1, 2, 3, code ! - Cycle 1 activities - Lesson 1.1. Moving an object around a grid


Students learn how to give precise orders to an avatar to control its movements around a grid.

Key ideas
 (see Conceptual scenario)


  • The machines all around us simply follow "orders" (instructions)


  • To command machines, we invent and use languages
  • A program is written in a language that both humans and machines can understand.


  • A program is a combination of instructions.

Inquiry-based methods



For the class:

  • An avatar
  • A token
  • A poster on A3 or A2 size paper with a 3x4 grid
  • Three copies of Handout 1 (laminated, if desired)
  • Magnets to keep everything on the whiteboard/chalkboard


Instruction, program


30 min



This sequence is aimed at very young students. For students at the beginning of Cycle 1, the activities will most often be done orally as a class, while students at the end of Cycle 1 can do them in small groups, creating drawings of what they have learned. For older students, (Cycle 2), the activities can be done in groups with written conclusions. Several variations of the same activities are suggested to accommodate these different age groups.

The goal is to move an object (the "avatar") from a starting point to a destination point. Setting the scene for this activity is very important to pique the students' interest. Any object or stuffed animal can be used as the avatar. To create a convincing reason why the avatar wants to go to the destination point, another object is added (the "reward"). The teacher can choose any reward depending on the choice of avatar; for example, a teddy bear will look for a pot of honey, a pixie will go to pick a flower, etc.

Must this activity be done on a whiteboard or table? Both options are possible, but the "program strip" (see following lessons) or instruction cards must fit on the same support. If the grid is hung on the board with the magnetic avatar on it, the instruction cards must also be placed on the board with magnets. The same applies if you are working on a table. While using arrows may be easy for adults, this is not the case for children. For example, what does an upward-pointing arrow on the board mean for an avatar lying flat on a table? Go up (in altitude)? Move away from the student (confusing if the student is not directly in front of the grid)? Move towards the top of the grid (which is what we expect)?

Can students play the avatars themselves in the classroom? It is possible, but care must be taken to ensure that no errors or misconceptions are introduced. For practical reasons, it will probably be difficult to place giant instruction cards on the ground where they can be read. However, for the reasons mentioned above, it is inadvisable to hang them on the wall; students will be able to read them, but they may not understand them. It is possible to invent a new language for this activity: instructions can become "move one square towards the cafeteria," "move one square towards the playground," etc. However, it may be difficult to apply the logic to later lessons.

Where possible, we suggest using an avatar that does not need to face a particular direction. Here, the focus is on instructions for movement (go right, go left, etc.) without complicating matters with issues of directionality (turn a quarter turn to your right, etc.). However, if the class chooses an avatar with front, back, right and left sides, face the avatar in a single direction (e.g., front towards the top of the grid) and keep it facing this way at all times. This means that a move to the right would correspond to a "step right" for the avatar, and not a turn to the right followed by a step forward. The other option would be to face the avatar to the right, because at this age, most children have become accustomed to "reading" from left to right. So, saying "move forward" to go right would not pose any problems.


Starting the activity

The teacher presents the grid to the class and places the avatar on one of the squares. They tell the class that they must give the avatar orders so it can move around the grid.


Experiment: Giving orders to the avatar

First, place a reward on the grid that the avatar must collect. Place it two or three squares away on the same row or same column as the avatar. If the students' orders are vague ("Go!"), the teacher asks, "Go where?" The same order ("go up", for example) repeated two or three times is sufficient. The formulation "Go three squares up" also works.

  • Orally: As a class, the students suggest orders to give to the avatar: "Walk," "Go," "Go over there," etc. There are numerous possibilities.
  • Written: In groups, ask the students to find four orders (written or drawn) to control any move on the grid.

Teaching notes:
For younger students, the grid should be extremely simple: the squares can either be aligned (the grid is one dimensional and students give instructions with a number of times to go right or left) or placed in a cross configuration, where from the center square there is only one square up, one square to the right, one square down and one square to the left. 



The reward can also be placed at a diagonal from the avatar (not for younger students). The students may suggest the avatar move diagonally, but the teacher then explains that it cannot: it can only move to one of the four squares that share a border with the square it is in. Students must combine two orders, such as "go up" and "go right."

The teacher then asks what four orders the avatar can obey. (If students suggest eight, remind them that diagonal movements are not allowed.)


Group discussion

The teacher puts the class's different suggestions of orders for the avatar up on the board. The class discusses these suggestions and chooses the signals they want to use.

In the following lessons, we're using a simple signaling system of arrows to indicate the direction the avatar should move. The teacher can ask students to draw arrows on cards or use the arrows from Handout 1, which will need to be cut out (and laminated, if desired).



The teacher introduces a new glossary term: the orders given to the avatar on the cards are "instructions." The teacher asks the students to explain what each card means. Each card corresponds to the movement of the avatar from one square following the direction of the arrow.

Teaching notes:

  • This method of giving instruction is called "allocentric": if the grid is placed in a particular direction, the instructions have no effect on the direction the avatar is facing. In the class, these instructions can be reworded, such as "move one square towards the whiteboard," "move one square towards the door," etc. Later, in geography class, the four cardinal directions can be used. For younger students, more context can be given for the grid by drawing a faraway environment with various colors: "go towards the red mountain," "go towards the blue sea," "go towards the green forest," "go towards the yellow desert," etc. Contextualizing the environment can be useful, especially at the beginning for younger students, in helping them learn what arrows mean. However, for ages five and up, we suggest using just arrows. This helps students learn spatial awareness.
  • For the sake of convenience, we will call the four cards above "instruction cards."


Preschool class, Jessica Mazoyer, Paris.


Role play

The teacher hangs a long roll of blank paper above the grid on the board. This is the "program strip" on which the instruction cards will be placed, side by side from left to right, to be followed.

The teacher adds the first instruction card to the program strip and places a magnetized token on it: the class moves the avatar on the grid. The teacher then adds another instruction card after the first one, moving the token onto this new card (the token indicates the instruction being carried out). There is no need to remember the previous instructions or prepare the following instructions ahead of time. The teacher then adds another instruction, followed by another. The class reads and applies the instructions one by one, moving the token along the program and the avatar on the grid.



La classe synthétise collectivement ce qui a été appris au cours de cette séance :

  • Pour déplacer le lutin on peut lui donner des ordres simples, des « instructions »
  • En combinant des instructions on écrit un programme

Further study

The teacher places the avatar in the center of the grid. Half the class secretly hides the reward under the grid, writing the program to find it from the square where the avatar is placed. The teacher asks the other half of the class to find the reward by following the suggested program. The two groups then switch roles.



  Sequence I Lesson 1.2 >>


Project partners

Aucun résultats