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Pixel Programming
for Step 1 ELL Students

By Martha Sinopoli 60 minutes
Grades 1-3
English as Another Language,
  • Programming
  • Computing and Networks
  • Design
Tools & Languages

Key Coding Concepts

  • Algorithms
  • Debugging
  • Sequences



A step-by-step set of operations to be performed to help solve a problem



Finding problems or ‘bugs’ in code and solving them



Identifying a series of steps for a task. Computers read and perform commands in order from top to bottom

Learners will explore new vocabulary (directions, colours, and letters) while completing the unplugged lesson Pixel Programming.


  • Different colours of sticky notes (start with 2 at the beginning)
  • Printed upper and lower-case letters (start with a few at the beginning, perhaps using ones that are in the learners’ names; the letters prepared in the lesson are O, L, H, T, X, C, I, U)
  • Printed copy of the Pixel Programming instructions, programs, and solutions

Before the lesson...

  • Review key coding concepts and ensure you are confident describing them to your group
  • Assess prior knowledge so you understanding of what your learners already know.
  • Have the printed letters displayed when your learners arrive.


Use every minute you are working with Step 1 ELLs as a teaching opportunity. You might decide to talk about directions when walking from their class to your workspace (e.g. “We are going to turn ‘right’ here!”, “We are going to go ‘up’ the stairs”, “Turn ‘left’ into this room”, “Please sit ‘down’”). You may demonstrate directions like ‘left’ and ‘right’ with your hands. Review these directions once you arrive at the workspace.


  1. Ensure that your learners know how to pronounce the sticky note colours and letters that you will be using. Have the letters that you will be building clearly displayed in large font.
  2. Do Program 1 together:
    • Tell the learners that you are going to make a secret picture together.
    • Read the directions aloud. When you come to instruction 2, review the 2 colours that you will be using.
    • After reading Instruction 4, introduce the concept of a comma.
    • Assemble the picture together following the program.
    • Ask what letter the picture is showing. Have learners match it with one of the large letters you have displayed.
  3. Complete Program 2 together or allow them to try on their own.
  4. Complete more programs as time allows.

Learning Outcomes

I can recall directions, colours, letters from other lessons.

I can complete Program 7 or 8 independently.

Assessment Ideas

Pre-test for prior knowledge

English as Another Language:

  • Add more colours and letters as learners gain more vocabulary and knowledge.
  • Have learners create uppercase letters (K, Z) and lowercase letters ( t, h, l, ) using the sticky notes. Ask them to write the program themselves.
  • Ask learners to spell their names and short vocabulary words (IT, HI, HIT, HOT, CUT, COT, LIT, LOT). Have them write the program for these words themselves.


  • Give learners small paper grids (PDFs can be printed here). Have learners create their own pixel design with 2 colours, and then describe the design using their knowledge of colour and direction words.

Computing and Networks:

  • Display pictures of everyday computing devices and teach learners the terminology for these devices by creating an anchor chart of English words. (Creative Commons pictures of computing devices can be downloaded from Pexels). Using a presentation software, learners can make their own interactive dictionary of vocabulary learned in this lesson.

Teach lessons that are tied to your existing curriculum!


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    The K-12 Computer Science Framework

    Although learning how to build digital projects is a key part of Computer Science education, students should also learn a wider set of skills and competencies that will help them to harness the power of digital technologies as both creators and consumers. A comprehensive approach to K-12 Computer Science education includes learning about the following five focus areas:

    View Framework ➝


    By the end of high school, students should be able to create a simple computer program.

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