The Puzzle Method and Writing

Deena Seifert, M.S., CCC-SLP
Deena Seifert,

Beth shared The Puzzle Method with us, which helps writers develop main ideas and key details.  I've borrowed her puzzle idea and started using it with my elementary school writers who are writing sentences to describe pictured situations.  Sometimes students are overwhelmed with the many actions in a picture and don't know where to start.

"Taking a page" from Beth's strategies, I make a photocopy of a picture and cut it up into puzzle pieces.  The student puts the puzzle together, determines the main idea of the picture and creates a topic sentence.

After writing the topic sentence, the student chooses one of the puzzle pieces and writes a sentence about it, and so on with each puzzle piece until a sentence has been formulated about each puzzle piece.  Finally, we work on formulating the concluding sentence.

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This method can be used to create compound and complex sentences by using 2 or more puzzle pieces:

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Breaking a picture up into defined puzzle pieces, breaks down the activity for the student and decreases the frustration that can be caused with a multi-step writing activity.

Video of Puzzle Main Idea Technique

Beth Lawrence, MA, CCC-SLP
Beth Lawrence, MA, CCC-SLP

Hi All.  A couple of weeks ago, we shared the idea of using a puzzle to help students with Main Idea/Key Details.  We've uploaded some video segments to  The puzzle pieces each have velcro and attach to a large board covered in velcro.  The first video explains the overview of the puzzle and how it will be used to have the student extract key details.  We apologize the sound is a little tricky.  Turn the volume up to maximum!

The second is a section I filmed while working  with one of my students who struggles with main idea/key details/insignificant details.  She is an amazing "out of the box" thinker who notices cool things others may not notice. However, she sometimes misses the primary components in stories, so this activity was perfect for her. She enjoyed the activity, and even said,  "Miss Beth, you should make this into an app game where students click on the puzzle pieces, then write a story about it using the details they pick from the puzzle!" idea!  We edited this 15 minute session into 3 parts.

The links are:


Note how, through use of graphic organizers, the student was guided to move from provision of details in a serial manner, to producing a cohesive summary of the entire puzzle.   Hope you find it useful!

Mobile Apps News

round logo copyThis is an exciting time for Communication @PPtitude! Our first mobile app is in the works. The storyboard has been delivered to our software engineer and we are excited to experience the "birth" of our first piece of technology. We will keep you updated on it's progress!

Deena is also a "student" again, taking an online course in mobile app development and is officially an Apple Developer. Beth is working on a research grant for a vocabulary program we will eventually share with you. Good times!

Meanwhile, we thought we would share a few apps on the market that you might find useful. The first one is free, called "Chain of Thought" by Jay Bacal. It's a free association word game that is great for word retrieval which is the difficulty in recalling words on demand. One of the techniques for improving word recall is to think of words associated the word you are searching for to retrieve the target word. for example, syrup goes with pancakes and a bat goes with a baseball. The game can be played solo, with another player or online. Adults and kids will enjoy this free app so much, they won't notice its language benefits.

The second app is Inspiration Software which has reduced the price of their Mac and PC software by 50% for a limited time. (Inspiration Maps for the iPad is just $9.99. Using it with a touch screen is great for students.) You've read about this software on our blogs about writing. It's a software program that allows students to work in diagram or outline form for brainstorming ideas, mapping out ideas about a s research topic, and organizing information for writing as well as verbal formulation. We can't say enough good things about this software for elementary to college students. So, if you were thinking about getting Inspiration, now's the time to buy it. In fact, we use Inspiration when we are "mapping out" our ideas for apps and research ideas.

Thanks to all of our supporters! We've passed the 2,000 mark on hits to our blog and we are so grateful!

Deena Seifert, MS, CCC-SLP
Deena Seifert, MS, CCC-SLP

Main Idea Versus Detail Trouble??

Beth Lawrence, MA, CCC-SLP
Beth Lawrence, MA, CCC-SLP

I hope everyone is having a wonderful start to 2013!  I'd like to share a couple of ideas for talking to students about Main Idea versus Details.  Have your students/children ever attempted to share a main idea by re-telling the entire story? As if every detail were just as essential as the detail before? Deena and I see this frequently with our students.

Two techniques come to mind that seemed to work for these particular students, so if they can help you to help one other child, that would be wonderful!  One is a third grade student who is a Math Whiz and is really smart. I kept talking to him using "language terms" and I finally realized I might get farther with him if I spoke "his language."  I had him read a story that had five sentences.  The story came from Visualizing-Verbalizing Stories Book 1 (If you are not familiar with Visualizing-Verbalizing, it is AMAZING--more information can be found at I randomly assigned single digit numbers to each sentence and asked him to add the numbers up. Like this:

Math Example Main Idea

He wrote the numbers in a column, then added them up, quickly solved the problem, and provided me2+3 with the sum.  I compared the paragraph to a math problem, that it is our job as readers to "figure out" the answer/main idea--that we cannot simply repeat the sentences.  We wouldn't simply repeat the numbers to be added.  This really seemed to open his eyes to what we were trying to do.  We still had quite a bit of work to do, and lots of practice working on this skill, but finally I had stopped explaining, "Main Idea" using words he was not understanding.  We started talking about the "sum" of the story instead.

The second example is with an eighth grade girl who has significant difficulty, "Seeing the Trees for the Forest" (i.e., she gets the big ideas, but she's not sure how the details fit in.)  She is an artist, thinks in big ideas and loves all things visual.  We were working on writing a summary of an article together. She was not "getting" the process.  As it often happens with many of my ideas, it hit me at 2:00 in the morning that our job as "article-summarizers" (and really when we write any type of research paper) is to take someone else' perfectly beautiful puzzle (an article, articles, books, etc.), pull out the pieces that carry the most meaning, leaving behind the puzzle-pieces that are not necessary to the scene.  That is the index-card/note-taking portion of the process.  Then, we re-arrange the puzzle pieces, adding our own "pieces" (language) to make a cohesive whole that is similar to the original, but has our artistic flair and our viewpoint as the authors.

Puzzle PieceFor the next session, I brought a 100 piece puzzle and had her physically extract the pieces she saw as being important.  As we extracted important details from the article (not always an easy task,) we wrote them on index cards.  I had my student tape a puzzle piece to each index card. I made sure that similar topics were attached to puzzle pieces from the same area of the puzzle so they would be grouped together in our summary in a way that matched the themes within the puzzle.  Once we had our index cards/puzzle pieces written, we used post-it notes to connect the ideas into a cohesive paragraph using conjunctions and sequence words. If there is interest, I would be willing to duplicate this process so you have a visual--I wasn't yet in the "digital age" when I was working with this student.

Hope these ideas might help someone else working with a student on main idea/details!  Let us know.