Crack the Code


Crack the code! Conceal a secret message by creating your own cipher. Exchange decoder dials with your classmates to reveal the hidden meanings.


1. What is a code? Where have you seen or used a code before? Do you have a code for your locker or a "code word" you use with friends to pass along a secret meaning? Codes are used all around us everyday.

2. Ciphers are a type of code. When letters are rearranged or replaced with symbols, this is called a cipher. The process of creating a code or cipher is called encryption. Computers use encryption to change passwords to codes so no one can steal them. What other examples of codes and ciphers can you think of? When can encrypting messages be helpful?

3. Encrypt a message of your own! To start, you must first create a decoder dial. Carefully cut a circle about the size of your hand out of white paper with Crayola® Blunt-Tip Scissors and divide it into 26 pieces like a pie. In each pie piece, write a letter of the alphabet with Crayola® Metallic Colored Pencils. Above each letter, create a unique symbol to represent that letter in your code. Use Crayola® Metallic FX Crayons, Crayola® Glitter Crayons, and Crayola® Giltter Glue to embellish the decoder dial with shiny colors and decorative designs!

4. On a separate sheet of white paper, use the symbols you designed to create a cipher, spelling out a secret message. Add a fun border to the page!

5. Trade ciphers and decoders dials with your classmates. Use the dials to decode the encrypted messages and reveal the hidden phrases!

Safety Guidelines

Adult supervision is required for any arts & crafts project. Observe children closely and intervene as necessary to prevent potential safety problems and ensure appropriate use of arts and crafts materials. Some craft items, particularly beads and buttons, are potential choking hazards for young children. Avoid use of such small parts with children younger than 3 years. Craft items such as scissors, push pins and chenille sticks may have sharp points or edges. Avoid use of materials with sharp points by children younger than 4 years. Read all manufacturers' safety warnings before using arts and craft supplies.

Glitter Glue— WARNING: CHOKING HAZARD—Small parts. Not for children under 3 years. Not for use on skin.

Scissors—ATTENTION: The cutting edges of scissors are sharp and care should be taken whenever cutting or handling. Blunt-tip scissors should be used only by children 4 years and older. Pointed-tip scissors should be used only by children 6 years and older.


  • Younger students and those with special needs may have difficulty dividing the decoder dial into 26 equal pieces. Consider providing a pre-printed "dial" for these students to cut out and decorate. Practice decoding messages together on the board with a sample cipher and decoder dial.
  • Create a classroom treasure hunt! Assign each student a clue location on the hunt for which to create an encrypted clue. At each location, decode the cipher as a class to reveal the next spot on the hunt!
  • Assessment: Were students able to successfully reveal the encrypted messages using the decoder dials created by their classmates? Did each letter of the alphabet have a unique symbol on the decoder dial?

Related Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans

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crayola supplies
  • Crayons
  • Glitter Crayons
  • Colored Pencils
  • Metallic Colored Pencils
  • Glitter Glue
  • Blunt-Tip Scissors
  • Metallic FX Crayons
household supplies
  • white paper



  • Grades 1 to 3
  • Grades 4 to 6
  • Grades 7 to 12
  • Special Needs


  • Language Arts
  • Math
  • Social Studies
  • Visual Arts


  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Multiple Sessions


  • Students define code, cipher and encryption.

  • Students represent each letter of the alphabet with a uniquely designed symbol.

  • Students write secret messages using encryption.

  • Students decode secret messages by matching symbols in the cipher to the symbols on the decoder dial.


Research Canada Standards
Research UK Standards
Research U.S. Standards