Crosswords are sometimes used in textbooks as a vocabulary review for a set of units. This kind of puzzle is great for independent study because it reinforces the students’ knowledge of definitions and spellings. In the classroom, I prefer crosswords that require communication. For example, one variation is to have no clues written. Instead, there are two copies. Copy A has all the down answers, and Copy B has all the across answers. Students work in pairs, offering spoken clues to aid their partners so that both can fill in the answers missing on their copies.
The good news is that you don’t have to wait until a textbook provides a crossword puzzle, nor do you have to tax your brain figuring out how to create your own and trying to get the boxes evenly spaced on paper with the aid of a ruler. There are plenty of online sites that build puzzles for free. Try this one: CreateYourOwnCrossword. The site gives the author the option of making the puzzle public and allowing viewers to solve the puzzle online. You could then give the link to students and ask them to complete the puzzle as an independent task. There’s also a printable HTML or PDF file, which allows for more possibilities. If you want to make the puzzle a communicative activity, simply cover the clues and finish preparing the copies for classroom use. The hard part is already done by the computer: it took the words you entered and created the puzzle for you. You just need to write in the answers to create Copy A (down answers) and Copy B (across answers). Make your photocopies and your ready to go.
If you really start to think, you can come up with some creative uses of an online puzzle builder. For example, you can use a crossword to get students to recall details from a listening or reading passage. Create the crossword yourself based on the assigned passage. Once the passage is covered as a class, have students work in pairs to complete the puzzle. Correct their work as a class.
Want to get even more elaborate? Have students create their own crosswords. For example, in an upper level class you could have students prepare oral presentations. Part of their preparation can include making and printing out a small crossword puzzle (10-12 words) based on their presentation. At the end of the oral presentation, the speaker hands out the puzzle for the class to complete. If the students were attentive, they should be able to complete the puzzle with ease, recalling details from the talk they just heard.