Puzzle or jigsaw reading fuels students' hunger for solving puzzles while developing and reinforcing reading skills — like a glorified word scramble. Transform whole stories into a scramble game that allows students to practice everything from problem-solving and logical thinking to sequencing and communication skills.

Taking the concept of the word scramble with its letters out of order, you can begin to scramble words in sentences, then sentences in a paragraph, followed by paragraphs in short reading selection. The length of the selection can grow until you have a whole book that needs to be put back in order.

Mixed-up sentences to teach grammar points

Drive home key grammar points and proper sentence structure such as adjective and adverb placement by mixing up the words of a sentence. Then, demonstrate correct word placement along with the corresponding grammar rule.

Once your group has the basic idea, you may want to try intentionally reordering a few sentences incorrectly to demonstrate examples of awkward-sounding sentences. In some cases, it may be necessary to really spell out the difference for them so they begin to develop an ear for the nuances of word order.

Mixed-up sentences commonly make an appearance in English language workbooks, but you can make it more interactive by presenting a group of sentences as a game to review the grammar you have just taught. Adding a competitive element such as a timer or breaking the class up into teams can make the activity more dynamic and engaging.

Another twist for more advanced ESL classes is to have students rewrite sentences with different words while retaining the meaning of the first sentence. Provide them with the words (scrambled of course) that they need to make the new sentence.

This exercise can be used to practice a range of English, including active and passive verbs, synonyms, opposite adjectives and phrasal verbs. Further challenge students by asking them to explain why they chose the word order they did.

Paragraph scrambles expand critical thinking

When we move to putting groups of scrambled sentences in order to form a coherent paragraph, there is the opportunity to work with other elements of the language as well as sequential skills.

Students can learn to identify linking words and pronouns and see what each one they find refers to in previous sentences. This tests comprehension as students need to be sure that the order they choose for their sentences forms a paragraph that means something.

Longer puzzle reading gives students the chance to explore the elements of literature along with the previously mentioned language points. Elements such as character, setting and plot provide clues that help students connect missing pieces.

Students need to engage prior knowledge of the world as well as the language to make their inferences. For example, their selection may not spell out where the characters are, but maybe there's mention of the counter and dishes, which leads the student to consider the possibility that they're in a kitchen.

Jigsaw reading as an interactive activity

The shorter scrambles mentioned above lend themselves to individual or pair work. However, when I use whole stories for jigsaw reading, we work in groups or with the whole class.

To prepare, I photocopy (or print from an online source) the book without page numbers and match each page or pages with a student, taking into account the text's difficulty and student reading level. Then, before handing out the material to each student, I jot down their names in order.

After reading individually, they analyze their selection based on a worksheet or a list of questions I've prepared to help them focus their reading. In the group, each student needs to describe what seems to be happening, where and with who at the beginning, middle and end of his or her part of the text using their analysis not reading directly from the original work.

Once they hear all the parts of story, they work together to put it in order. The process is quite engaging for even the least advanced ESL students.

Once students figure out the right order, they try get the gist of the whole story through paraphrasing. It is fun hearing with what they come up with based on each person's input. The exercise triggers a great deal of curiosity to find out what really happens in the story so in groups that resist reading homework, almost everyone follows through with their reading after this activity.

Puzzle reading works as a standalone exercise as well as an engaging lead-in for subsequent analysis of the literature.