Making Typing Practice Engaging

It’s official. The state of Michigan has it written into the new technology benchmarks that all students by the end of grade 5 will “know proper keyboarding positions and touch-typing techniques.” I figured it was due, as before adopting the NETS and ISTE standards for technology, many Michigan school districts were already requiring that students learn to type using the home row and touch method. While I’m not surprised, I’m still at a bit of a loss over how to make typing practice engaging.

During my last teaching stint in the computer lab I relied upon the very helpful MicroType program for teaching 3rd through 5th grade typing. I also introduced other typing practice, such as paragraphs that I had written to reflect the holidays or current events. The theory was if it was something the students were hearing about or in times with the season, they might be more inclined to retype it, rather than rely on the rather dry passages in the typing program. I also encouraged them to challenge both themselves and me with typing shields and “one on one” typing duels. While these techniques worked for a few, I was still at a loss to get my 5th grader, who had after two years of typing become a bit lax in the area of typing practice. Thus I wanted to create something engaging, fun, and more importantly useful to the 5th graders here in my new position, while still helping them to encourage using the home keys.

Enter our building technology lead person. She noticed that her teenage son didn’t really become interested in learning to type until he started playing online games. The more role playing and multi-player games he played on his computer, the more he realized that he needed to be able to type in order to keep up conversations with others in the game. She suggested using a chat room with my 5th graders. Brilliant I thought! Using chat and IM are also included in the Michigan technology benchmarks! But where do I find such a safe place for my students to chat with one another, meeting the district’s privacy and ethics standards, while at the same time giving me enough control to ensure that they aren’t chatting inappropriately in the chat rooms? And that’s when I realized that Gaggle has chat room features. I had used them with my students last year on Fridays. They were given 35 minutes of free read and/or chat time, and many would chat in the filtered, predator-free chat rooms Gaggle provides for all free users. We even had a separate chat room set up just for our school, a nice feature of the free service.

While that worked with 25 students, I’m curious how I’m going to deal with 300 or so 5th graders, but more importantly, how do I engage them in the chat rooms. Sure, they’ll get plenty excited just about the idea of coming to computers to chat, or chatting in their free time (Gaggle has a VERY robust filtering and monitoring system, so I trust them on their own). But once they’re in the chat room, how do I get them motivated to type enough that they’re actually practicing their typing skills? Especially when we’re all in the same room together and it would be silly to just sit there chatting back and forth with our computers just for the sake of typing. I thought about doing a scavenger hunt on the Internet in which one students directs the other one through a number of sites. I even thought that playing a game of 20 questions might be engaging and encourage lots of typing, but I’m still trying to overcome that hump of what to do that’s so engaging they don’t mind chatting with people in the same room in order to get some real life typing practice done. Finding other classrooms to chat with might be the answer, but I’m worried that scheduling enough classrooms (let alone finding them) in other buildings or districts to chat with my 11 sections of 5th grade would be an impossible task. Not that I wouldn’t mind the challenge, but I’m sure there’s a way to engage these students with typing and chatting that I haven’t thought of yet.


  1. we used to have time in spanish class to talk with one another, but it had to be in spanish. i;ve also seen signing classes where you can have any conversation, as long as it;s signed.
    it might be fun to have a “silent day” where kids can talk about whatever they want, but it has to be silent in the class. if you let them have their own conversations, they may be very inclined to chat and practice their skills. it could even be a reward day.

    you could also have a “famous person” day. pick someone they are learning about in their classrooms -ie. Chris Columbus, Frida Kahlo, Geronimo etc. and have them chat with the famous person. you could set it up with their teacher, or someone besides you that could be in another room so you could take part in the conversation as you. they could ask questions as part of a review for a test or extra bonus points. but that would require teacher participation during a specials time.

    -sorry for poor typing, have a splint on arm-

  2. Hi, Ben! I read your blog and found myself in the very same shoes as you. While teachers seem to be trying to make the core subjects in school, in my observations, keyboarding has been left behind! Shouldn’t keyboarding be just as engaging and fun as other subjects? I blogged about this topic and mentioned you in my blog, along with some activities and resources I found online on teaching keyboarding. I hope you check it out!

  3. Glad that someone else out there is wrestling with the same thoughts Lauren. I think that there’s still a time and place for the tried and true “touch method” of memorizing the keys, but there definitely needs to be a more balanced approach to learning typing. There are times when I’m working on a creative project or story with students and see them engaged by the lesson, but they haven’t had the time to get used to where the keys are so they can type quickly. A little bit of touch typing would lay a decent foundation before they go off and really start to find good reasons to type.

    Nicole, I LOVE your idea about the “Famous Person” day. I think it would be hilarious to do a “dead person chat” and talk with a famous historical figure thanks to the miracle of modern technology. I’m sure there are plenty of teachers that would love to help out and pose as the famous person that the students are chatting with. The same teacher would be the person that would help them prepare for the “interview” so they would be well prepared for the questions as well, adding credability to the whole process. I’m really excited about doing that with the 5th graders and see what they think.

  4. As an elementary school librarian/technology teacher I watch daily all of our students (K-5)struggling with keyboarding, ranging from typing project based assignments to simply locating the letters for our very young students. Last year our district began using the state adopted on-line technology text book which fortunately has a wonderful keyboarding component. Even though our students have had many opportunities to practice with this typing curriculum, I don’t see much improvement.
    Reading your entry has put me back on course – make it REAL LIFE! The kids would love “conversing” with a dead person. What a great way to not only utilize our typing skills but develop our Questioning techniques. I can’t wait to get started. Thanks for the idea.

  5. Great idea.. but when is there time? My classes have 1/2 hr in the computer lab.. of which 15 min is used learning the keys (practice with Type to Learn) IF the teacher doesn’t want the whole period for them to learn PowerPoint. I know typing is more important than Powerpoint, but teachers are integrating subject material with the Powerpoint, which is the “designated’ goal.
    Maybe if the few who will Gaggle this year, will do the chat time in their room.. it would give more motivation for keyboarding in our little lab time. so.. Teachers are my problem!

  6. Rosemary-
    As an art teacher, I totally understand your frustration. I would love for teachers to take some of my concepts outside the room, but they never do. I’ve spent 30 minutes with kindergarteners trying to teach them color and shape because that’s my job, not theirs. (Luckily this year, the teachers are actually coming to me asking for projects in their room, which is thrilling.)

    However, teachers aren’t willing to do something that is fun in their room just because it’s fun. I think if you present it to them in a way that they can teach their students those core curriculum/MEAP nonsense, they’d be more willing to do it.

    My suggestion is set it up in your class first, that way the teachers don’t have to do ANYTHING on that end. Then, do it every week with your kids until they can do it on their own. That’s when you get the teachers involved. If they don’t have to run around the room putting out fires on basics, they can use the time to teach via Gaggle chats.

    Plus that counts as typing practice time 🙂

  7. I love it. With the way technology is moving, soon our children and students will be so advanced. I believe very strongly that students should know how to type by grade 5. No matter where you go nowadays, typing is always going to be an essential skill.

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