Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Advice for teaching keyboarding

The only useful class I remember taking in school was typing. I was 13 and I took the class from  Miss Web, long before the Web was anything more than what spiders wove.  Back then, typing meant taking something written somewhere else and then typing it on your own paper complete with erase tape, that you used on mistakes, and that bar that you hit to put the typing carriage back to where you started.  Years later, I was very excited about the electric typewriter, then selectric typewriter which was faster with its typeball instead of those long long bars each with a letter hitting the page.  I haven’t typed someone else’s words in more than a decade.  Today, that’s replaced with a simple file download or cut and paste.  Now the words I put on the page come from my head to my fingers on a keyboard.

I’m often asked, what about today?  When should kids learn to type?  

As someone who learned to use an iTouch/iPhone from a three-year-old and an iPad from a six-year old, I’m keenly aware that kids can start using technology well enough to teach an innovation specialist very early. Teaching children to touch type is a great skill to have early on that will save a tremendous amount of time later.  Also, typing can be fun!  It’s like a race.  

Perhaps the most important reason to get kids typing is it helps get to the thinking faster.  In academic terms this is called cognitive automaticity. With typing we are freed from the slowness of handwriting, finally allowing us to get our ideas down at the speed of thought.  If you’re hung up on the lost art of handwriting, here’s some food for thought.  I haven’t written by hand in more than five years, except for my signature and at the annoying doctors offices that are stuck in the past having me write the same information 500 times over and over.  If I was smart, I’d type it up on sticky labels and paste it on the sheet. 

When it comes to reproducing thoughts, keyboarding is a more efficient and effective way to produce information that is easily sharable allowing the expression of ideas, not the rendering of letters, to take center stage.  

If you like hard facts, here’s what this looks like broken down by words per minute with  handwriting speed. 

GradeHandwriting Speed (Words Per Minute)
1 - 3 5 - 7
4 - 68 - 12
7 - 914 - 17
Source(Amundson, 1995)

With a one-semester typing program a student will usually be able to type about 30 words per minute and a second semester can as much as double the speed.  

So, when should kids learn to type?  

Why not now?  It’s great for hand-eye coordination, letter recognition, and it’s an effective way to share your thoughts and ideas in an authentic medium.  Learning to touch type not only saves time, but it enables one to type while maintaining eye contact.  Additionally, you’ll find that when you learn to touch type on the keyboard, touch typing with your thumbs transfers naturally.  

But what age is best to start?

A kid can learn to type as soon as they have access to a device with a keyboard though it’s generally believed that they may not have the motor coordination or finger span to truly touch type until about seven or 8 years of age.  If you don’t have a device with a keyboard, you can find a picture of one, print it out and they can still practice the basic drills like these. Fold it up and bring it on the go.  This can be an activity children can do in the car, bus, subway, or waiting room.  

How to Start Kids Typing on Keyboards Even if They’re To Young to Touch Type
This video has some useful tips, tricks, and ideas to get children started keyboarding who may not be ready to touch type.

What is a good age to start a child using a typing software program?

There are several free and paid for typing programs.  They suggest that they are generally for children 7 and up.  The nice thing about typing programs is that they provide a fun learning environment for children.  The paid for programs generally start at around $20, with most hovering around the $30 range, and the highest end programs coming in around $50.  Here is a nice comparison of some popular kids typing programs.  Strangely, it is missing the one I’m most familiar with for children which is Mavis Beacon for Kids which comes in at $19.95.  

My favorite speedbuilder game is TypeRacer and it’s FREE! What I love about TypeRacer from a pedagogical perspective is that it provides literary passages for typing which is a nice way to expose players to a variety of writing.  The other thing that is really neat is you have a little race car and you can invite friends to compete against you virtually.  The scores of you and your friends are posted making for a fun competition.  You can also race at anytime with others who happen to be using the program when you are.  

In short children of any age can begin exploring keyboards, letters, and screens.  It is an essential 21st century skill and helping them master it early, not only provides a fun and useful activity for children to work on, but it will also help them share thoughts and ideas while saving a tremendous amount of time.  


  1. We struggle with this all the time in our schools. Some believe it an essential skill and worthy of large swaths of time, while many in our schools believe that the acts of typing should be more authentic and driven toward more than the goal of the typing program that we have in our schools. Others constantly say that it takes up valuable time on school computers. What are the thoughts on that?

  2. Yes! Keyboarding is an essential skill, and the Common Core Standards have identified it as Such. According to the CCSS, in 3rd grade typing is introduced. By the 5th grade, students are expected to type 2 pages in a sitting!

