Do Well in ESL Word Games & Puzzles

Do Well in ESL Word Games & Puzzles

         Collections A. B. C. =  Know the Alphabet /            Do Phonics & Spelling / Use Vocabulary

So What Would Get You “Another Feather in Your Cap” for Your Proficiency in Word-Puzzles & Games

On March 1, 2022, a two-minute segment of the popular ABC Network TV Quiz Show, “Wheel of Fortune” (in which contestants try to solve Word Puzzles by guessing letters) went viral. Here’s an article about it called Watch This Wheel of Fortune Shocking Error 
By Amy Kuperinsky | NJ Advance Media for
It was there as clear as day.  But that doesn’t mean everyone saw it. That’s precisely why Tuesday’s episode of “Wheel or Fortune” rivaled President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address in the Twitter trends. Watch out, Wordle.
The puzzle at hand: “ANOTHER FEATHER   _N   YO_R   _A_.”
First, a “Wheel” contestant guessed “another feather in your hat.” This is a phrase — the category, at least — but not the idiom in question: “another feather in your cap.”  Another contestant asked for the letter G (Another feather in your gap? . . . gag?). No dice.
But the first contestant wanted another try.  OK, then. It went on like this for two whole minutes. Someone tried a D. (Another feather in your DAD??)  It became all too clear that not one of three contestants knew the answer.  The next guess: P.  OK, we’re getting somewhere! We have to be, right? Only three letters left! “Another feather in your map?”
Spoke too soon.  “Another feather in your lap.” Oh, no.
They did get it — way too late — but imagine being Vanna White in a moment like this. This year she marks her 40th anniversary on “Wheel of Fortune” (host Pat Sajak’s was in December) . . . how many times has she wanted to break her permasmile and glare at the players? This viral ‘Wheel of Fortune’ moment is real (no CAP).
Suddenly we’re feeling pretty good about our Wordle scores. 


The contestants in solving this now-notorious Wheel of Fortune Puzzle came up with valid Alphabetic Letters until the end. They followed Phonics & Spelling rules. They understood what a Phrase was.  But when it came to completing and reading aloud a genuine Idiom in American-English Vocabulary, they came up amiss. Coincidently, in searching for an onscreen picture of “a feather in a cap,” I found only hats, too. 
But “look at the bright side” (another well-known turn of a phrase). For further Enlightening Fun with Language, it’s amusing to remember or look up other expressions that some English-speakers get wrong, such as “dressed to the hills” (instead of hilt); “for all intensive purposes” (intents & purposes); “live in a doggy-dog world” (dog eat dog); “hunger pains” (pangs); “nip in the butt’ (bud); “You’ve got another thing coming” (think); “with baited breath” (bated); “statue of limitations” (statute); “peak my interest” (pique),  “a shoe-in for a position” (shoo-in); “first come, first serve” (first come, first served);  “a blessing in the skies” (disguise);  and so on and so on. . . 
(These are from 50 Everyday Sayings Everyone Gets Wrong—Best Life; 22 Misused Idioms That Make You Sound Like an Idiot, 11 Idioms Writers Often Get Wrong, and other sites.)

So What’s the Pedagogic, Practical, and/or Almost Monetized Value of Word Games & Puzzles

So whether you (and / or your students) are native or non-native speakers of English, here’s yet another good reason to improve or polish linguistic knowledge and skills: you’ll / they’ll do better on competitive quiz shows!  And as in many areas of life, winning—or even just playing or competing —can bring money, prizes, accolades, prestige, rewards, perks, leverage, fame, or other benefits.
Even more than Subject Matter (Content), which can also be acquired or reinforced through Games of Knowledge (with Yes/No, Multiple-Choice, or Info-Questions & Answers), discrete (separate) Words & Phrases lend themselves to presentation & practice in Games & Puzzles. Players or decoders or interpreters try to win or solve these on a micro-level of Phonics, Spelling, Vocabulary, & Meaning. They need or get to delve into the smallest (puzzling) components—orthographic symbols (including punctuation), sounds words contain with variations, correlations between spelling and pronunciation, relationships of sounds or letters to their surroundings, and—last but not least—the denotation, connotation, or frame of reference of each “right answer” (Puzzle Solution) in context.  
In regard to the procedures / rules of Wheel of Fortune, here’s some of what a typical web post says about the game it’s derived from. Adapted from, its “pedagogical value” lies in the steps players have to think about in order to succeed and win.

