Friday, June 7, 2013

Using Play On Words To Teach Students To Think In Different Ways

by Richard D Boyce

Using Play On Words To Teach Students To Think In Different Ways

Teaching students to solve problems in unfamiliar contexts has always been a challenge for the teacher. It is a challenge that should be attempted daily, if possible, regularly if that's not possible.

If your students are to become real problem solvers, even five minutes a day will help the process.

One of the ways that I encouraged my students to develop the ability to think in different ways to help their problem solving was to give my classes two or three play on words to solve at the beginning of each lesson/day. I would only spend five minutes on the activity.

What I did find often, was that the most unlikely student was the first to solve the play on words. This increased their self-confidence and the esteem of their fellow students. Another offshoot was that the students often copied them down to take home and try out on their parents.

Initially, students were reluctant to 'have a go'. However, they became disappointed if they didn't get to solve some everyday.

Below I have put together groups of play on words that require the same sort of thinking to solve them so that the reader gains an idea of the different types of thinking required to solve the different groups. Answers are included.

Group 1 Letters and Numbers only:
2 4 T
+ answer: two for tea and tea for two
T 4 2
C I 2 I answer: see eye to eye

Group 2 Split Words:
Far home answer: far from home
Ban ana answer: banana split

Group 3 Words in Words:
Thepostfirst answer: first past the post
Tspinop answer: spinning top
bonBnet answer: bee in her bonnet
ddwestdd answer: West Indies

Group 4 Words with Missing Letters:
Forgetto answer: almost forgotten
Worl answer: world without end
Age - answer: ageless

Group 5 Mixed up Words:
Unts answer: mixed nuts
Gesg answer: scrambled eggs
Rilgl answer: mixed grill

Group 6 Words in Reverse:
Reag answer: reverse gear
Ecaf answer: face back

Group 7 Words in Positions:
Have have answer: to have and to hold
Hold hold
nd sound rr answer: surround sound

Group 8 Others:
Care $0 answer: carefree
2nd 0 answer: second to none

To facilitate the activity, if I received no answers after one minute, I would slowly add clues until I obtained the right answer. Below is an example of a hard one that I first experienced at a professional development workshop with other teachers. It baffled most if not all present.


The clues I gave in order were (a) break it up into parts; (b) look for a Maths term; and (c) betting.
OR/OR/O gives "double or nothing"

There are thousands of these around. Collect them and sort them into groups that need the same type of thinking. Give your classes experience in each type initially and then mix them up to force the students to think differently after each example.

One of the joys of these activities is to see students try to create their own. Add the good ones to your list as recognition of the student's creativity.

Our author spent much of his career looking for ways to improve problem solving where the problems were set in unfamiliar contexts. Using play on words was one way he got his students to begin to think 'outside the square'.

He has written an eBook, "Higher Order Thinking Skills in Mathematics". Although the book is Maths in orientation it provides strategies that will help in most subjects. The eBook is available on

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