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Word Processing in the Primary Grades

A few simple activities will get students comfortable using the computer as a word processing tool.

Spread the word! We have computers in our classroom this year!

"But where do I begin?" some teachers wonder. "Some of my second graders know more about computers than I do."

My first piece of advice is: Start simply!

Don't let your tiny techies intimidate you. You're in control. Set the rules. You want all your students to be confident computer users, but you're only going to get to that point one step at a time.


First and foremost, your classroom computers are word processing tools. But most of your students, however sophisticated their Web surfing skills, probably are largely unfamiliar with the computer's word processing potential. So start slowly, start simply!

First, review the basics of your word processing program -- and we do mean the basics: how to access the word processing program, how to save a document, and how to print it. Break the process down into its simplest components. Create a "crib sheet" of simple step-by-step directions for creating a word document.

Next, write down the directions so a primary student can read and follow them. You might even write out the directions in rebus form. Draw a picture of the return/enter key as a rebus symbol for ENTER, or draw the control key and the S key as a rebus symbol for SAVE (if, indeed, that's how you "save" in your word processing program!). Write your simple directions on a sheet of poster board -- don't omit anything! -- and then post them by the computer for students' handy reference.

Don't leave out anything!

It might be helpful -- because word processing directions can get complicated -- to break down your directions into three smaller "What's Up, Doc?" posters:
  • Setting Up a Word Doc
  • Saving a Word Doc
  • Printing a Word Doc


Next, decide how you want to train your budding word masters.

Does your computer hook up to a television screen so all students can watch as you introduce the computer's word processing capabilities? Is that appropriate for this introductory lesson? That choice is yours.

Using the large screen might work for many lessons -- for example, when you introduce students to Web site navigation. For this introductory lesson, however, you might decide it's worth the extra effort to teach small groups of five or so students at a time. Using that approach means repeating the lesson four times, of course, but taking the time now can save lots of time later.

As you introduce small groups of students to the computer's word processing capabilities, you might have one student in each group serve as a demonstrator as you describe the steps listed on the posters. Choose a student who's had computer experience to fill that role. During the lesson, however, be sure all students get hands-on practice turning on the computer; setting up, saving, and printing a document; and turning off the computer. Have students type their names or some other piece of information so each has a chance to work the keyboard a bit. For very young students, you might even check out A Very Special Keyboard. If you're really brave, and have sharp students, consider teaching students how to change the style or size of the type to suit their needs.

At some point -- if you're confident that your demonstrator knows the process, or if you're comfortable that you've trained two of the group in the basics -- you might leave the group as you complete other tasks. The appointed "trainer" (or trainers) can observe and help others in the group practice their new-found skills.

Be sure to set up some hints/guidelines for your young trainers, though. For example:

  • A good teacher helps the learner; he or she doesn't do the work for the learner.
  • Be patient with your learners.
  • Try not to tell the learner what to do; try to ask questions.

    If you find you have excellent trainers among those in your first group, you might ask them to work with the rest of the class as well. (Over time, be sure to spread around the training responsibility so every student has an opportunity to be a trainer.)


    During the next week or two, all students should have opportunities to practice the basic word processing skills they've been taught. And help should be available to those who don't quite get it -- yet! (Don't worry. In time, you'll have a class full of proficient processors!)

    You might post a little sign near the computer, a sign that says A HELPING HAND. Tack to the sign the outline of two or three hands, each with a different child's name on it. Choose the best trainers -- the most patient trainers -- among your students to be the week's "helping hands." If students run into any problems in their first attempts at word processing independence, they can ask a helper for a hand. If the helper is stumped, two other helpers are available to assist. If all else fails, you're there to come to their aid - or to put in a call to the rescue unit!

    So what activities should you have your students do when it's time for them to put their new word processing skills to use? Make the activities serve a real purpose. For example:

    • Encourage them to copy their list of spelling words for the week. Spelling their words slowly as they hunt the keyboard for the correct letters is good reinforcement. Or, if students have good keyboarding skills, you could have them do their spelling sentences on the computer this week.
    • Have them type a simple sentence such as the one introduced in Education World's If I Were An Animal activity. Ask them to type the sentence and print it at the top of a page. (If they're able, have them set the font size at 18.) Then, invite them to use the rest of the page for a drawing of their animal!
    • If your students are pretty good word processors, have them write (copy) a short note inviting their parents to next week's Open House.

      Whatever you do -- I can't say it enough -- start simply!

      Article by Gary Hopkins
      Education World® Editor-in-Chief
      Copyright © 1997, 2005 Education World

      Updated 9/27/05