Rules For Hangman (Wheel of Fortune) Word Game

Hangman is a classic Paper & Pencil Spelling Game that’s also well-published and online, enabling players to practice Word-Building Vocabulary Skills—with some apps, even in competition with opponents from all over the world. 
The idea of the gallows may be morbid, but it adds excitement. Everyone wants to save the poor puzzle victim from a grim fate! If you like playing along on the TV quiz show Wheel of Fortune and rooting for participants to win (money), you’ll enjoy Hangman!
SETUP: Either print out some pre-prepared Hangman pages or draw a simple gallows and write out the alphabet above or below the gallows. (See graphic example below.)
HOW TO PLAY: Choose one or more players to be “Executioners.” They think of a lexical item and mark out blanks (short lines) for each letter of each word. Separate words with either a slash or a wide gap—or put them on separate lines.
Other players guess alphabetic letters. If a letter is in the word(s), write it everywhere it appears, and cross it out in the alphabet below.  If a hunch isn't in any of the words, add a body part to the gallows (head, body, left arm, right arm, left leg, right leg). Each player continues guessing letters until he/she gets the Solution or makes a wrong guess, when play passes to the next person. Guessers try to win by solving each Word Puzzle before all six body parts are on the gallows—“hanging the victim,” in which case the “Executioner(s)” win.                              

So What About Other Word Games & Puzzles to Learn to Excel (Succeed / Shine / Surpass / Transcend, + Other Synonyms) In? 

A “new” online word-guessing game capturing worldwide attention is called Wordle. To play, you have six (6) chances to guess the day's secret five (5)-letter word. Type in a word as a guess, and the game tells you which letters are(n’t) in the word by turning them colors. The aim is to figure out the Secret Word with the fewest guesses. There's only one Puzzle per day and each “contestant” gets only one shot, so there’s a certain level of stakes—and lots of opportunity to share or compete.
A TV Word-Game Show called Lingo (or Motus or 5-Mal-5) preceded Wordle in popularity. But even earlier, there were analogous paper & pencil versions of Word-Building Puzzles, typically called “Word Pyramids” or “Word Ladders” that language-lovers completed for fun and learning. Solvers got to home in (focus) on Word Length, Arrangements of Letters / Syllables + their Pronunciation, Symbol Substitutions, Similarities / Differences in Spelling, and the Relationship of all these features to the Significance of Language Elements.


So How Can We Improve Our Chances of Favorable Outcomes in Word Games & Puzzles—and Reap Their Benefits

Predictably, there’s no shortage of (entertaining, connection-building, competitive, educational) Vocabulary-Building Games & Puzzles for players / language students to engage in for fun, rewards, & scholastic pursuit. Well-known titles are of TV shows: Wheel of Fortune, Lingo, Boggle; of online competitions like Wordle, Words with Friends (Scrabble), Word Wipe; of board or pencil & paper games such as Hangman, Word Bingo, Letter Battleship, (Scrambled) Word Ladders, Bulls & Cows; and of classic Puzzle Types like Crosswords, Word Finds, Rebuses, Anagrams, Word Connect, Linked Words, Letter Jumble, and many more. 
Even quiz shows based on (Answer &) Question Games of Knowledge, like the famed Jeopardy, include Categories that call for facility with language— such as Five-Letter Capital Names; Three-Letter Initialisms; Rhyme Time; “Y” Is the Second Letter; Words That Suit to a T, Four-Syllable Adjectives, Endings in the Middle; Beginning with Suffixes; Before & After; Liking the Lexicon; Perfect Pairings, Just a Word, Please; Ow! Oof! Ack! and so on. (Some of these Categories are made up, but there really are plenty that demand or evoke Word-Play ability.)
So practically and / or educationally, what can you do to improve or polish linguistic knowledge and skills? How can you / your students do better when “appearing” on competitive TV Quiz Shows, “performing” with word-based Online / Mobile Apps, playing pre-prepared (Board / Phrase-Guessing / Oral-Language) Games with others, or even participating in Pencil & Paper Quests that improve or demonstrate audio / lingual skills?  First, here’s a sequence of Steps you might follow in Word & Phrase-Level Language Instruction—at least in (American) English. 


