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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 answerreverse gear

Ecaf answerface 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 answercarefree

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.