Level Up your Typing: a game-based approach to keyboarding for elementary students

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Why teach keyboarding?

Our students today have a variety of input devices (touch, stylus, voice?) but I still find that the QWERTY keyboard is the fastest and easiest input device. (I often feel pretty self-conscious talking to the computer (or tablet, sorry Siri!) when not alone, perhaps that is just me:) In my experience, writing recognition software is still clumsy and more miss than hit with emerging handwriting skills. Therefore, I find that the keyboarding remains the most reliable input device and  a significant part of a good ICT curriculum for elementary students in 2013.

When do I start introducing keyboarding to children?

Starting in the middle of Grade 2 or early Grade 3 (aged 7 or 8) seemed to be the best time  to introduce formal keyboarding  as most students progress toward longer forms of writing. Some students might be ready earlier but in my experience, a significant majority, if not all, demonstrated the necessary dexterity and readiness for more formal typing lessons by the middle of Grade 2. I found this article from Lisa Nielson very useful and comprehensive on this topic.

“Can I level up, please!” Or How I “gamified” keyboarding lessons.

Introducing keyboarding to our students in Grade 2 is rarely a tough sell as they are keen to emulate older students or adults in their lives. However, typing, like most skills, requires dedication, encouragement and practice. For these reasons, I decided to experiment with a “games-based approach” to see if it would help our junior students remain motivated during the long road from novice to fluency.  I decided to start with students in Grade 4, 5 and 6 and created a scale of achievement where students “level up”  after achieving a specific WPM (words per minute) and accuracy (95%). As they “levelled up”, I also offered them the opportunity to “unlock” access to a greater variety of typing games and websites during class time. I also separated the idea of the “levelling up” from academic achievement by putting emphasis on effort and improvement for these relatively novice typists as the main source for marks. i.e. A student who still remained on Level 1, might still be able to receive a “A” if they were putting forth an excellent effort. (So far, this has not happened as all students who all showed dedication found increasing success and “levelled up” their typing.)

Here is a copy of my “levelling up” scale. This is version 3.0. Any feedback is welcome.
Leveling up your Typing 2013
Leveling up your Typing
Current resources:

Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (Grade 2 and 3 students)

mavis screenshot


  • Lessons are clear, supportive and linear
  • Includes 3 levels (beginner, intermediate (timed lessons) and advanced)
  • Games are very student friendly and good for 7 and 8 year olds


  • Not web based
  • Account structure is not ideal
  • Cannot customize at the beginner(i.e. skip student ahead if needed)

Custom Typing  (Grade 4 and 5 students)



  • Two modes (self-guided and computer-guided)
  • Many differentiated resources for students
  • Excellent reporting system
  • Students can choose activities, lessons, and games and work in a non-linear fashion
  • Teacher can assign specific lessons to a students, class or specific group


  • Students repeat the same lesson twice in the “computer-guided mode”
  • The “self-guided mode” can be overwhelming for students
  • Only four typing games
  • The “self-guided mode” could be more kid-friendly

Here are the additional typing sites that can be “unlocked” by  “levelling up” during lessons. I posted this symbaloo on our Learning Management Software (Blackboard) so they can try them at home. (Each “symbaloo” links to website for students, normally one click takes you there, but click my screenshot below to reach the “clickable” symbaloo page.)

symbaloo keyboarding sample

Recording their progress

I use two resources:

1. a simple wall chart with the student’s name, class and level. They give themselves a checkmark when they level up. Not very private(!) I realise but it is SO useful to easily keep track and monitor their progress during the hustle and bustle of keyboarding lessons in the ICT lab.

2. During keyboarding lessons, I display a Class Dojo page on the SMARTboard for them to see and reward themselves with a  +1 typing point. When reviewing, assessing and analyzing student progress, I love that Class Dojo records the date of when the point was achieved. What a great tool for reflection and analysis. “Wow, look how you achieved 2 levels in 1 month! All that time practicing in our custom typing site really paid off!”

+1 typing
Overall, the best part is that I am spending more class time celebrating student progress and achievements. A quick thumbs up, nod, high five or encouraging word from me and students seem eager to independently record their progress on a wall chart and on the SMARTboard though Class Dojo.


When setting up my levels, I started with 4 and had to expand to 10 within a couple of months as some of my Grade 4’s progressed quickly! Initially, most students were keen to “level up” to gain more choice of games and activities. This increased motivation made them increasingly receptive to tips and tricks to improve their speed and accuracy. Although I remained open to feedback, l found that students appreciated the clarity of the system. If they came up a little short in their speed, they almost always responded well when encouraged to try again, complete a different activity,  or to return to the typing assessment when ready.

A funny thing happened at the later levels, I was afraid that some of the students might unlock their favourite game (e.g. the popular Type Racer!) play that game regularly and then have their skills stagnate. However, once the majority of the students began to level up they seemed determined to past the assessment benchmarks. It was a complete reversal as I was now the one offering them the opportunity to play a typing game while they were more keen to complete assessments. It seemed that the process of “levelling up” gave them a tangible achievement goal and they were motivated to keep going. (I guess that is why I had to expand my levels from 4 (version 1.0) to 6 (version 2.0) to 10 (latest version 3.0).

Overall, the benchmarks seemed pretty clear and I was able to tweak my requirements to ensure that the difficulties of each level increased at a appropriate rate. Custom Typing,  Mavis Beacon and typingtest.com seemed to be pretty good resources for typing assessments although you should be aware of the ads at the typingtest.com site. (Although students seem to be too focused on their test to see them!) I hope to update and refine this approach each year. Thanks in advance for any feedback.

