Unplugged Code: Computational Thinking without a Computer

Believe it or not, you don’t need to have access to computers to teach computational thinking. People can learn some important practices with just a paper and a pencil. Here’s a project that you can complete without any computer access. Even if you have your Hour of Code project ready to go online, you may want to keep this nearby as a handy backup in case the unexpected happens.

Materials Needed

  • Paper
  • Pencils or pens

Instruction Engineering

Create instructions on how to make something. You must be precise in your steps. When you are done with the instructions, swap completed instructions with another team. Their goals include providing exact instructions, as well as following the other team’s written instructions precisely.

How to Teach Computational Thinking

  1. Students are divided into groups of 2 to 5.
  2. They are given a topic, like “how to make a paper airplane.”
  3. Their group’s goal is to write down the instructions for creating whatever topic you hand to them.
  4. They are to write the precise sequences of actions so that someone unfamiliar with what they are making can reproduce it purely by following the steps they have outlined.
  5. They do not share their topic with any other team. It’s a secret!
  6. They are given 20 to 30 minutes to create their recipe (AKA, algorithm).
  7. After their team is done, they swap instructions with another team.
  8. The other team is to precisely follow the instructions handed to them with the goal of discovering what they are making and to make it (if possible).

Facilitator’s Job

  • As the teacher, you may facilitate, but do not give out the answer.
  • Ensure that the team frequently tests their instructions as they go along.
  • You may assist them in uncovering some of their assumptions that haven’t clearly been communicated in their instructions.
  • Not only can you have fun with paper airplanes, you might find other topics interesting, like how to navigate a maze, make an origami object, draw a geometric shape, or write a letter of the alphabet (how to write the lowercase letter “a,” a capital “B,” etc).


Share your projects, pictures, and stories on twitter! Please reference @WeCanCodeIT and use the #UnpluggedCode hashtag. Feel free to use the comment section below to share your ideas and stories of how your students worked together to solve real-life problems using computational thinking!