A riddle is defined as a ‘question or statement intentionally phrased so as to require ingenuity in ascertaining its answer or meaning.’ Riddles can help students to understand complex conceits because they tend to be worded in a way that relates to real-life situations; and, in order to solve them, students are required to draw on – and sharpen – their critical-thinking skills.
It may sound obvious, but there’s a simple reason that children, in particular, respond well to riddles: they’ve heard them before, in other settings, and as such as are familiar with the concept. Familiarity breeds comfort in learning. Riddles are also short and thus accessible for young learners. Finally, puzzles are fun! If a student enjoys grappling with the topic, they’re much more likely to concentrate hard and stay motivated.
Here are a few of the key benefits of using riddles in education:
Riddles improve… metalinguistic awareness (i.e. the capacity to reflect on the nature of language). What makes a riddle funny and memorable? Often, it’s the riddle’s ability to manipulate language – incorporating multiple meanings, metaphors, shifts of perspective, and ambiguities. Homophones, for example, are a key component of riddles. The famous riddle ‘what is black and white and red all over’ can only be solved by recognising the homophone implied by ‘red’: this changes the riddle to ‘black and white and read all over’, and then the answer becomes clear. It’s a newspaper! The practice of looking for hidden meanings and interpreting a text, whilst gaining familiarity with linguistic devices like homophones, will enhance a student’s metalinguistic awareness – and they’ll have fun at the same time.Once a student has grasped the concept of homophones, task them with writing their own riddle. Provide a list of homophones and challenge them to use their imagination. A key benefit of riddles is that they can be sophisticated or simple, depending on the abilities of the student in question – so it’s a great activity for learners of all ages.
Riddles enhance… analytical skills in mathematics. Even if a puzzle seems ridiculous or quirky, it can still be challenging; and the act of posing a mathematical question as a riddle means that students are asked to apply critical and analytical thinking in unexpected ways – thus improving their overall understanding.
And don’t be fooled into thinking mathematical riddles are always obvious – a riddle that was used to teach Year 2 pupils hit the headlines in recent years because even adults were scratching their heads! Can you solve it?
‘There were some people on a train. 19 people get off the train at the first stop. 17 people get on the train. Now there are 63 people on the train. How many people were on the train to begin with?’
(The correct answer is 65).
Riddles improve… concentration and interpretation skills. The ability to interpret text is very different to simple literacy. Being able to ‘read between the lines’, think about context, and also comprehend layers of meaning is a vital skill, and riddles help learners to hone this ability. The problem-solving aspect of riddles can also improve a student’s concentration levels.
Riddles… expand vocabulary. From homophones to metaphors, riddles can introduce children to a variety of new and unusual words – and, best of all, riddles are highly memorable. Regular use of riddles can expand a student’s vocabulary in an effortless way.
Riddles… create a great bond between student and teacher. Sharing and solving riddles together is a fantastic bonding experience: it’s both interactive and fun, and the act of ‘thinking outside the box’ can also encourage children to break out of their comfort zone. Incorporating riddles into a lesson is an excellent ice-breaker and can help create a solid foundation for a future learning relationship.