CS Ideas Basics

  • See the http://sheffieldclc.net website for a write up of some lessons teaching SEN pupils computing ideas. It can be found under Blogs > Special School Blog.

Teaching Ideas

Idea Comments/Images/Program of Study reference
1. Sequence an everyday activity using symbols and images. Start with just 2 or 3 pictures. This is in preparation for work on algorithms – sequences of instructions to make something happen. Use Communicate: in Print to create resources.
2. Sequence parts of a well-known story – use talking tins/Big Macs/talking postcards for audio support, together with images.
3. Look at how order in a sequence is important, using getting dressed as an example. Can also be used for simple debugging – what is wrong with this sequence: Put on your trousers, then put on your shirt. Now put on your pants. Use a dressing up box for pupils to try different sequences.
There is a Scratch resource here that can be used for this activity.
More work on algorithms – what they are;
that sequence affects outcome; and how to debug, i.e. identify and correct errors.
4. Use coloured shapes or wooden blocks, or cards with different images on for a sorting task. Can the students find more than one way to sort them? Can they explain their reasons for sorting them that way (i.e. their algorithm – if it is red it goes in this pile, if is has round edges it goes in that pile etc)? Good links to maths and science. Examples:

  • shapes
  • numbers
  • coloured objects
  • fruit/vegetables/other
  • animals
5. Use music and dance to look at sequences and making things happen:
There is a good game on the CBeebies website, called Make a Dance, where you can drag animated dance moves into a sequence to create your own version of a dance for the character to do. This is not ideal for older pupils, but it’s fine for the majority. This can be followed with the idea of using talking postcards with images on and audio commands to program a class to dance, e.g. clap your hands, step to the right. Give cards to a number of students at the front of the class, and a volunteer can put them in order to create their own dance program. They play the audio and the rest of the class do the moves to a backing track.
gangnam style.jpg
6. Use Brio train sets (or cheap Ikea version) with branching tracks to look at writing simple programs to fulfil an outcome. For example, in order to reach the station: go straight ahead; turn left; go over the bridge; turn right. These could easily be done as symbols.Other ideas along the same lines:
– Marble runs
– Water drainage systems
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7. Create a simple program to play a tune – give each student a musical instrument, or tablet device with music app. Assign each student a colour, and use coloured cards to create a program to play a tune. You can also use this Scratch program here – the notes provided can be used to play Row Row Row your Boat. Stick pupils’ sequences of cards to the board for them to play. There is a high contrast version using shapes here.
musicla programming.jpg
8. Use remote controlled toys and vehicles to investigate how you can give instructions to a digital device. Give a particular aim, e.g. drive the car under the table, for students to fulfil. This leads to the idea of predicting outcomes.
9. Remote controlled pupils – create some buttons with audio commands, e.g. wave your hands, touch your nose. One pupil can use these to control another pupil. Works even better with a special hat (see image). This can be used to reinforce the idea that technology is controlled by us.


10. Use simple sequences of words, images and story parts to introduce what an algorithm is. Use Talking Tins/Postcards to provide audio support. Talk about how sequence affects outcome, e.g. if you have sentence parts: ‘the pirate’, ‘the shark’, ‘eats’ the meaning of the sentence changes according to the order you place the pirate and the shark. Understand what algorithms are
11. Directional commands are some of the easiest to begin with. It may be useful to use symbols similar to those found on the Beebot/Constructabot (see image), as it will be easy for pupils to transfer their knowledge. Some discussion will need to be had about what a right-turn entails, e.g. is it a 90 degree turn?
– Pupils can start by giving another person instructions using the commands, one at a time, to move them to a specific spot.
– Use a grid, perhaps start with 2×3 squares, and write a program (using cards with commands on) to move someone to a given square. Can also be done with an object on a table, it just needs an obvious front and back so they know which way it is facing.
– Show a sequence of instructions and get the pupils to tell you which square the person/object will end up in.
– Show a sequence of instructions with an error in and ask the pupils to correct it.All of these activities can be repeated over and over, using more complex grids, with obstacles, to reinforce the learning. For visually impaired learners, use talking tins.
Create and debug simple programs.
Use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs.
12. Using these Beebot commands throws up certain questions about how to lay them out, they may be some progression in this:
a) Start with a pile of commands that you turn over as you execute it (use treasury tags to keep together)
b) Lay them out left to right to mimic reading
c) Lay them out in the shape of the path you are creating.
d) Lay them out top to bottom, which would replicate a standard computer program.
You can add Widgit symbols to the reverse to aid understanding, and something to the card to show which way up it goes (in our examples we used a coloured dot – photo to come, or there are some jigsaw pieces you can download here).
Create and debug simple programs.
13. Program your teacher to make a jam sandwich!
This video shows a collection of algorithm errors / great debugging opportunities that Y4 & Y5 pupils found when trying to program their teacher.
You can find the planning here. http://code-it.co.uk/csplanning.html
You can download a set of commands for creating your own jam sandwich algorithm, complete with symbols, below:

Understand what algorithms are, and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions
14. Bubble Sorts: Pupils don’t need to know exactly what a Bubble Sort is at this point, but you can use it as an example of an algorithm that a computer uses to sort information. What they need to know is that a computer can only compare two values (objects) that are next to each other, and swap them if necessary before moving onto the next two values. Here are some examples of Bubble Sorts with lots of links to numeracy and science:

  • Use a balance scale to sort weights (use coins in an envelope for example).
  • Fill plastic bottles with e.g. sand, pasta, beads and sort loudest to quietest.
  • Sort coins in order of value.
  • Roll up different lengths of coloured paper and sort longest to shortest.
  • Put different textured materials in envelopes and sort roughest to smoothest.
  • Use toy animals and sort from least likely to most likely to win in a fight (or you could do a food chain).
animal bubble sort2.jpg
Understand what algorithms are