Typing Lesson Using Essays

When you teach typing, the goal isn’t speed and accuracy. The goal is that students type well enough that it doesn’t disrupt their thinking.

Let me say that again:

The goal of keyboarding is students type well enough that it doesn’t disrupt their thinking.

Much like breathing takes no thought and playing a piano is automatic, students must be able to think while they type, fingers automatically moving to the keys that record their thoughts. Searching for key placement shouldn’t interfere with how they develop a sentence. Sure, it does when students are just starting, but by third grade students should be comfortable enough with key placement to be working on speed.

To type as fast at the speed of thought isn’t as difficult as it sounds. For students in school, ‘speed of thought’ refers to how fast they develop ideas that will be recorded. 20 wpm means they know most key placements by touch. 30 wpm is the low end of not interfering with thinking. 45 wpm is good.

Students used to learn typing in high school, as a skill. Now, it’s a tool for learning. So much of what we ask students to  do on the way to authentic learning requires typing. Consider the academic need to:

  • write reports
  • comment on Discussion Boards and blogs
  • journal in blogs and online tools like Penzu
  • research online (type addresses into a search bar)
  • take digital notes (using Evernote, OneNote and similar)
  • collaborate on Google Apps like Docs, Sheets, Presentations
  • take online quizzes (like PARCC, SB)
  • use online tools for core classes (Wordle, Animoto, Story Creators)

If you’re a Common Core state, keyboarding shows up often in the Standards, but can be summarized in these three ways:

  • Keyboarding is addressed tangentially–students must be able to type *** pages in a single sitting (see CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.6 for example. The ‘pages in a single sitting’ starts in 4th grade with one page and continues through 6th where it’s increased to three–see CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.6)
  • By 3rd grade, Common Core discusses the use of keyboarding to produce work, i.e., CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.6 which specifically mentions ‘use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills)’
  • keyboarding is required to take Common Core Standards assessments in the Spring.

The myth is that students will teach themselves when they need it. That’s half right. They will teach themselves, but it won’t necessarily be in time for their needs. If you’re in a tech-infused school, it’s your obligation to teach them the right way to type so they can organically develop the tools to support learning.

Most teachers roll out typing with a graduated program like Type to Learn or Typing Club. In September of the new school year, students start Lesson 1. Sometime around May, they are through all the lessons and considered trained. Everything is on auto-pilot with little intervention from the teacher. That works for about ten percent of students. Those are the ones who are intrinsically motivated to learn and nothing gets in their way.

The other 90% need a little more help. Here are six ideas to make your typing lessons fun and effective:

Keyboarding Drill

Drill is part of every granular typing program. Students must learn key placement, finger usage, posture, and all those other details.

There are a lot of options for this–both free like Typing Web and fee-based like QwertyTown. Students usually start enthusiastically, which wanes within a few months as it becomes more of the same rote practice.

Keyboarding Games

When your organic typing program shows signs of wearing on students, throw in a sprinkling of games that teach key placement, speed and accuracy. Big Brown Bear is great for youngers; NitroTyping for olders, and Popcorn Typer for the in-between grades of 2nd-5th.

Offer games sporadically, not on a schedule. Make it a reward for keyboarding benchmarks.

Keyboarding Quizzes

Students understand the concept of ‘quiz’. It’s a test of knowledge, a line in the sand where students show their grasp of the subject or suffer a bad grade. Some schools require assessments of student learning in technology. A keyboarding quiz shows both the teacher and students how they are improving (even when it doesn’t always feel that way).

A few quizzes you might try:

  • speed quiz–Grades 3-8–provide a set page to type and evaluate student speed and accuracy. This can be done with a print copy or an online site like TypingTest.com
  • quiz of key placement–Grades 3-8–give students a blank keyboard so they can see how many of the keys they  know. Here’s an example:

Here’s an example of a key placement quiz that you can use for grades 3-8:

These are summative, but you can give formative prep quizzes that show what will be expected. Give these quizzes every grading period so students can track their progress. The first time you give them in a school year, use it as a benchmark for future quizzes.

Team Challenge

Students work in teams to answer keyboard-related questions in a game show format. You can use a Jeopardy template that includes not only keyboard questions, but shortkeys that students use often.

