Continuing a series of posts, I am doing this week on Computational Thinking, which is part of the IT strand of the Computing Curriculum. As I have said before our Computing Curriculum is split into 4 areas, Digital Literacy, Computer Science, IT and Online Safety. Here’s a bit about each area:

  • Digital Literacy- the area of the curriculum where things are made for a purpose, this is general media such as video, audio or picture. It could encompass green screen, editing apps, word publishing, creating PowerPoints or even apps.
  • Computer Science- this area focuses on programming and coding, there are lots of ways to program which is the steps/ rules to make something happen or the coding which is the use of a language that tell it what to do.
  • Online Safety- how to use the software and hardware appropriately, how to make them work for you correctly and how to consider the mark you leave online.
  • IT- my understanding of IT is the ‘so what?’ of computing, it explains the why and how these things work whether its Software, Hardware or even thinking like a computer.Computing

It is my view is that IT is an essential part of the computing curriculum and I think that schools find it a difficult area to teach. Often when I look at schemes of work and planning they suggest covering IT as a unit, I’m not convinced that this is the way to go. If we compared IT to another area such as verbs, would we teach this once a year and then leave it for the next year group? As with any subject and area I think understanding and enjoyment should go hand in hand in the way of fun, practical activities. In this post I will be looking at an area of IT called Computational Thinking, which just means thinking like a computer, there are a few types of Computational Thinking and the focus for this post is Pattern Recognition.

What is it?

Pattern Recognition is the observation of patterns, trends, and similarities in information and often drawing conclusions from it. This is beneficial in Computing Terms as it has opportunities for efficiency when solving problems.


A famous piece of evidence of this would be the solving of the Enigma Code following the fantastic work done at Bletchley Park during World War Two. For anyone unaware, Enigma had 15 billion-billion possible settings and each night at 12 the code would change to a new setting; making the work of that day worthless as it was for an old code. Eventually the code breakers realized the same number of characters at the end of each communication which using Pattern Recognition skills they worked out was “Heil Hitler” following this they were able to crack the Enigma Code and it is believed shortened the war by a number of years (there is an article here where you can learn more).

How could I teach it?

I think that most IT concepts should be drip-fed, I find this works well as a Plenary type activity which enriches the learning, almost in a “yes we’ve been doing this, children, but this is how it could be applied” or “this is what we’ve actually been doing”. Here are a series of activities that I have found useful when showing and developing Pattern Recognition skills.

Early Years

  • Chains- a paper chain made from a series of different coloured, paper making a repeating pattern. The children could try to recreate a pattern using paper chains, coloured counters, coloured shapes etc.
  • 4 Pics, 1 Word- for this I would find 4 pictures that an animal have in common the children then try to guess the animal using the information.

4 Pics 1 Word EYFS.png

Key Stage 1

  • Patterns in Nature- this activity works as a zoom in game, start with a close up of a pattern in nature such as giraffe’s markings and then see if the children can guess the animal.
  • Spot the Difference- just a couple of simple pictures with a few differences and try to spot the difference
  • Carroll Diagram- look at a series of shapes and order them according to a series of criteria.

Carroll Diagram.png

Lower KS2

  • Number Sequences- I tend to start off basic 2, 4, 6, 8, 10or 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and then build up in difficulty from there.
  • Carroll Ladders- these are fantastic, start with a word and change 1 letter at a time finally changing it into a different word.

Carroll Ladder.png

  • Codes- there are loads of different codes you can try with your class, I find these are great for morning warm up work.


  • Word Clouds- the way they work is very interesting, they are a Pattern Recognition device. The more a word is mentioned the larger it appears, so words that are larger have been mentioned the most and are therefore the most important.
  • 4 Pics, 1 Word- a truly wonderful app, and so easy to make yourself; all you need is a PowerPoint and some Creative Commons images.

4 pics 1 word app.png


  • Islamic Art- these are great to show the real-life benefits of using repeated shapes. Examine and discuss a range of Islamic patterns. What shapes can the children see? What are the properties of these shapes?
  • Function Machines- this activity is similar to number sequences although instead children see an input and output and the children work out the function that is happening in the middle.
  • Fractals- fractals are everywhere in our modern society, whether it is QR codes or antennae in a mobile phone. Children could try to design their own.

Final Thoughts

I hope I have given you some ideas for teaching Pattern Recognition that you take back into the classroom I have tried to include things I have come up with over the years. There are some things I have developed from Barefoot Computing and Computing at Schools who are both fantastic for teaching IT lessons, but we need to continue developing our lessons of IT, just as we develop our lessons of Green Screen or Photo Editing. Hopefully, I have convinced you to try to include these simple ideas in your IT lessons and as I have mentioned I think they work best when they are drip-fed.

So please include IT in your lessons and let me know how you get on!