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How to explain the SHIFT key to your students

If you have students who are fast on their way to mastering touch typing with exemplary speed and accuracy, how can you continue to provide them with a challenge? Suggest they practice advanced punctuation and symbols.

Symbols on the computer are tricky because most of them can only be accessed by pressing and holding the shift key while typing.

Because the keyboard can’t fit a key for every character, the shift (and option) keys allow us to type multiple symbols using the same key – an idea that can be confusing for students.

Teaching About the Shift Key

Help your students understand the concept of keys that can be used to type multiple symbols with an analogy. An easy one? Bunk beds.

Bunk beds allow you to have two beds in the space where normally only one would fit by stacking them on top of one another. If you look at your keyboard, you’ll notice that some keys have more than one number or symbol, one on top of the other, just like bunk beds.

When you are typing, and strike one of those keys, you need to let your computer know if you want to type the symbol you see on top “bunk” or the one on bottom “bunk”.

All keyboards are set to that multi-symbol keys will automatically type the symbol that’s shown on the bottom. In order to type the symbol seen on top, you need to first press and hold the shift key (there is a shift key on both the left and right side of your keyboard).

For example, pressing the number key “8” on your keyboard will produce the number 8. However, if you press and hold shift and then the key for “8”, you will get the top symbol *.

Additionally, there are also hidden characters on your keyboard that can be accessed using the option key or a combination of the option and shift key.

For example, clicking the letter “G” while holding the option key will give you “©”, the copyright symbol. And clicking the “?” key while holding option and shift simultaneously will produce “¿”, useful for writing questions in Spanish.

Most students won’t need to access too many special characters beyond those that are actually displayed on the keyboard, but even learning to use those basic ones can be a challenge for kids.

Practice using the shift key

Test yourself by trying out one of the punctuation lessons on Typing.com, question marks, say. You’ll likely find that even as an advanced typist it can be difficult to keep your speed and accuracy up while pressing two keys at once!

This is likely to be a struggle for students. So prepare plenty of practice time for them to get the hang of using the shift key.

Apart from punctuation lessons on Typing.com, there are other tools to help students practice this valuable typing skill. In our game, Type-a-Balloon, students can work on not only letters and words, but also numbers and punctuation marks.

Challenge your students to push their typing abilities to the next level with symbols (and be ready to show some patience along the way).

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7 thoughts on “How to explain the SHIFT key to your students

  1. I don’t have an option key on my keyboard. And pressing the Alt key doesn’t work. Am I missing something?

  2. My students would LOVE to make the cat that you showed at the top of this blog post. Is the pattern available in an activity/game or on the website somewhere?

    1. I would Google “ASCII art cat”. You should have no trouble finding it. There are LOTS of ASCII art available. Hope that helps.

    2. Hi Julie, thanks for the suggestion! I’ll write an article on ASCII art and some tips for creating ASCII art activities in your classroom shortly.

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