What are algorithms? (all ages)

algorithm-27863175 (1)Aim

To begin to understand the importance of unambiguous and correctly sequenced commands in programming.


You use code to tell a computer what to do. Before you write code you need an algorithm. An algorithm is a list of rules to follow in order to solve a problem. Algorithms need to have their steps in the right order.

Ask the children to think about an algorithm for getting dressed in the morning. What if you put on your coat before your jumper? Your jumper would be on top of your coat and that would be silly! When you write an algorithm the order of the instructions is very important.

Different sorts of algorithms

Algorithms come in all sorts of forms. Ask children where they would find an algorithm for:

  1. making a cake
  2. walking to the park / supermarket
  3. constructing a toy or putting together a flat pack of furniture from IKEA

making-toast-algorithmPractical activity

Ask pupils to write instructions for

  1. making a cup of tea
  2. making toast
  3. walking to school / getting from one part of the school to another
  4. getting dressed in the morning
  5. playing a game they know

Give them pre-printed sheets of paper divided horizontally with dotted lines into strips about 3 cm wide. One instruction should go in each strip.

Then get them to cut out the strips, shuffle them around and then recreate the right sequence.

If different pupils / groups of pupils do different sets of instructions, they can swap and challenge another pupil or group to arrange their set of instructions.

Younger children could do this using picture cards e.g telling a fairy story they are familiar with.

Integration across the curriculum: Literacy

jen hughes

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