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Benefits of playing crossword puzzles

Daughter wants stiXzzle to learn & play at the same time. Mum, knowing crossword benefits, agrees enthusiastically.m agrees, thinking of crossword benefits.

More than just fun

As a kid, I would play any crossword puzzle that crossed my path.

As a tutor (after my A-Level), I made crosswords for my students. They liked the puzzles.

As a mother, I made the sole crossword for Big One who enjoyed it. No seconds because time no enough. Small One didn’t get any. Poor thing. But, I digress. Back to crosswords.

What are the benefits of crossword puzzles

Back then, I was homing in on the fun factor of the crossword puzzles. I didn’t realise these goodies came along with doing the crosswords:

#1 Make learning enjoyable

#2 Improve vocabulary

#3 Increase content retention (i.e., in local parlance, good for revising for exams)

#4 Enhance problem solving skills

#5 Boost self-confidence

#6 Promote cognitive growth.


Studies on benefits of crossword puzzles

There is substantial literature on the positive effects of crossword puzzles in diverse disciplines ranging from language, communications, psychology, reading, dentistry to biomedical education.

Consider these findings from numerous studies:

  • “learners get to enjoy learning the target language because they are involved in their own learning” [Njoroge (2013)]

  • “students find it fun, feel relaxed and enjoy participating” [Njoroge (2013)]

  • “learning vocabulary through crosswords is one of the best ways to improve students’ vocabulary” [Orawiwatnakul (2013)]

  • “students had better vocabulary retention” [Orawiwatnakul (2013)]

  • “increase interest in course material, increase retention of material which in turn might increase exam scores after exposure to puzzles” [Crossman & Crossman (1983)]

  • “positive and eager acceptance by students of crossword puzzles as a learning and revision tool has been established in numerous studies” [Yuriev (2016)]

  • “crosswords are more effective for revision when compared to simply reviewing notes or reading a textbook…. due to the students' enjoyment of solving crossword .. and the enhanced motivation of students to learn meaningfully” [Yuriev (2016)]

  • “growing evidence of crossword puzzle as an educational tool for active learning, problem solving and critical thinking” [Kolte et al. (2017)]

  • “use of crossword puzzles for ongoing revision contributes to increased learning gains and improved problem-solving skills” [Yuriev (2016)]

  • “greater retention of facts, improved association of concepts, and increased levels of confidence” [Childers (1996)]

  • “Crossword puzzles ….. have been shown to motivate student learning to increase students' confidence in learning abilities and to promote growth in cognitive knowledge” [Berry (2008)]

  • “Play engages the prefrontal cortex, responsible for your highest-level cognitive functions -including self-knowledge, memory …. Activities like …. challenging crossword puzzles all provide rigorous neural workouts” [Gilkey, R. & and Kilts, C. (2007)].

Benefits or not, nothing can beat the ‘aha’ moment when you finally track down the elusive word and solve the puzzle. What a rush of dopamine. What satisfaction. What a sense of accomplishment.

The same rush of dopamine happens when a Chinese crossword puzzle for primary/secondary school is solved. What fun!


  • Berry, D.C., Miller, M.G., Crossword Puzzles as a Tool to Enhance Athletic Training Student Learning: Part I (2008). Human Performance and Health Education Faculty Research. Paper 10. pp.29.

  • Childers, C. (1996). Using Crossword Puzzles as an Aid to Studying Sociological Concepts. Teaching Sociology, 24(2), pp.231.

  • Crossman, E. K., & Crossman, S. M. (1983).The crossword puzzle as a teaching tool. Teaching of Psychology, 10(2), pp.98.

  • Gilkey, R., Kilts, C. Cognitive Fitness. Harvard Business Review. Nov 2007. pp.1

  • Njoroge, M.C., Ndung’u, R.W., Gathigia, M.G. (2013). The Use of Crossword Puzzles as a Vocabulary Learning Strategy: A Case of English as Second Language in Kenyan Secondary Schools. International Journal of Current Research, 5(1), pp.5.

  • Orawiwatnakul, W. (2013). Crossword Puzzles as a Learning Tool for Vocabulary Development. Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 11(2), pp.426-427.

  • Kolte, S., Jadhav, P.R., Deshmukh, Y.A., Patil,1. (2017).

  • Yuriev, E., Capuano, B., Short, J.L. (2016) Crossword puzzles for chemistry education: learning goals beyond vocabulary. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 2016, Issue 3, pp.532


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