Secret Code Game - Bonus Supplementary Activity

This Investigation and Inquiry activity will help foster students’ natural curiosity and promote development of critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and inquiry skills. The activity also underscores the detective motif in Xello K-2 and brings it into the classroom.

Purpose Materials
In this activity, students will create their own coding and decoding instrument. This code game is based on the ancient use of secret messages. The secret message has two parts: a tube (cylinder) and a strip of paper that can be wound around the tube. The purpose of this activity is to:
  • Help students develop their reading and writing skills (optional: math skills)
  • Encourage students to think critically and creatively
  • Teach students to follow instructions
  • Introduce students to the subject of changing technology and how that impacts jobs and skills
To complete this activity, the following supplies are needed:
  • Paper, cut into 1” wide strips
  • Paper towel rolls
  • Paper clips or rubber bands
  • Scissors
  • Tape or glue
  • Pencils, crayons, pencil crayons, and markers
In-App My Files
Students upload a photo of their secret message and decoder


  1. Ask students for examples of situations when someone might need to send secret messages to someone else. You can describe some ways in which secret messages have been sent in the past (embedded in quilts or attached to carrier pigeons, for example). Explain that sometimes a detective might need to send a top-secret coded message to his or her partner.
  2. Have students decorate their paper towel tubes, then tape or glue paper strips together to form a single strip of paper long enough to wind around the tube. Secure the paper to the tube with paper clips or rubber bands, and ask students to write their secret message across the paper. You could ask them to write about their favorite book, what they want to be when they grow up, or any other topic.
  3. When their messages have been written, students unwind the paper and exchange messages with a partner.
  4. They then wrap their partner’s message around their paper towel tube to read the secret message.
  5. Tip: You can have older students devise more complicated codes using numbers to stand in for the letters. Have students create a key listing the letters of the alphabet with their corresponding numbers, then they can create a series of simple addition or subtraction problems for their partner to solve in order to figure out the number and corresponding letter. For example, if D=1;O=2; G=3 then 3-2; 1+1; 5-2 = DOG.
  6. The tube and paper decoder is a low-tech way of sending secret messages. Ask students to think of more modern ways that someone might send a secret message. Use this opportunity to explain how jobs and skills can evolve over time due to changes in technology.

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