Why and How to Teach Computer Coding to Primary Students

Why Teach Computer Coding?

There is no way of denying it, we live in a digital world. Computers, smartphones, and tablets are everywhere and practically everything we do requires some sort of programming.  Since it is our job as educators to prepare students for the future, it is important to introduce and teach computer programming to help prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow.

The earlier we introduce students to computer coding and programming the more comfortable and successful they will become when faced with more challenging learning opportunities. Plus, young students are often eager to use and learn about computers and programming because they love using technology. In addition, research shows that young students’ brains are more receptive to computer languages at a young age, just like foreign languages.

Teaching coding also improves:

  • sequencing skills
  • problem-solving
  • logical thinking
  • cause and effect skills
  • computational thinking
  • counting

How to Introduce Computer Coding

When introducing coding to young students, I like to first explain that computers can not function on their own. They can not do anything without a person telling them what to do.

The person who tells a computer what to do is a programmer. A programmer uses code to tell the computer what to do.

The code tells the computer exactly what to do and has to be written in the correct order or it will not work properly.  A computer always follows a code exactly in the order it is written.  The order that a computer follows the code is called a sequence.  If the sequence is not correct, the program will not function properly.

For example, when putting on your shoes and socks you would not put your shoes on and then put on your socks. It is important to do it in the correct sequence in order to get the desired outcome, put on your socks first and then your shoes.

Hands-On Activity

After students understand that code is what computer programmers use to tell computers exactly what to do and the sequence of code is important, we do a fun hands-on activity.

Since Computer Science Week falls in December, I use a Christmas themed activity. You can use any theme you wish.

In this activity, students first design a map or grid and then act as programmers to design basic code in the correct sequence that will command a character to follow the path and move to a select location (end point).

In this example, the map is the North Pole and students are directing Christmas characters around the North Pole using code. We start off with simple code: right, left, up, down.

First, students pick and choose design pieces to place in any of the squares on the grid. Since there are a number of different design pieces from which to choose (Christmas characters and objects), play is different each time.

computer coding map / grid for beginners

Then, students choose an end point for their program. It can be any square on the grid. They can choose to end at an object or any blank square except the starting point which is the square in the bottom left with the gold star.

Next, students use the directional arrows to create the code in the correct sequence that will move the Christmas character from the square with the gold star to the chosen end point.

You can easily create movable characters by either folding a paper clip upright and taping the character to it so it stands upright or placing the character in a small binder clip so it stands upright.

hands-on coding practice

hands-on computer coding practice

This hands-on activity helps students visualize coding and helps them understand the importance of using the correct sequence when coding in order to get the desired result.

Non-Computer Printable Practice

Before students move on to digital coding practice, I like to have them practice on paper and also assess their understanding.  I use simple grid pictures, again these are Christmas themed for Computer Science week in December but you can use any theme.

First, students practice following code by drawing the path through the North Pole according to the code starting in the bottom left box with the star.

We complete these several ways: using pencils, crayons, dry erase markers, or Dot Painters.

Next, students practice creating code by programming the code for the highlighted path through the North Pole by drawing directional arrows in each coding box across the top.

creating computer code

Digital Practice

Once students feel more comfortable with coding, we move on to digital practice, first with Boom Cards and then with apps.

I like using the Boom Cards first because they are self-checking and have audio directions so young students can complete them independently. Also, I receive data on each student so I can assess their understanding.

We use Boom Cards that match the Christmas theme with which the students are familiar.  In the first deck, students move a Christmas character (either a reindeer, Santa, Mrs. Clause, or an elf) to the correct place at the North Pole by following the code then click the Submit button to see if they are correct.

This helps students learn the importance of following each step of code in the correct sequence in order to get the the desired response and why sequence matters in a computer program.

In the second deck, students create the code for the highlighted blue path through the North Pole by dragging and dropping the arrows to the boxes. They then move the Christmas character from the box with the gold star along the path according to the code they created.

This helps students learn the importance of creating each step of code in the correct sequence in order to get the the desired response and why sequence matters in a computer program.

This short video shows us using the coding Boom Cards:

Once students are comfortable with following and creating code, we begin to use coding apps.

Here are some of my favorite coding apps for young students:

If you would like to use the coding resources pictured in this post they are available here:

coding practice Megabundle Christmas

Christmas Coding MegaBundle (includes both the print and digital resources)

Coding Practice Christmas bundle

Christmas Coding Bundle (digital versions for following and creating code)

coding practice print version Christmas

Christmas Coding Practice Printable Version 

coding practice Christmas digital

Christmas Coding Practice Digital Following Code Practice

Coding practice Christmas writing code

Christmas Coding Practice Digital Creating Code Practice

How & Why to Teach Computer Coding to Primary Students

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