Your Ultimate Guide for Elementary Unplugged Coding Activities includes 20+ projects that teach real coding concepts while emphasizing computer science mindsets – all with minimal prep and zero tech devices required.
How can you teach coding without computers? The key is to provide hands-on, engaging learning experiences that encourage children to think like a coder. This means projects that foster resilience, creative problem solving, critical thinking, and logical reasoning – the same skills used by computer scientists every day!
Perfect for when you need a ready-to-go mini-lesson! These unplugged coding activities worksheets were inspired by Kodable. Click here to learn more about Kodable.
- K-1st grade unplugged coding activities
- 2nd-3rd grade unplugged coding activities
- 4th-5th grade unplugged coding activities
Sequence Unplugged Coding Activities
Definition: Sequence is an order of events
Activity 1: Code a Friend
Partners | Materials: None
- One partner is the “coder” and one partner is the “robot”.
- The coder decides on a simple task for their partner “robot” to do; the simpler the task, the better, like “walk across the room.”
- Next, the coder gives their partner “robot” step-by-step instructions, also known as an algorithm, to complete the task. “Robots” need to remember that they can only do exactly what their coder tells them to do.
- If one of the steps is incorrect or not specific enough, this will result in a bug in their algorithm and it will need to be redone.
- Switch places when finished.
Coding Connection: Computers need an explicit sequence of instructions to do anything! As a result, there will be bugs and the program won’t work correctly if instruction (code) is not clear enough.
Activity 2: Origami Without Instructions
Individual | Materials: Square paper (origami paper preferred)
- Take a square piece of paper and fold it into the shape of a fish – no cutting, gluing, or looking at references!
- When done, reflect on the process – How did it go? What was easy? What was difficult? How long did it take?
- Then, take another piece of paper and fold it into a fish again, but this time, refer to these step-by-step instructions.
- Reflect again – How do the two fish compare? Which process was easier or faster? Which process would you choose if you had to do it again?
Coding Connection: When creating paper animals, a clear sequence of instructions will help save time and minimize mistakes. This is also true for computer code, because a computer needs step-by-step instructions written in code to perform tasks.
Activity 3: Treasure Obstacle Course
Pairs or Group | Materials: Treasure, paper and pencil
- One person hides a piece of “treasure” (this could be anything!) in an indoor or outdoor space.
- Next, the treasure hider writes out instructions explaining how to find the hidden object. The instructions need to be very clear so the finder knows exactly what to do – otherwise, they won’t get to the treasure! Example:
- Take 10 steps STRAIGHT
- Turn RIGHT and take 5 big hops
- Turn LEFT and crawl 8 times
- Dig 2 inches down to find the treasure!
- Once the instructions are written, the finder follows them exactly.
- If instructions aren’t clear enough, the hider may need to find the bug and fix it so the finder can successfully reach the treasure.
- Switch places when finished.
Coding Connection: The treasure finder needs very clear instructions for how to find the treasure, just like computers need very clear and concrete algorithms to execute their tasks.
Conditions Unplugged Coding Activities
Definition: A condition is and exception to a rule. A conditional statement is an “if… then….” statement that changes how code is executed. d
Activity 1: Follow the Leader
Pairs or Group | Materials: None
- One partner is the leader and one is the follower.
- The leader starts by giving simple instructions in the format of an If…Then…statement. For example: “If I touch my nose, then you touch your nose” or “If I jump once, then you jump once” etc. Try out a few actions.
- To increase difficulty, the leader can specify outcomes that are different than the condition. For example: “If I jump once, then you jump three times” or “If i spin in a circle, then you clap your hands”.
- Once the pair has come up with a few actions, the leader can perform them at random! See if the follower can keep up, without forgetting what action to perform with each direction from the leader.
- Switch roles when finished.
Coding Connection: A new condition from the leader can change the action performed by the follower, just like a condition in code can change the path a computer program takes.
Activity 2: If This, Then…Art!
Individual or Pairs | Materials: Paper, drawing supplies
- Come up with a rule – something that always happens in the same way. For example, “I go to school on Mondays”.
- Then, come up with an exception, also known as a condition, to this rule. For example, “If it is a holiday, then I don’t go to school on Monday.” Write the conditional statement at the top of a piece of paper.
- Use the rest of the paper space to illustrate the conditional statement. In this example, you could draw a picture of your favorite holiday.
- Repeat this process 3 times so you have three conditional art pieces!
- If working in pairs, one partner can come up with the rules, and the other can come up with the condition and draw the image. Then, switch roles.
Coding Connection: A condition is an exception to a rule. The way a program runs is based on rules and conditions, just like how real world events can change based on certain conditions too!
Activity 3: Rock, Paper, Scissors
Pairs | Materials: None
- Rock paper scissors is a hand game played between two people. At the same time, each player forms one of three shapes with an outstretched hand. These shapes are “rock” (make a fist), “paper” (flat hand), and “scissors” (make the number 2)
- The winner is decided using a set of conditional statements:
- First, If rock and scissors are played, then rock wins
- Then, If scissors and paper are played, then scissors wins
- Next, If paper and rock are played, then paper win
- Finally, If the same object is played, then the round is a tie
- Play three rounds. Using the conditional statements listed above, players will determine the winner of each round. TIP: Doing this activity in school? Have your students complete this handout to track the conditions!