Integrate into Class Inquiry

Within a month of starting a keyboarding program, have students use their growing skills authentically in class projects. This can be book reports, research, a brochure for history class, or a collaborative document through Google Apps. The keyboarding is a tool to communicate knowledge in a subject, much like a pencil, an artist brush, or a violin. The better their keyboarding skills, the easier it is to complete the meat of the project, like a blog response, a family tree, or trading cards on characters in a book.

Student blog
Family tree
Character trading card


Remind students to use the keyboarding skills they’ve learned to make this real-life experience easier–hands on their own side of the keyboard, use all fingers, good posture, elbows at their sides. Let their team of grade level teachers know what traits to look for as students research on class computers or in the library. Get parents to reinforce it at home.

Using keyboarding is the most effective way to learn it. It won’t take long before keyboarding with good technique will be habit.


ASCII Art uses keyboarding skills to create artistic representations of class learning. This is a fun way to use keyboarding in other classes. All students do is find a picture that represents the class inquiry topic being addressed, put it as a watermark into the word processing program, type over the washed out image with a variety of keys, then delete the watermark.  This takes about thirty minutes usually and always excites students with the uniqueness of their work.

Here are a few examples:

I’d love to hear how you keep keyboarding practice fresh in your classroom.

For more ideas, Kristy Roquin has a thorough discussion of how and why of keyboarding in the classroom. Here’s an article I wrote on the subject for Cisco’s Connected Life.

–first published on TeachHUB

More on keyboarding:

Keyboarding tools for your classroom

How do I teach keyboarding in a 25-minute class?

Are there any Good Keyboarding Apps?

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum,K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

Updated 4-21-16

Lots of Oregon schools, including some in the Portland and David Douglas school districts, plan to introduce formal typing lessons and drag-n-drop practice sessions for 8- and 9-year-olds this year.

Why? The debut of the Smarter Balanced test.

It turns out that to succeed on that challenging new test that Oregon students as young as third grade will take beginning this spring, students need to know how to type on a keyboard and  drag and drop using a computer mouse.

But in the increasingly swipe-and-tap world of phones and tablets, plenty of students who took the practice test last spring got hung up by the typing demands  and drop-n-drag function.

"We were surprised by students who were challenged at the third-grade level by some of the tasks that were technology-related," said Portland Assistant Superintendent Melissa Goff.

State officials asked for feedback from teachers and students who took part in the practice test and got three loud answers. One of them, Oregon testing director Derek Brown said, was this:

"We need to provide students in grades three through five with as much practice as possible in typing. They need more opportunities to work with a keyboard and a mouse during those grades."

Oregon's old reading and math tests were given on computer, just like Smarter Balanced will be. But because the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or OAKS, was all multiple-choice, students only had to click one of four possible  answers to each question -- something all students could do.

Smarter Balanced asks students to type in short answers. And, in both reading and math in every grade level, it asks them to type out a long response to a complex assignment, one that is expected to take more than an hour and run for many paragraphs.

Students who are hunting for each letter on an unfamiliar keyboard aren't on a level playing field with those who've done a lot of typing.

"Keyboarding is going to be enormous," says Brooke O'Neill, curriculum director in David Douglas. "That is the feedback we have heard from students."

That's why Tim Lauer, principal of Lewis Elementary in Southeast Portland, has made sure to load TypingClub software into every Lewis student's Google Apps account. Students will get time to practice typing at school -- and they can also log into the program on any computer, at home, a library or elsewhere.

"That way, it's "At my uncle's house this weekend, I can do my typing practice,'"Lauer said.

In David Douglas, Type to Learn is so far the software of choice. Students have been able to  use it to learn and practice during their time in the computer lab each week, O'Neill said. But in the face of Smarter Balanced demands, that is not enough -- especially for students who don't have a computer with a keyboard at home. That's true for many if not most students in her district in the eastern stretches of the city of Portland, where three-fourths of the students are low-income.

"They need to be able to drag and drop. They need to be able to type. And we need to make our approach to teaching that more structured and intentional. 'These are the lessons you should do' and when," she said

Most Oregon schools have been teaching for a year or two to the Common Core State Standards, which set out what skills schools should teach in reading and writing in each grade.

"'Compose and type a paper in one sitting' is one of the Common Core standards, and we have put that on our students' report cards," O'Neill said. "But we need to be mindful and intentional about teaching keyboarding from kindergarten on up."

-- Betsy Hammond

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