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August 07, 2017

Mike Ritchie

How to Make Your Own Word Search Puzzle

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Word search puzzles are one of those great, fun activities everyone remembers from childhood. They're satisfying to solve, not usually too hard, and often come with fun and interesting themes, which can be a great educational tool. A great way to take this fun to the next level is to teach your child how to create their own word search puzzles, and then let them challenge a friend or family member with it. Or, even better, once they understand how to make them you can both create your own, and then swap puzzles!

Making word search puzzles isn't too demanding, and is actually a lot of fun. Here's a step by step guide for how to do it.

Step 1: Pick a Theme

You can choose anything you like, and take inspiration from anywhere. Harry Potter is a fun choice, along with movies, animals, or even states and countries - it's totally up to you. For this walkthrough I chose animals, which you'll see in the images below.

Step 2: Decide on Your Grid Size and Number of Hidden Words

As with your choice of theme, you have a lot of flexibility here - the only real rule of thumb to stick to is to make your puzzle a square, and to not make it too small, since that limits your options for choosing words. For my example puzzle I'm going to use a 14x14 grid, which allows me to use long words without being unnecessarily large. A 30x30 grid, for example, would quickly become a chore to fill in, so I'd recommend keeping the dimensions around 14x14.

As for how many words you'll use, that's also totally up to you! I'd say you shouldn't have less than 10 or more than 20 in a grid of this size, and in my example I went with 12 words. There's no need to decide on an exact number ahead of time - just give yourself a general idea of how many words you want, and then see how the grid looks as you get close to that number.

Step 3: Starting Your Grid

To get started on your grid you'll need either graph paper, or any kind of paper with a ruler, and a pencil. Once you've drawn your grid, it's time to pick some theme words and start filling them in.

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You can fill words into the grid in 8 different ways; there are four main options, all of which you can invert. Your word can be spelled:

  • Top to bottom
  • Left to right
  • Diagonally left to right
  • Diagonally right to left

And backwards in all of those directions. Now, this is where it gets fun - you get to select the words within your theme, and start writing them in wherever you'd like, in any direction you want. Feel free to have words overlap or not, depending on your preference.

Step 4: Filling in the Grid, and Determining the Difficulty Level

Filling in the grid takes a little work, which is why I'd recommend you don't make your grid much larger than 14x14. That said, it's pretty simple - all you need to do is put letters into all the blank spaces! Here's what my finished grid looks like:

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There are a few choices you can make when filling in the grid that will make things more or less difficult. You could, for example, only fill in letters that are used in the words you've chosen - in this case that would mean avoiding letters like Z, or W. You can also build some tricks into your puzzle in the form of partial solutions. For example, I've spelled out "E-L-E" and "Q-U-I-D" in this puzzle, without actually making the words 'elephant' or 'squid' in those cases.

And that's how you make a word search! If you do this activity with your kids, please send us your puzzles on Facebook and we'll share them with the world. Enjoy!

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