    We use Typing Adventure. We wanted an online service so that we could assign it for homework. We have limited access to computers in school as it is, and didn't want all 3rd grade time to be absorbed by typing practice. Our third grade teachers assign keyboarding practice for homework and monitor progress online. Once a month, teachers bring students to a lab setting to monitor progress physically and ensure that positive habits are being formed. We
    built the site below to support teachers because some were more comfortable than others


  3. @Patrick, learning to type quickly saves enormous amounts of time and enables students to share thoughts and ideas more efficiently and effectively. I don't get the argument not to spend some time on this. It doesn't take all that much time either. One semester was all most people I know took to be able to type with automaticity. The paper keyboard is a great way for kids without computers to practice and you can tape them on desks for students to practice when they're done with work early.

    The TypeRacer contests are fun too and students can compete against each other.

    In the end I think what we should be valuing is the ability for students to share their ideas in the most efficient and effective way possible. We also should recognize the value of being able to maintain eye content when typing.

    I'd say it's an essential skill to develop that takes a very little amount of time to learn up front when compared to all the time saved and thinking captured down the road.

  4. I'm on the side of- give students something worth typing about and they'll pick it up.

  5. @edtechsteve, kids spend most of their time taking classes they never asked to take, memorizing facts they'll never remember, so they'll do well on tests that are really just made for the politicians to turn our children in nice charts and graphs.

    It is rare that people learn to touch type without time in the day to devote to it and it only takes one semester to get going.

    Why not give students time in the school day for one semester that they'll undoubtedly be able to benefit from for their entire lives.

    They get enough damn test prep. Let's give them a skill they can use outside of school too.

  6. Definitely not talking about the alternative being test prep. In my ideal world, every student has a device to create with, connected to their passions. You create an environment like that and you don't need keyboarding lessons.

    Of course, I say this while tapping at 80 wpm with two fingers and a thumb. :)

  7. @edtechsteve Admittedly I know you were not and I also agree that passion-driven typing is the way to go. I guess I’m also thinking this though. Even if students are able to do work that they love which requires typing, that does not teach them the skill of touch typing. Unless your given the opportunity to take a class with time to practice, this very useful skill is rarely developed. Why not give kids the option to learn that this life-long useful school while out school. The payoff is the ability to type at double, triple, or even quadruple their speed and they’ll be able to do so without looking at the keyboard. A very helpful skill in class, in work, in life.

  8. Wanted to reiterate the emphasis in the CCSS-- it is "required" that students have the stamina by the time they reach middle school to type at least 2 pages in a single sitting. By middle school, they need to apply these skills to more complex tasks.

    I want to throw out another model for "time." Instead of thinking about it as a semester commitment, I have several schools devoting 10 minutes a day. It can help students focus in the morning or after lunch and works especially well in a one to one environment. The students love it and some teachers have added 10 minutes a night for homework, as well. That tiny amount of time has great payoff by this time of year (if you start in Sept.).

    Another great free resource is Dance Mat. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/typing/

    And, I'm with Lisa, haven't written by hand in 5 years except on my tablet.

    By the way, there have been some great studies on gifted students and how hand writing retards their thinking and holds back the writing process. (i.e. cognitive automaticity)

  9. I think touch typing is an essential skill and it should be taught early and during the school day. I do not care for the silly cardboard keyboard covers that prevent students from seeing the keyboard while they practice. I type 80-90 wpm, and I want to be able to glance down at my keyboard. Students need to do that even more to get their fingers back where they belong. With the covers in place, they spend most of their time peeking under to find their spot.

  10. I'm trying crash courses of typing with my 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. 30 minutes a day for 2 weeks straight. It's made a noticeable difference in the speed of those who have done it so far, with several 5th graders pushing 30 wpm.

    For free typing programs online, I'm using DanceMat Typing with the younger kids (grades 1 and 2), and TypingWeb with the older kids. DanceMat is more fun, TypingWeb more serious but more powerful. It keeps track of the progress of every kid and can generate reports of their progress. I have several other typing games on my Symbaloo

  11. I was very fortunate to have taken typing 10 (way back when) and it has served me well, especially since I spend so much time on a computer at work and at home. I have seen how much time it has saved me, how it makes editing easier and I find that I can capture more of my ideas when I touch type rather than when I write. My pen cannot keep up to my brain's thoughts but a keyboard can. For these reasons I think keyboarding is essential. Ultimately, I think typing for authentic reasons is the best but I think students can have lots of fun learning to type with interactive software.

    Along with learning the keystrokes I would add that it is important to emphasize good posture, choosing the right height of chair, taking breaks every 20 minutes (move and look away from the screen), etc. Many physiotherapists and occupational therapists say they are seeing more young people with repetitive-use injuries from texting and using computers.

  12. I'm using http://www.typingstudy.com to improve touch typing skills. Best that it's online, without registration and free.

