Kids love codes; the mysterious nature of a hidden message is an appealing challenge. As part of a unit on communication or as a stand-alone lesson, the purpose and nature of Morse code are fairly simple concepts to introduce to students, and there are opportunities for a variety of activities. What makes Morse code particularly fascinating to teach is that the subject appeals to both auditory and visual learners, and so can be presented both ways.
Give students the opportunity to do a little decoding as a preface to the lesson. Write out the message “All About Morse Code” in a code which uses the familiar letters-replaced-by-numbers code “1=A, 2=B” and so on. Here’s what you’ll write: 1-12-12 1-2-15-21-20 13-15-18-19-5 3-15-4-5. Give students hints as needed. Discuss why codes are used.
Provide students with a little history of Morse code. (See Resources below for some accessible information.) Concentrate on the history of the telegraph and how it has been used since its invention. Give students a dozen or so key words you would like them to define as they read through the article.
Begin with a demonstration of Morse code as it sounds. Invite someone from a local ham radio club who can demonstrate the code and talk about how he actually uses it. If you’re unable to get someone to come in live, there are recordings available which give examples and explanations as well. See Resources below for a song called “The Rhythm of the Code” which cleverly presents the information in musical form. Give students the opportunity to tap out a few words for their peers to decode.
Make copies of the chart showing Morse code in its visual form (see Resources below). Discuss how the visual chart compares to sounds they heard earlier. Ask students to write out phrases using Morse code and compare what they’ve come up with to the answer you write on the board. Give students the opportunity to send each other messages written in Morse code. Ask students to memorize how to write their own names in Morse code.
- For a larger communications unit, have students start a time line on history of communications, with the telegraph as the first step.