When I asked my third and fourth graders what topics they would choose if they could study anything they wanted to, codes and ciphers was in the top 5 every time!  I liked to use thematic units for substitutes so I could prepare them ahead of time, and have something special for the kids in my absence.  This unit comes with complete detailed substitute plans, but it also has center materials which can greatly extend the students interaction with the subject.  I suggest having a classroom volunteer prepare the materials for you.  Many of them are not consumable and can be used over and over.  You can store the center materials in a different file from the instructional materials, and show a couple of your students where to get them and how to set them up.  This way your students can have interesting activities for free time with the sub, and they can continue with their learning long after the sub has gone.  There is a lot of prep work initially, but after that it's just a matter of restocking when the year ends.

On thing's for sure:  you'll have a classroom of engaged kiddos however you use it!

The materials in this thematic unit include:

  • Overview and Lesson Plans
  • Detailed Substitute Lesson Plan Guide with sample worksheets and answers included in the guide
  • Field Kit, Read and Follow Directions
  • Student Readers:  Grades 3-4 and Grades 5-6
  • Comprehension Worksheet and Answers
  • Vocabulary Activities
  • Worksheets to introduce students to a variety of codes and ciphers
  • Cipher Rings, Read and Follow Directions
  • Art Project based on the study of an artistic spy
  • Spy Files (Prizes for locating secret messages hidden in the materials)

Spy Center Materials will expand the learning for many days after the thematic unit is completed.  Included are:

  • Posters and Lettering for the center
  • Reading File Cards for ongoing research
  • Trivia Board Game with lots of interesting information and ideas for independent research
  • Maritime Signal Flags Information Cards
  • Disk Cipher, Read and Follow Directions
  • Task Cards
  • Blank Grids for Spy Center

The unit will take 2-3 days to complete.

The unit is appropriate for grades 3-6.           

145 pages.          PDF            67MB  


Codes  &  Ciphers

An Integrated Thematic Unit

If you need a break from the humdrum routine, or you want to start or end the year with a surprising twist, this integrated language arts, science, math, and social studies unit may be just what you are looking for.  It has never failed to get my kiddos energized and interacting.  Who doesn't want to be a spy!

Thematic Teacher

Educational Materials for Literacy Through Art, Science, and Social Studies.

More Information

activities center on reading to learn new information.  There are a wide variety of reading materials included in the unit.  A "Code Book" gives students the historical background of the use of encrypted writing.  It comes in two versions--one for grades 3-4, and one for grades 5-6.  Reading file cards (center materials) describe several ciphers, tell of historical situations, and introduce students to a few famous spies.  Trivial cards (from the board game) give students a short burst of information on a wide variety of subjects related to cryptography, and present them with an opportunity to ask and answer questions.  Task cards give students instruction and practice in a variety of cipher techniques.  Several vocabulary activities allow them to learn and practice new words.  Several "Read and Follow the Direction" assignments help students use reading to make a product.

Writing activities center on numerous opportunities to send secret messages to classmates.  They give students practice in telegraphic writing as they use only key words to create secret notes.  They develop a spy scenario as part of the art project, and create "spy notes" to complement their scenario.

A Math worksheet takes students across Europe as they follow the antics of Sam Sleuth, a secret agent carrying important data to a dead drop in London.  They will compute mileage, draw a map, use a menu, and calculate time as they figure out the message he is carrying. 

Science activities allow students to explore heat and chemical reactions, as well as ways to send hidden messages.

An art project teaches students about an artistic spy who hid his notes in drawings and paintings.  Students will create their own project using his techniques.

The include Spy Center gives children plenty of ways to learn more about cryptography.  These materials can extend the learning long after the thematic unit is over.  They provide interesting and exciting things to do during a student's free time, and allow him or her time to practice all the problem solving and research skills you've been working on throughout the year.