Make a Code Wheel
A code is a way to communicate and pass along information. Spies often use codes to pass intelligence back to their spy agency. If someone were to intercept the coded message, they would have a hard time understanding it.
There are many different types of codes that are used by spies, the military and even regular everyday people. For example, Morse code uses a series of taps to signify different letters. The military used this in the past to communicate quickly. Sign language is another type of code used by those who are deaf. Braille is yet another code that uses raised dots to signify different letters. This is used by people who are blind. Even our home addresses (zip code), email addresses and phone numbers are codes.
A cipher is a key to a code. It is used to translate codes into something that we can more easily understand. For example, the cipher for Morse code will show what letter each pattern of taps represents.
- White cardstock 8.5x11 - 1 of this item per student
- White printer paper 8.5 - 1 of this item per student
- Metal brad - 1 of this item per student
- Scissors - class set - 1 of this item per class
- Markers or crayons - class set - 1 of this item per class
- Printable code wheel template (see instructions) - 1 of this item per class
Prior to the activity, print the code wheel template onto the sheet of card stock: wheels. Consider cutting out the circles for the younger kids if time is a concern. Assemble one code wheel to use as a demo.
Tape a piece of paper on the wall where the students can see it; write your name in large letters across the top.
Turn the center of your code wheel randomly, making sure that each letter on the outer wheel matches up with a random letter on the inner wheel. This will be your code. The letters in the outer ring are the actual letters; the letters in the inner ring are the code letters.
Find the first letter of your name on the outer wheel. What letter is lines up with it on the inner wheel? (For example, in the picture, “M” is represented by “V”.) This is the first code letter in your name. Write this letter underneath the first letter in your name on the piece of paper you taped to the wall.
Without turning the wheel again, find the second letter in your name on the outer wheel. What letter lines up on the inner wheel? This will be the second code letter in your name. Write this letter underneath the second letter in your name on the piece of white paper taped to the wall. Continue this process without turning the wheel, until you have written your entire name in code. Only turn the wheel when you are ready to make a whole new code.
For fun, see if the students can pronounce your code name!
Now each student will make a code wheel. Pass out a printed code wheel sheet to each student and have them cut out the two circles.
Have them lay the smaller circle on top of the larger circle and push a brad through the middle (they may need some help with this step), then have them secure the brad in place. Only AFTER they have done this, allow them to decorate their code wheels.
Pass out a sheet of white printer paper to each student. Have them first write their name across the top of the paper as you did in the demonstration. Then have them turn the wheel to create the code just as you did in the demonstration. Remind them that the letter on the inside of the wheel is the code letter that corresponds to real the letter around the outside of the wheel. Have them write their name in code underneath their real name.
Extra challenges: Have the students write a word or short message in code and pass the message and the code wheel to a partner (again, DON'T turn the wheel!) to see if their partner can work backwards and decode the message.