Monday, 9 November 2009

It's all a bit of a puzzle !

Mention the word "puzzle" to the average MFL teacher, and they'll probably think of a wordsearch or crossword. Of course these have their place in the occasional lesson, where they are usually used as a way of reinforcing items of vocabulary or as simple fillers. But puzzles can be so much more than that. A jigsaw puzzle or dominoes fulfil the same purpose as a wordsearch or crossword but can do so much more besides. An AST colleague of mine in Sunderland first put me onto jigsaw puzzles, and we started off by making them using random triangles drawn in Publisher, rotating the text within Publisher too, like this one or this one:

The results were effective, but making them was pretty time-consuming. Then a fellow TESser put me onto Tarsia Formulator. It's a free download, and you can use it to make puzzles, dominoes and follow-me cards. All you have to do is type in the pairs of words that you want to appear on your puzzle, and the programme does the rest for you.

The default font is Times New Roman italic, which isn't really ideal for MFL needs. I'd recommend changing the font by going into Style > Other and then selecting the font you want. If you change the font of the first word you put in, the rest of your puzzle will then default to that font. I'd also recommend making the font bigger. You do this by clicking on Size > Larger.

All of the classes to whom I have given one of these puzzles so far have really liked them. They have worked in pairs and have obviously enjoyed the kinesthetic nature of the activity. I have used them to introduce new material, to reinforce it, and to provide the basis for an information-gap activity. The students had a grid of new vocabulary or structures in English and French. However, not all of the information was filled in. They used the pairs that they did know to help them to complete the puzzle, and then used the completed puzzle to help them fill in the gaps on the vocabulary sheet. Of course there is a competitive element as well to see who can finish it first !

Tarsia documents save in their own .fjsw format, which you can print out but which is compatible with nothing. If you want to share your puzzles, I'd recommend PDFing them first. I use CutePDF.

Another jigsaw programme that I've come across recently is JigsawPlanet. You upload your own picture file to be turned into an interactive jigsaw puzzle. If you click on "Advanced Setting" you can choose how many pieces you want your puzzle to be and what shape those pieces will be.

Here's one I prepared earlier:

I custom-made my picture in Publisher and saved the Publisher document as a ".jpeg file interchange format". Then I uploaded it to JigsawPlanet and made my puzzle. I also remade the same puzzle with traditionally-shaped pieces, as I think it would be easier for younger children to find the corners and the edges. I've put that one on my school blog as well as one of Spain and another of the Spanish flag.

The only drawback to the site is that you can't sign in and create an account. You would have to copy and paste and save somewhere the links or html of your favourite puzzles for future use. My favourite thing about JigsawPlanet is that the puzzles are embeddable.

I've done them mainly for my pupils to have a bit of fun at home with the language, to revise what we have been learning at school and to maybe learn something new as well. I would also use them in similar ways to the paper puzzles.

I hope you enjoy experimenting with puzzles.