- As an extension, make up brand new actions (instead of rock, paper, and scissors) and decide what conditions result in a win!
Coding Connection: The outcome of the game is determined by the conditions set before it starts. The same is true in coding, where the outcome of a computer program is determined by the conditions outlined in the code.
Loops Unplugged Coding Activities
Definition: A loop is a command that repeats a part of code a certain number of times.
Activity 1: A Loopy Routine
Individual, Pairs, or Groups | Materials: Paper and pencil (optional)
- The learner decides if they want to create a fun workout routine or a dance routine.
- Come up with three physical actions to perform. For a workout routine, this could be a jumping jack, pushup, and sit-up. For a dance routine, this could be a spin, clap, and wiggle.
- Decide how many times each action should be repeated, or “looped”. For example, “spin 2 times, clap 5 times, wiggle one time”.
- Perform the routine all together, looping each action the designated number of times. Then, try looping the entire routine at least twice!
- As an extension, invite a partner to execute the same commands and perform the routine together!
Coding Connection: A loop can be used to repeat a physical action, just like a loop in coding will repeat a portion of code a certain number of times.
Functions Unplugged Coding Activities
Definition: A function is a defined set of steps that result in a single outcome and can be used more than once.
Activity 1: Lyrical Function Finder
Individual | Materials: Paper and pencil, printer (optional)
- Pick a simple song for which you know the tune and lyrics. For example, “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.
- Look at the printed lyrics or sing the song, and try to find lines that are repeated multiple times. For example, in the “Happy Birthday” song, the line “Happy birthday to you” is repeated 3 times.
- Next, sing the song again, but this time replace all the repeated lyrics with the word “Function”. So the Happy Birthday song would go “Function, Function, Happy birthday dear _____, Function”
- Count the number of times the word “Function” comes up!
- For an extension, replace the word “Function” with some brand new lyrics that you invent, and come up with a remixed song!
Coding Connection: Many songs have a hook or chorus that includes the exact same lyrics and repeats in multiple places throughout the song. Similarly, there are certain lines of code that a programmer might want to repeat throughout a program. To do this, they use a function!
Activity 2: Beaded Bracelets
Individual | Materials: Multi-colored beads, string
- Cut a piece of string so it is just longer than wrist-size. Tie a knot at the end of a string.
- Decide on a pattern of 3 beads that you want to repeat multiple times in your bracelet. For example, Pink–Blue–Pink. We can call this set of beads a “function”.
- Start stringing beads onto the yarn. After 5 beads, add your first “function”. In this example, this means the pattern of Pink-Blue-Pink.
- Add 5 more beads. Then, add your function again. Repeat this process until the string is full with beads.
- Tie a knot on the other end and display your finished bracelet!
- Observe – How many times were you able to repeat the function beads?
Coding Connection: Each bead represents a line of code. Programmers will often want to use certain lines of code again and again throughout a program, so they store that code in a function. The repeating bead pattern is one easy way to visualize this process!
Properties Unplugged Coding Activities
Definition: A property is a characteristic of an object.
Activity 1: Nature Scavenger Hunt
Individual, Pairs, or Groups | Materials: Basket for collecting (optional)
- Head outside into nature.
- First, pick a specific property by which you want to categorize nature objects. Examples include color, shape, texture, smell, etc.
- Then, choose a value that you will search for. For example, if the property is “color”, then the value could be “yellow” or “purple“.
- Collect nature objects based the property and value selected
- When finished, challenge a partner or family member to guess the property value you identified. Did they guess right?
- As an extension, try instead to collect a wide range of nature objects. Bring them back to a work space, and categorize them by different properties. For example, first sort by color, then sort by shape, and by texture. How many categories can you identify?
Coding Connection: In code, properties can determine the output of a program, or what a user sees. Similarly, an objects’ properties in the real world can impact how we see and compare them.
Encourage learners to apply what they’ve learned with creative culminating unplugged coding activities – Still no tech required! (recommended for 3rd grade and above).
Activity 1: Build a Board Game
- Construct a board game using recycled materials like cardboard, plastic containers, bottles, foil, etc.
- Create an accompanying instruction manual. Rules should include step-by-step instructions for how to play (sequence), define what causes things to happen in the game (conditions), and describe the physical game features (properties).
Activity 2: Write a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story
- Think of a storybook character and describe their characteristics (properties).
- Write a fiction story about your character with a clear sequence of events from start to finish.
- Choose an event in the middle of the story and think about what the ending of the story would be if that event changed.
- Create a second ending based on this new condition. The path the story takes will depend on the condition the reader chooses!
Activity 3: Invent a Useful Tool
- Design a tool that helps solve a real-world problem.
- Use recycled materials, nature objects, or craft supplies to physically build the tool.
- As you build, identify certain actions that you need to repeat (loop) in order to build it correctly.
- Write out or verbally describe the algorithm that someone else could follow to create the same tool (sequence).
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