Introducing binary with beads and role play

Part of the difficulty with introducing computing into schools, especially at primary level, is that some of the concepts are really quite abstract. There are a large number of great resources out there that connect real-world activities to computational thinking, many of which can be found at CS Unplugged.

One of our favourites is a simple way to introduce the concept of binary numbers. In this activity pupils will make a bracelet with their initials encoded in binary. To do this black and white beads are used to denote 0 and 1 respectively.

You will need:

The lesson could:

  • Start the lesson by introducing that computers convert every bit of information or instruction into binary, which is a sequence of 0s and 1s.
  • Explain that pupils will be converting their name to binary.
  • Display the conversion table and ask pupils to convert single letters on mini whiteboards or on the spot by selecting pupils at random.
  • After ensuring pupils are able to convert simple letters ask them to convert their initials into binary and record the result in work books etc.
  • Give out pre-cut lengths of thread and pots of beads and explain that pupils are to make a bracelet in their code.
  • For more able pupils or as an extension try a pupils first name using capital and lower case letters, passing messages in binary to others in class to be decoded and replied to.
  • During a plenary ensure pupils connect the binary code to how computers understand information. You could have a role play where one pupil invents an instruction of gives some letters, another encodes this and the CPU actor has to decode and check that the response is correct.


A 01000001
B 01000010
C 01000011
D 01000100
E 01000101
F 01000110
G 01000111
H 01001000
I 01001001
J 01001010
K 01001011
L 01001100
M 01001101
N 01001110
O 01001111
P 01010000
Q 01010001
R 01010010
S 01010011
T 01010100
U 01010101
V 01010110
W 01010111
X 01011000
Y 01011001
Z 01011010


a 01100001
b 01100010
c 01100011
d 01100100
e 01100101
f 01100110
g 01100111
h 01101000
i 01101001
j 01101010
k 01101011
l 01101100
m 01101101
n 01101110
o 01101111
p 01110000
q 01110001
r 01110010
s 01110011
t 01110100
u 01110101
v 01110110
w 01110111
x 01111000
y 01111001
z 01111010