Anagrams: Beyond Computer Solutions

At first glance, anagrams might appear to be novelty items useful only for forwarding by email to all your friends and family. Among information on the web, we found conflicting statements like “anagrams are more of a male task” vs. “women are more adept at solving anagrams”, or that anagram solving lies in the domain of intelligence testing, with no real-world application. We say “think again.”

Anagram solving in the classroom (along with the use of other puzzles such as acrostics, crosswords, word-searches, etc.) brings pattern recognition to the problem-solving process. In fact, algorithms have been written to port the process rather successfully over to the computer, to the point that numerous anagram generators can be found on the web. Just type in a word or phrase, hit the button, and all the work is done for you. However, solving problems without electronic intervention can have real-world value not readily apparent to your students.

Tile Movement
Use the movement of tiles to jump-start the pattern-detection process in your lesson plan. Use Scrabble tiles or make your own out of cardboard squares cut with a paper cutter or an Ellison press. Then spell out simple words with the tiles, jumble them, and have students look for new words. You’ve instantly made the process very visual and hands-on. During the tiling process have them frequently jumble the tiles and start over to take a fresh look at what they have to work with.

Patterns
We look for them whether we know it or not. Help your class recognize common usage through a simple board exercise of listing them; obvious examples are “qu”, “th” and “ou”.

Puzzle Partners
Anagrams are typically hard to solve with partners because they require perceptual processes which are hard to verbalize. Verbalizing thoughts can be a good exercise in itself, though. Have pairs of students talk while they look for words and patterns. The verbalization will be a way to help them better define what they see and why they try certain things. With tiles, working across from each other may help to see new possibilities simply because some tiles are upside-down, thus perceived differently.

Resources
Anagram generators abound – one we like is at Wordsmith.org because the site also is home for the A.Word.A.Day mailing list. AnagramGenius.Com contains archives of anagrams, searchable by category. And on the software side, The Random House Webster’s Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus has an anagram search function.

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