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Teaching crosswords to students on the autism spectrum is one of my favorite activities. I love puzzles in general and tend to do them for fun even without my students. However, they are also wonderful for nonverbal students who are learning alternate forms of communication. They’re easy to scaffold, are compromise friendly, and are fun for kids! Every special education teacher should use them.
When you’re a one-on-one teacher or SEIT it can be challenging to come up with activities for your students to do. Our kids need to find time to have fun, and teaching crossword puzzles can be a great way to mix things up.
I started teaching crossword puzzles to my first nonverbal student who was learning to use an alternate communication method.
It was recommended that he have activities like fill in the blank, choices, word banks.
I had to come up with activities for us to do that fit those criteria, were easy to do, and fun. Not everything can be academic all the time.
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How to Start Teaching Crossword Puzzles
The first time I was teaching crosswords, I picked a puzzle where my student had already mastered all the information.
It wasn’t about practicing the information. It was about learning how to do the puzzle.
I made a word bank of all the answers. This is a great way to scaffold if your student isn’t ready for open-ended communication. They have a set number of words they can respond with, and just have to pick one.
If they still require choices you can use the word bank to make the choices.
Making a word bank can be time-consuming. If you don’t want to make your own, consider purchasing one of my puzzles, where the word bank comes premade. Click here to see my selection.
Model how to do the puzzle by solving the first few clues. Then begin asking your student to complete the puzzle with their communication device.
As your student masters crossword puzzles, start giving them puzzles to solve that require them to practice a new academic skill.
What kinds of crossword puzzles are there?
When you’re teaching crosswords, it’s important to pick the right puzzles for your students. You need to pick something your students find motivating to get them into the puzzles in the first place.
Most of my students, they’re lovers of math, so I made them a lot of math puzzles, which they love.
And if They don’t Like Math?
If your students don’t like math or find it challenging, there are tons of other great crossword puzzles to use.
I personally love inference puzzles. I have a series of puzzles that give literature evidence as clues and the students have to infer the feeling or trait. My kids adore these and they come with premade word banks.
Click here for Character Feelings.
Click here for Character Traits.
This one I think is more advanced, and I’d only recommend it for kids that are very motivated by crossword puzzles or who love geography.
I would also pair it with a mapology game that is part puzzle and lets you plan flags for each capital. (That’s an affiliate link)
Click here for my State Capital Crossword Puzzles.
Vocabulary puzzles are another great kind of puzzle. You give the definition as a clue and your student picks the correct vocab word.
You can also make them fill in the blank!
If none of these puzzles speak to your, or they’re too academic for your kids, don’t be afraid to customize them. It’ll just take a little effort.
You can find a lot of free crossword puzzle builders online, so long as you don’t mind having puzzles with ads on them.
Feel free to get creative with these.
I’ve made puzzles about some truly ridiculous topics that my kids find motivating. (Note none of these are for sale because they are so specific).
- Women’s Hockey
- Members of a kid’s Team
- Dictators Through History
- Video Game Characters
- Star Wars
Just make sure to include a word bank to make your life easier and scaffold!
Teaching crosswords is great for nonverbal students with autism. It can give them a fun chance to practice using their alternate communication devices.
They’re easy and cheap, and best of all, something neurotypical kids get to do. Incorporating such activities for your students is best for them long term.
Finally, if your students also struggle with impulse control and that’s making it difficult for them to learn to use their communication device, make sure to read this blog post on Autism and Impulse Control.