  13. Consider the following:
    - practice makes perfect. your students need daily access to computers to keep up their typing skills
    - are your students entering data they have drafted in handwriting? For that, speed is very helpful. But then, their computer becomes a glorified typewriter.
    - how long can you sustain a speed of 30+ words per minute while COMPOSING on a computer? (which is after all a better pedagogical use of a computer)
    - what kind of "computer" do students use most often? Answer: a cell phone
    - have you seen students texting with all fingers? Seems to me they use thumbs.
    - have you ever tried to use a keyboard in a different country, say at an Internet cafe?

    Food for thought,

  14. I would say that learning to type these days does not really require a teacher, just a good program and lots of practice and some monitoring in the beginning. As a teacher, typing is something I would assign for homework and expect that they learn and practice the skill at home since I have just so many contact hours with my students for other subjects.

  15. Students in my classes end the year with about 45 hours of keyboarding, (I start cutting the time spent keyboarding at the end of the first nine weeks and the last semester we only keyboard twice a week for 15 minutes).

    Imagine how much less time edtechsteve would spend typing if he used all ten fingers going 120-150 wpm.

    My only comment is that it should be covered in elementary.

  16. I'd love to see some form of typing practice start in kindergarten. I agree 100% about doing less handwriting as the years pass on. There is no point in stressing such outdated skills. Teachers and parents set in their ways and thoughts about teaching handwriting and stressing it so much simply say well it improved dexterity, motor skills, etc. Well, so does typing. And have you seen the handwriting ability of doctors? They've received all the schooling in the world and they still can't write. The only issue I see with teaching typing is the variety and complexity of the devices we have now. Back in the mid 90's when I was teaching typing to elem students, all we had to worry about was a computer keyboard. Now, we have keyboards of all sizes (on netbooks, laptops, tablets, full size, etc.), mobile devices, on the Wii and other gaming systems, ipods, smart phones with and without qwerty keyboards, GPS units, and more. I think it is almost impossible to effectively teach this skill right now if students are going to interact with the variety of devices as the school years go on. I'm not saying don't do it, I just don't think we need to spend that much time on it. What if in 5 years there are less and less keyboard because voice recognition software is ubiquitous? It is already there with Google voice inputs on searches (on iPad but maybe elsewhere) and in other apps and products. If, in 5 years, our middle school students can just 'speak' their 2 page typing test, what will they do with their typing skills?

  17. Kids will learn to type the way they learn to talk if we get out of the way. My daughter types fast as she was motivated to IM. I am sure her technique would make a business teacher cringe, but it just means the people in the business department have reinvent themselves rather than requiring kids to take keyboarding.

  18. I have a great method for teaching keyboarding in a very short time. Kids need to know their letters and alphabet - that's it. The method was developed by Diana King; and I have been using it with her permission. The method has worked for me with preschoolers through adults. I would be happy to share it with you...I have given many workshops on this to teachers and parents. Would be happy to come to NYC or almost anywhere else!


    Gaby Richard-Harrington

  19. Great information. This is a topic I cover every year at school--holding back parents who want their kindergartners to type with all fingers and calming down fifth grade parents who complain about their student's hunting-and-pecking.

  20. Great that you blogged about touch typing. It is overlooked by most parents and schools, but important to learn.

    I also recommend having a look at this new touch typing course

  21. Touch typing can be difficult for the very young and for people with special needs. There is a keyboard that helps these populations - http://www.chestercreek.com/LessonBoard.html. And for older students the letters are removed, but the colored zones remain aiding in correct finger placement/use.

  22. seriously! how long before keyboards are obsolete?

    1. I started teaching keyboarding in 1994 and they were saying the same thing then...."we won't have keyboards much longer". Well, they are still here!

  23. I actually tested the handwriting speed of my 3rd and 4th graders--much faster than 5wpm. They were up at 12-18wpm. This is was both copying and thinking, closer to the data collected by (Graham,Berninger, Weintraub,
    & Schafer, 1998, which is 13-17wpm. Even that handwriting speed proves the point, though: Many students will easily exceed handwriting speed with their keyboarding speed by 6/7th grade.

  24. Great article as I often have this typing-readiness discussion with parents. I find that Grade 2 (aged 7-8) is the best year to start more formal typing classes and practice. I look forward to using your article as an excellent resource for our learning community. You might like my recent post on applying "game-based learning" theory to keyboarding lessons. http:\\ict4kids.ca

  25. Keyboarding is the foundation of students engaging with technology in proficient and purposeful ways.

    Physically, the keyboard is the primary and most direct connection between students and most forms of technology. More importantly, however, it is also their intellectual and creative connection to technology; it is how students' thoughts and ideas make it out of their minds and into the world.

    Considering the latter as the goal of #EdTech, keyboarding needs to be so ingrained that it is done instinctively and without effort. The importance of this comes down to a choice between a struggling student whose mental energies end at their fingertips as they try to figure out how to get a thought onto the page, or a student who is able to spend those mental energies fully on the creation and expression of thoughts and ideas.



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