Ever need a fun activity to jump-start your class or help fill the last 5 minutes after a grueling day? I always kept a few “word puzzle sheets” around for times when we needed a bit of levity in the classroom. Of all the sheets–included wordsearches, crosswords, and scrambles–my students loved the rebus puzzles the best. Though you may not have heard that name for them, I bet you’ve seen them before. A rebus is a pictorial presentation of a phrase or word. Take a look:
Alright, that’s a pretty simple one. The word head is over the word heels, so your answer is “HEAD OVER HEELS.”
While these are fun and quick puzzles, they actually serve a broader purpose in the ELL classroom. As we all know, idiomatic language is one of the hardest pieces for a non-native speaker to learn. To say someone is “head over heels” for someone may be clear to a native speaker, but our students may struggle to figure out what heads or heels have to do with falling in love with someone. Rebus puzzles allow us to introduce or reinforce idiomatic expressions while keeping it fun and engaging.
I’ve extended the activity at times by having students figure out the phrase (often with a partner) and then explain what the phrase means or draw a picture of what it represents. I gave extra credit if students managed to come up with their own rebus puzzles. The students engage in different types of learning to help clarify their understandings of idiomatic language.
There are pages upon pages of these puzzles, ranging from simple phrases or idioms to ones so complicated that I’m still trying to figure them out. For a pretty good introduction of a few, check out the NIEHS Kids’ Page here. And, don’t worry, answers are included!