Use coding to engage students in reading, writing lessons

By Julie Randles 9/29/2017

It’s easy to think of coding as a skill that applies only to math or science, or to think coding is something not easily taught to the youngest learners. Heidi Williams is busting those myths, proving coding can be applied to reading and writing, even in kindergarten classrooms.  

Williams, a former Wisconsin elementary school principal, describes a kindergarten lesson where students are asked to write a note to their grandparents. By having students create their message using Scratch or CodeLab where they create a character and code it to speak their message, the sentence has more meaning. “And it’s as engaging as heck,” she says. 

“When teaching coding and it’s natural extension, computational thinking, you’ll see increases in scores in reading because in order to make the programming work, they have to think computationally, they have to problem solve and they have to decompose problems,” she says.

Educators with no experience teaching coding, don’t panic! Most coding platforms for elementary lessons are not overwhelming for educators to learn, Williams says. “The literacy lessons included in No Fear Coding: Computational Thinking Across the K-5 Curriculum start with just three coding blocks, and teachers can add more each time, so it’s comfortable for teachers, too.”

And the options for bringing coding into language arts are expansive.’s reading and writing lessons let students use games and puzzles to create stories. And Bee-Bots’ can be combined with alphabet letter and word-recognition mats.

Here are five reasons Williams says coding is critical for K-5 students:

Making student thinking visible. Young learners tend to be concrete thinkers and are just beginning to understand how to follow directions. Coding’s step-by-step approach introduces algorithmic thinking. As students create in platforms like Scratch, teachers can look at the code, see what students have tried and ask reflective questions to help students find their errors. 

Sustaining creativity. Experts say creativity is as important in education as literacy. Coding allows students to be creative without being wrong. If something doesn’t work, students must figure out why and determine how to fix it. Coding is the process of continually making mistakes, learning from them and correcting them, Williams says.

Encouraging computational thinking. Coding supports students’ ability to think computationally. The coding process involves breaking apart a problem, identifying and creating steps to solve it, running procedures, analyzing the results and determining if the results provide and acceptable answer – all aspects of computational thinking.

Fostering future-ready skills. Coding requires creativity and critical thinking – future-ready skills, that, along with collaboration and communication, are essential. Best of all, coding allows students to create content, rather than simply consume it – and that’s a must-have skill for functioning in today’s tech-driven world.

Empowering students to take action. Coding is about applying skills and creativity to solve problems. When students code, they are empowered to create something, often that solves a real-world problem, and then share it out to communities like Scratch Remix where they can get feedback.

ISTE members interested in learning more about computational thinking and the benefits of teaching coding can watch the members-only Professional Learning Series webinar “Coding in the Curriculum.”  

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