How to Teach Close Reading with Logic Puzzles

Learn how to teach logic puzzles to improve students' close reading skills.
One of my favorite things in school was logic puzzles. I know many people dislike them, but they are the ultimate close reading activity. I used them all them time with my students to help improve their reading skills. To solve a logic problem, you have to closely examine each clue and consider what knowledge you learn from it.  What student can't benefit from that?

Why Teach Logic Puzzles?

Logic puzzles really strengthen students' ability to read between the lines. Close reading is a skill that is used across subjects.
  • When reading a novel, in order to to truly understand a character's motivations the reader has to synthesize everything that is stated about the character and fill in what isn't said.
  • In a math word problem, students need to pick out which information is important and how to apply it.  
  • While writing an essay in social studies or science, students need to comprehend their research, analyze it, and apply it to their topic or thesis.  
Learning to really zero in and what is written is important for every student in every class. It is a life skill.

When to Teach Logic Puzzles

One of the nice things about logic puzzles is that they are short. Not at first mind you. Until students really understand the strategies used to solved the logic puzzles you will need to make time for them. After the first few puzzles, you will have a few students that completely understand them and can mentor other students.  Once most students are independent you can use them in those filler moments - morning work, after recess, after pack up while waiting for the bus, etc.  Eventually students just enjoy doing them or even compete to see who can solve them first.

How to Teach Logic Puzzles

 If you are not a natural puzzler, it is important that you practice doing puzzles before trying to teach students.  It also helps to use logic puzzles meant for the age group you are teaching.

Logic puzzles really need modeling. Model, model, model. To begin students on logic puzzles, make sure everyone has a puzzle, highlighters/markers, and a pencil.  I use the highlighters to help showcase what I am doing.  I will switch colors on each step so students can follow along more easily.

When teaching logic puzzles, always start with a puzzle with a grid answer sheet.  There are more advanced puzzle that require the solver to create a diagram.  These are more complicated in general, and students will get frustrated.

Once everyone is ready, use your projector to show your page to the class.  I basically teach the first one as a think aloud.  Always start with the introduction.  Students always want to skip it, but it sets up the reader to understand what they are trying to figure out.  For my example, I am using a logic puzzle from Lindsay Perro.  In the introduction, I learned that I need to figure out which child did which activity at which time.  So I am trying to connect three pieces of information: name, activity, and time.

Clue 1

Learn how to teach logic puzzles to improve students' close reading skills.After the introduction, read the first clue out loud. Explain what you are thinking. For example, the"Girls went skiing and sledding at 10 and 11." What did I learn from that clue? A few things:
first clue in my puzzle says,
  • Only girls could go skiing or sledding.
  • Only girls did something at 10 and 11.
  • No boys can be skiing, sledding, 10 or 11.
  • Only skiing or sledding can be at 10 or 11.  
From that one clue, I figured out a lot of things for the puzzle.  Since I do not know which girl did the activities, I am going to put an X in the spaces for the boys for skiing, sledding, 10AM or 11AM.  I also cross off all other activities at 10AM and 11AM.

This is a great example of a general clue.  These clues allow you to cross off a lot of wrong answers, but they don't give you a specific match.

Clue 2

Learn how to teach logic puzzles to improve students' close reading skills.
The second clue says, "Ken shoveled his driveway sometime after 3PM."  What did I learn from that
clue?
  • Ken is the child who shoveled the driveway.
  • Ken and shoveling can only be 4PM or 5 PM, because it has to be after 3PM.
On my grid, I will put a circle for Ken and shoveling - they are a definite match. At the same time, I know that no other child could shovel the driveway, so I will put an X under shoveling for every other child. Ken can only do one activity, so X out all the others. I will also put an X in every time for Ken except 4PM or 5PM. I will also put an X for every time except 4PM or 5PM for shovelling. I know they are one of those two times, but I am not sure which one.

This is a more specific clue. This clue tells the reader a specific match. It doesn't necessarily give you the entire match, but you can connect two items on your grid.

Clue 3

Learn how to teach logic puzzles to improve students' close reading skills.The third clue states, "Boys went skating, fishing, and snowboarding, but not at 2PM." Can you
figure out what you learn?
  • Only boys can go skating, fishing, or snowboarding.
  • No girls went skating, fishing, or snowboarding.
  • Skating, fishing, and snowboarding cannot be at 2PM.
  • Boys did not go at 2PM.  (2PM can only be girls.)
What actions should you take on your grid? Put an X next to all girls and skating, fishing, and snowboarding. Put an X for skating, fishing, and snowboarding and 2PM. Also remember to put an X for the boys at 2PM. This is similar to the first clue - you are just eliminating choices.

Clue 4

Learn how to teach logic puzzles to improve students' close reading skills.The fourth clue is just like the second, but it gives you a complete match. "Monique made cookies at 5PM." Use circles to connect Monique and cookies, Monique and 5PM, and cookies and 5PM. Remember to cross off all other choices for Monique, cookies, and 5PM.  Students often forget the Xs, but that is how you narrow down the possible choices.

In addition, this clue leads you to solve another match. Once I put an X for all other choices for 5PM, I can see that Ken and shoveling only have one time option left - 4PM. That must be the correct choice for them. (Remember in clue one, Ken had to be after 3PM.) Now I can use a circle to mark those matches (Ken and 4PM and shoveling and 4PM) and cross out all other options for 4PM.

Clue 5

Now that you are halfway through the clues, the puzzle answer choices will get eliminated pretty quickly.  The fifth clue says, "Ryan was the boy who went fishing, but not at noon." This clue brings in those close reading skills, because students have to remember the not. (Have you ever seen that in a test question?) Again, what did I learn?
  • Ryan is a boy (not a girl) and he went fishing. 
  • Ryan and fishing did not happen at noon.
Put a circle for Ryan and fishing. X out all other options for Ryan and for fishing. Cross out noon as a choice for both Ryan and fishing.

Clue 6 

Once I hit the sixth clue, now I start to find matches because all the other options are eliminated. This clue is a specific one, "Jill went sledding at noon." However, once I fill in 10AM for sledding, I see that 11AM is the only option left for skiing. I filled in my Xs for skiing and the other time slots.

This is basically how you will finish the puzzle. The final two clues are much like the sixth clue - they give specific matches. As you fill in those matches, you will see that other matches are also created as choices are crossed out.

It is really hard to finish a whole logic puzzle and not miss crossing something off.  As you come across them, just think aloud so students hear your inner talk.  It is okay to make a mistake or to deduce something after the fact!

Another strategy to find missed deductions is to  cross-check the sections. For example, If I figure out that Betty is at 11AM and she only has skiing and building a snowman left, I will check to see which activity can be at 11AM. In this situation, I had already figured out that skiing was at 11AM, so I know that Betty must have gone skiing. Again, the more puzzles you do, the easier it becomes to remember these types of strategies.

Where Can You Find Logic Puzzles?

There are a few TeachersPayTeachers sellers that create logic puzzles. Outside of TPT, there are puzzle magazines, but they are usually not aimed at beginners. Some of the publishing companies may also offer a logic puzzle resource, but I am not sure.  Here are links to TPT sellers who create puzzles:

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