the review beyond the grade. Also, it’s exactly what I would have liked to do when I was a student, so there’s always that. ;)

What are your favorite tips for teaching with puzzles and games? I’d love to hear more from you in comments!



Also, check out these great resources from the other Coffee Shop teachers.

Grammar Games Bundle by Room 213
Grammar Races by The Classroom Sparrow
Word Puzzles by Presto Plans
Board Game for Any Novel by The SuperHERO Teacher

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Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)





1 comment

  1. Thanks for sharing, Danielle! Games helped me SURVIVE my first two years of teaching, so I'm a huge fan!

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