Ready for some approaches, procedures, practices, strategies, and other Word & Phrase-Level-Game details? Each of these suggested Steps introduces three (3) lettered / numbered Downloads offering immediately applicable ideas to try out—and sometimes, materials to work / play with. 
1. Look at, Take Apart & Re-Assemble, & Manipulate Individual (Printed) Letters & Symbols in Game & Puzzles
What are the Shapes & Forms of (upper- & lower-case, block & cursive) Alphabetic Letters plus other printed Symbols? How do they appear in various fonts (typefaces) or displays? How do Letters fit into traditional or new paper-and-pencil Puzzles, such as Letter Mazes, Connect the Dots, Criss-Cross, or Word Finds? What are other Letter-Guessing Games like  “Hangman,” the classic on which “Wheel of Fortune” was based? Which Letter-Names are articulated just like words? How are Initializations pronounced—and what do Acronyms mean in words? Which kinds of objects display Letters of the Alphabet in their parts? 
Here are three (3) “typical” segments that will contribute to the (competitive) enjoyment or rewards of answering such questions: 
In A-09.03: Do Alphabet Puzzles & Check Answers, beginners no longer need to “puzzle over” methods for learning the basics of Alphabetic Letters. This 7-page excerpt from Beginning Phonics & Spelling Puzzles for Word-Level Reading & Vocabulary Learning starts with a one-page “lesson” on “Alphabet Letters & Sounds: Everything to Know Now. . . .” Then come Puzzles titled “Letter Lines,” “Letter Spaces,” “Letter Finds & Counts,” “Letter Words,” & “Initial Letter Sounds.”  There’s even a page of “Puzzle Solutions.” To get these, just click on the reddened title above or the page image below.
 A-09.04: Solve Puzzles, Play Guessing Games, Do Alphabet Activities Ideas T, U, V, & W  on eight (8) pages from the Teaching Resource Alphabet Answers: Everything to Know Now . . . About Teaching & Learning Alphabets—Creative Ideas for Effective Language Activities & Games. Here are Instructions to Follow for creating & solving Find-, Connect- & Copy-the-Letters Puzzles; playing Letter-Guessing Games; eliciting & working with Letter-Name Words; and Looking for Letters of the Alphabet.” There are a number of sample Puzzles to solve and to use as templates.
The reduced-sized A-09.05: “Activity & Idea ‘Starter Book’—Alphabet Actions: Teaching & Learning the Letters of the Alphabet, contains a selection of basic Summaries. Its Table of Contents lists Teaching the Alphabet; Alphabet Chains, Rhythm, & Bingo; Alphabet Card Games; Tell & Spell Chains; Hit the Letters; Letter-Words; Letter Dictation; Looking for Letters. For instruction & fun, many of these don’t even require advanced preparation or creation of printed materials.
2. Examine the Features of (Printed / Pronounced) Letters in Combination, In Vs. Out of Sequence, Separated Vs. Connected, Added Vs. Omitted, & Otherwise Manipulated in Words & Larger Language Units
At tiered Levels of Difficulty, which (Vowel / Consonant) Letters represent (stand for) which (Vowel / Consonant) Sounds (in American English)? What are some alternative or exceptional Spellings that produce the same Sounds—and what differences does Orthography make in Word Meaning? Which rimes (syllable parts ending in Vowel / Consonant[s]) are most common in the language—and how do these relate to Rhyming Words? What roles do endings like -’s, -ing, -ed, -er, -est; syllables & their divisions; stress patterns; spelling rules; and/or “silent letters” play in word structure, usage, and meaning?  
These and other questions might come up (and be answered?) as you hone your puzzle-solving skills by homing in on activities / games such as Word Searches; Crosswords; Letter Ladders & Pyramids; Word Wheels or Letter Hubs; (Scrambled) Word Jumbles / Anagrams; Rebuses / Pictograms; Mazes Filled with Text; Letter Cubes (Boggle); Find Words-in-a-Word; Spelling Bees; Linked Letters & Words; Letter Choices, Omissions, & Switches; and others.
