Puzzles are a pretty common sight in elementary classrooms, but you don’t typically see them much in secondary classrooms. I think that’s crazy! Puzzles have so many benefits, and they can even help strengthen and create new connections in our brains. That’s why I love using Tarsia puzzles to teach vocabulary! Keep reading to learn about the benefits of using puzzles in your classroom, what exactly a Tarsia puzzle is, and how you can even create your own with a set of blank Tarsia puzzle templates!
What are the benefits of using puzzles in your classroom?
Puzzles are perfect for classrooms because they
- help with memory and recall
- serve as a quiet calming activity that can lead to more mindfulness
- teach patience and perseverance
- improve motor skills
- build problem-solving abilities
- provide a sense of accomplishment and boost self-confidence
- make excellent early finisher activities
- lead to thinking in new and different ways
- require both logic and creativity
- can be completed independently or in a group
- promote teamwork, cooperation, and sharing when done in groups
What is a Tarsia puzzle?
A Tarsia puzzle is very similar to a jigsaw, but the pieces are usually geometric shapes such as triangles, squares, or hexagons. The sides of every puzzle piece feature a piece of content that matches with another piece. The geometric shapes come together to create a larger geometric shape. It’s a little hard to explain, so it’s better to just show you.
In this puzzle, students match vocabulary words to definitions. You’ll notice that some of the edges have vocabulary terms that don’t match with anything. These are just distractors to make the puzzle a little more challenging!
Why are Tarsia puzzles great for teaching vocabulary?
No matter what content you’re teaching, there are always vocabulary words that students need to know. Vocabulary research shows that in order to learn new words, students have to interact with them multiple times. Learning all of those words can feel borrrrrrring, but putting together a puzzle feels more like a game than actual learning. Students love the challenge of Tarsia puzzles and even request to play with them in their free time. You mean you want to work quietly on a puzzle while also learning and memorizing the vocabulary? Sign me up!
So how do you make Tarsia puzzles anyway?
Great question! I make mine using some templates I’ve created in PowerPoint. Basically, you have to create the smaller shape you want to use (usually a triangle), duplicate the shapes until you have as many as you need, align them so they form a bigger shape, and then add in your text boxes. If you’re not into creating your own, a set of blank Tarsia puzzle templates is definitely the way to go. You can download a free sample or buy a bigger collection of 36 puzzles here or on TeachersPayTeachers to help get you started.
Do you have any advice for using Tarsia puzzles to teach vocabulary?
Yes, yes I do! Tarsia puzzles can be used in so many different ways, and they allow students to work at their own pace in an engaging activity that helps them commit information to memory. Here are just a few ways you can use them:
- Pre-assessments to see what students know prior to beginning a lesson or unit
- A way to front-load vocabulary students will need to be familiar with
- Formative assessment throughout a unit, especially one where there is a lot of memorization like states and capitals
- Vocab review or summative assessment
- Assignment for students to make their own puzzles. You can give students access to the blank Tarsia puzzle templates and let them either create a puzzle digitally, or just print a blank template and have them fill in content by hand. It’s a great way to have students identify the vocabulary terms, people, and places they think are most important about a topic.
- Centers or stations
- Partner or group activities
- Fun homework assignment
- Enrichment or early-finisher activities
- Substitute plans
- “Back pocket” activities to have on hand for those days when things just don’t go as planned
Tarsia puzzles are most commonly used for vocabulary review, but they can be used for other content as well. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination! Here are some ideas for spicing things up:
- Replace text boxes with small picture icons to create visual vocabulary puzzles that are perfect for English language learners
- Include some solutions that work for multiple definitions. Students will have to use logic and higher-order thinking skills as they work to solve the puzzle.
- Time your students and make it a competition to see who can do the puzzle the fastest. You could also have students compete against their own previous times to see if they get faster as a unit progresses.
- Make things a little more difficult by leaving a few of the text boxes blank so students have to fill in the missing terms or definitions themselves.
- Include some deliberate mistakes (just a few!) and tell your students at the start of the activity they must identify and correct them.
- Add numbers to the backs of the puzzle pieces. You should do it in a random order so the solution won’t be obvious. These numbers will be an easy way for you to see whether all of the pieces are there.
Are you going to start using Tarsia puzzles to teach vocabulary in your classroom? Remember if you don’t want to create your own, you can grab four free templates or a full set of 36 puzzle templates if you’re excited about creating lots of puzzles! I’d love to see what you make with them, so feel free to tag me on social media if you post any pictures!
Tanya G. Marshall--The Butterfly Teacher says
I’ve never used Tarsia puzzles, but I LOVE the idea of incorporating them into my vocab instruction. Thanks so much for mentioning this idea and including the links to buy them! 🙂
Dr. Loftin's Learning Emporium says
Thanks, Tanya! I’ve found that students of all ages really like using them. 🙂