Questions for further study and analysis

What place does keyboarding have in the 21st Century ICT curriculum?
What age should student start to learn about keyboarding?
Should keyboarding be expanded to include tablets and mobile devices when appropriate?
How much time should we devote to keyboarding in the primary, junior and senior curriculum?
What tools or software do we need to run a successful typing programme?
Should I add/replace customtyping.com or Mavis Beacon with the web-based QWERTYtown software?

3  influencial articles and resources

Lisa Nielsen’s article-  http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.ca/2011/02/when-should-students-start-learning-to.html

Bryan Miller’s article tackles one of the questions for further study, introduced me to QWERTYtown and gave me another excellent perspective on this topic. http://edudemic.com/2012/11/keyboarding-or-computer-literacy-the-new-dilemma/

Keith Ferrell’s EdTech blog provided me with keyboarding resources and ideas that I shared with students. http://edtechideas.com/keyboarding-sites-for-kids/


12 comments on “Level Up your Typing: a game-based approach to keyboarding for elementary students

  1. This is fabulous. Any chance I can repost it to my Ask a Tech Teacher blog? I know my readers would love it. Or, if you prefer, I can add you as a ‘contributor’ and have you post it there? I have a hunch you have more good ideas than just this one.

    Let me know.

    • Thanks for the feedback and kind words Jacqui. You are welcome to repost to your Ask a Tech Teacher blog. My next step is to create a blog post on programming using Scratch that I just wrapped up with my Grade Four’s. I look forward to sharing very soon. Thanks again.

      • Good Day,
        I would love to hear more about how you are using Scratch. My son is very into programming right now as a sixth grader and Scratch in addition to some other things. However, I teacher second and third grade. I’m considering using it in third grade later in the school-year. I’m wondering how you approached the introduction for your kiddies.
        Thanks, Charlie

      • Thanks for your message Charlie. Glad to hear to have a future “coder” at home and your hands full at school teaching 2nd and 3rd Grade 🙂 Scratch is an excellent tool for developing creativity and learning programming skills in a visual medium. If introducing to Grade Three’s, I would suggest the use of “recipes” or short programmes for the students to copy and quick activities where they “debug” programmes for errors to help build up their confidence. After the completion of these activities, some of the keener students will be ready for creating their own project (i.e. a maze game, conversation or animation for example) while others will probably be content to continue “debug” or follow some “recipes” Here is a link to debugging activities and a link to some recipes. (See pg. 48-)
        Finally, feel free to check out my Scratch resource page.
        Look forward to hearing how you get on.


  2. I’ve experimented with a few typing games online that are suitable for children, but haven’t really been satisfied. A lot of them feature a lot of advertisements, and they often start out too difficult. The ones that don’t start out too difficult don’t scale up the difficulty very well, so you’re either stuck playing a game that’s too easy or too hard.

    The game highlighted in this article looks promising though. I’m excited to try it out, it could be what I’ve been hoping to find!

  3. I totally agree about the advertisements as they are not only annoying but counter-productive for easily distracted students. (I include myself in that category!) If possible, paying for a service like customtyping.com seems the best way to avoid ads and is a great approach for customization and differientiation for students preference and abilities. Installing Mavis Beacon is definitely a low cost solution and Qwerty Town is one for investigation further. I hope that helps!

  4. I have taught keyboarding in the computer lab for quite a while. it began with seventh grade using a typical piece of software for that age. BORING! At the elementary level I introduce the home row then use Dance Mat Typing on the BBC web site to practice. There is a nice web-based tool called Typing Club if you want reporting functionality. Another fun tool is called Letter Bubbles. Students must type the letters inside bubbles to destroy them. I have mixed feeling about this. On one hand, I understand how advantageous it is to be able to have touch typing skills. On the other hand, I am very concerned that this latest push for keyboarding skills is coming from a push from the companies building the online standardized tests. Curriculum should not be allowed to be driven by politicians and test creation companies.

  5. Though I don’t formally call it leveling up, I have done something like this for years, had Typing Clubs students attained that had greater choices and benefits. Recently I noticed that my grade 6 had a faster mean that my grade 7. We spent a class period looking at the data, figuring out our mean/median/mode, comparing to other classes and making goals. I put the 2 classes in competition and since we started the competition some students have raised their typing speed by over 20wpm within 2 weeks. (They’ve been emailing me their typing certificates) I’m looking forward to collecting more data on the class mean improvement tomorrow at our next biweekly typing tests. (The most popular place my kids like to type is https://www.nitrotype.com/ )

  6. Thanks Kari for your post. Your description of how your students took control of their own progress (i.e. emailing certificates, graphing progress, making goals etc.) is inspiring. I will definitely add that site to our collection of typing tools. No doubt soon to be a favourite with students. Thanks!

  7. Charlie, thanks for your post. I certainly think that a critical approach to curriculum (and the place of keyboarding) is fair. Our goal for keyboarding are to help students work with speed and efficiency with a variety of digital devices and environments. I think that the QWERTY keyboard continues to be a important input device (keyboard cases for tablets are very popular) even in this climate of tablet and Siri et al. People love texting and keyboards of various types continue to be popular. Each year we need to evaluate and assess whether this skill is a valuable for student thinking today and tomorrow. Thanks for the resources too!

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