B-05.03: Use Vowels in Basic Phonics & Spelling Puzzles begins with instructive pedagogy for “Vowel Sounds & Letters: Everything to Know Now . . . .” This two-page “Lesson” attempts to correlate Vowel-Sound Pronunciation with its most frequent Spellings.  Excerpted from Basic Phonics & Spelling Puzzles for Word-Level Reading & Vocabulary Learning, each of twelve (12) Puzzle Pages then entices or compels text-users to acquire essential linguistic patterns by following slightly different steps or thought processes.  
Practice, Fun, & Challenge with the most common Simple (“Lax,” “Short,” “One-Letter”) Vowel Sounds come first. Puzzle solvers put the letters a, e, i, o, u, oo into one-syllable Nouns, Verbs, & Adjectives depicted as clues in Word Find, Criss-Cross, Linked Words, & Letter Choices Puzzles = Riddles, Conundrums, Enigmas, or Brainteasers (+ other approximate Synonyms). Next, to spell words with Complex (“Tense,” “Long,” Two-Letter”) Vowels, they place and read aloud Letter Combinations like ay, a-e, ea, i-e, oa, u-e, ow, etc. in items of Puzzles called Word Maze, Switched Letters, So What’s Different? Meaning Categories. To review and summarize these most primary Spellings for All Vowel Sounds, “contestants” engage in a Letter-Connect, a Letter- Jumble, Letter-Blocks, and a Rebus-Crossword. The Download ends with two pages of Puzzle Solutions, a Basic-Level Reference Word List, and a Path Board to play on by creating words with the most frequent Vowel-Sounds & Spellings. To get B-05.03: Use Vowels in Basic Phonics & Spelling Puzzles, just click on this or the title above or the page image below.
Of course, the formats / principles of these eighteen (18) pages of Samples, Patterns, & Procedures can apply to many other areas of Phonics & Spelling, such as “Initial, Medial, & Final Consonants,” “Syllables,’ “Word Parts,” & “Word Groupings.” Clearly, they can function as “templates” for comparable Phonics & Spelling -based Pedagogy & Puzzles at just about any level of linguistic challenge and with almost any kind of content (Vocabulary Items). To see how they work, click on one or all of Basic, Beginning, Intermediate, Advanced , ALL Phonics & Spelling Puzzles, available through
C-07.01: Idea V: (Make & Use) Word Puzzles & Games gives Step-by-Step Instructions for the creation of Phonics, Spelling, & Vocabulary Tools to use for Pedagogy & Play. There are Templates & Examples for Word Searches; Crosswords; Pyramid & Ladder Puzzles; Word-Wheels & Hubs; Pictogram & Word-Arrangement Rebuses; Letter-Mazes; Dot-to-Dot Displays; and rounds of the Word-Guessing Game of Hangman. Printed / manufactured and / or onscreen, there’s the Letter-Cube (Six-Sided Die) Format, Boggle. It’s followed by at least four varieties of Spelling Bees. The section in this Download is from the Teaching / Learning Resource Phonics & Spelling: Everything to Know (Now) About P & S Instruction: Creative Ideas for Effective Language Activities & Games.  
B-06.04, Lessons Eight & Eleven: Multisyllable Words—Consonants & Silent Letters  from Practical Everyday Spelling Workbook might reinforce the idea that cleverly devised Text Exercises trigger the same competitive endorphins (will to win) as (televised, electronic, printed) Word Puzzles & Games. At Intermediate to Advanced Learning Levels, these nineteen (19) pages cover “Consonant Sounds with (More Than) One Spelling,” including “Silent Consonants.” There are (secret) explanations; (befuddling) drawings to label; (puzzling) blanks to fill with alphabetic symbols; (baffling) orthographic comparisons to make; otherwise perplexing sentences and common (idiomatic) phrases to complete; unfinished items in Meaning Categories to list. All of these revolve around the second half of a tale, “The Husband Who Tried to Keep House”—a classic story about a character much more disoriented than text users ought to be—to correct & conclude with missing or appropriate Sounds & Letters. All of these function like “Puzzles,” “Riddles,” “Enigmas,” “Conundrums” or other “Brainteasers”— to help develop Knowledge & Skills related to Phonics, Spelling, & Vocabulary in Context.    
