Word searches are stupid because they have very little educational content other than that the words in the search are usually vocabulary words from an area of study. Not only that, they take very little thinking to solve. Basically, just scaning for letters. They are the ulitmate form of busy work.
Here are some ways to make them less stupid:
Use clues instead of a list of words If you are studying state capitals, instead of listing the capital cities of the midwest, list the states with a write on line and have the students fill in the correct capitals before finding them in the word search. Or give clues to the words. For example, if are studying cells instead of simply listing the word “membrane” you could write: This is the layer that surrounds the cell.
Scramble or code it Scramble each word in the word list and have a write on line for unscrambling before students find them in the word search. Or write the words in code and have the students decode the words before finding them in the word search.
Make it tricky This one is especially good for spelling words. Make your word search manually rather than using an online word search generator and make it tricky by including many near-misses For each word, have several places in the wordsearch where the word is almost spelled correctly, but is just one letter off. This means that kids must look at the word carefully to make sure it is correct.
Have students create their own Use graph paper. Then have them swap with a neighbor. Even better, have them define the words they choose to use or justify why they should be included in a themed puzzle.