3. Get Knowledgeable & Capable with (Variable Components of) Whole Words, Alterations in Meaning & Function, Effects of Substitutions, Workings of Vocabulary, & Merging of Language Elements
At Word-Levels & Beyond (“Phrasing / Sentencing / Discoursing”), there’s much to learn and apply in regard to recognizing, reproducing, incorporating, shortening / lengthening, linking, (un)scrambling, categorizing, contextualizing, and otherwise operating on parts & pieces of language of any and all sorts & assortments. 
C-03.08: Do Eight (8) Common Puzzle-Activity Types on Seven (7) Basic Adult-Competency Topics contains UNIT 1: Things, from Ways with Words: Vocabulary Puzzles in Meaning Categories. Less demanding of advancing enigma-solving abilities than the ‘Puzzlements” offered above, these classic, illustrated pages of Word-Search, Crossword, Rebus, Scrambled Words, Categories, Matching, Words in Content, Expressions & Idioms still persist in entertaining & training linguistic Problem-Solvers seeking knowledge, success, and accomplishment. Although BASIC Phonics & Spelling Patterns & Principles, and Practical Phonics & Spelling Patterns & Principles aren’t featured, puzzle-solvers can continue building these skills as they review & acquire Vocabulary. The same book offers identical or comparable kinds of Puzzles with items classified as pertaining to Foods, Actions, Clothing / Body Parts, Places, Jobs / Professions, Describing People, the Calendar Year, the Community, the World of Work, Housing / Neighborhood, Transportation, Health / Illness, Leisure Time. 
Though directed at younger or less proficient learners, similar in content + format are the seven (7) Puzzle Types in six (6) different Meaning (though not correlated with Phonics & Spelling) Categories each of Picture This! and Picture This Too! Vocabulary Puzzle Books. And for those wanting various Levels of Challenge ranging from practical to esoteric, there’s a plethora of sources of Vocabulary-Word Puzzles in printed books, magazines, and online. 
C-04.01: Do Lesson 6: Compound Words, from Practical Everyday Spelling Workbook, is an unusually short Sample Section based on the Vocabulary-Building principle of Lengthening Words by Combining Parts & Elements. In this case, the items in its puzzle-like exercises are Closed Compounds, which have the “conjoined meanings” of linked smaller words.   
For a much more thorough treatment of this technique for Building Vocabulary Systematically: Combining Word Elements—Compound Words & Phrases, see the fourteen (14) pages of C-02.04: Create & Use 3 Kinds of Compounds = Unit One, Part 7 of What’s the Word? Using New Vocabulary in the Real World. As a source of Solutions to Word Puzzles & Games, Compounds and other Combined Words are a rich source of Vocabulary.   
Rather than a Lettered-Numbered Parts & Pieces Item, the final offering in these Listings of Downloads is just a three-column Vocabulary List—titled “Hat—Idioms by the Free Dictionary.  From phrases common in idiomatic speech to seemingly obscure items, it includes dozens of potential Word Puzzle “Solutions” such as those displayed on the TV Quiz Show, “Wheel of Fortune.” You’ll note, however, that nowhere in the List is verbiage that fits into the Puzzle “ANOTHER FEATHER _N YO_R _A_.”  
C-03.08: Do Eight (8) Common Puzzle-Activities 
C-04.01: Do Lesson 6: Compound Words, from Practical Everyday Spelling Workbook,
 “Hat—Idioms by the Free Dictionary.
One last “puzzling” query: How can Lists & other Vocabulary Reference Material easily found online be incorporated into Methods, Approaches, Lessons, Activities—and Puzzles & Games that attract, engage, motivate, (self-)teach, improve, and enhance Language Knowledge & Abilities?
Here are links to only a few of the books & products that serve as source material for commentary and suggestions about the uses of Games & Puzzles in language improvement. To get access to any of these—and others, just click on its image:   



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