Teaching Computer Literacy

Teaching Computer Literacy
From the Beginning

This is a resource for anyone who is, or will be teaching the basics of computers to any type of beginner. The focus of this book is to provide:

  • General suggestions that can be adapted to your needs.
  • Specific lesson plans for students with varying interests.
  • Links to other relevant information
  • Links to useful software for the purpose of learning or teaching.

Currently we have "Lessons in Paint" which are good for most children, and anyone else who likes to draw. Lessons in Paint is great because many of the Windows features are teachable in Paint.

These lessons are geared toward Windows PCs. The suggestions and lessons could be adapted to work with other operating systems. If you have or make a lesson plan around Mac or Linux, please let us know on the discussion page and we could create a place for it.

Remember, you can edit or add information by simply clicking on the “edit” tab at the top of any page or any section. Don’t worry about mistakes, you will be able to preview before saving. Also other users of can refer to previous versions and fix mistakes. If you are interested in the development of this book click on the “discussion” tab on any page to see what we are working on, and to contribute to the discussion.

What the Basics Include


Mouse Familiarity

  • click (left button)
  • drag
  • double click
  • middle click (for instance to open link in a new Window, also available as Ctrl + left click, paste marked text on UNIX-like systems, if held substitute for scrolling)
  • scroll wheel (natural scrolling vs normal)
  • right click (for the context menu)


  • some of the more common letters
  • enter
  • backspace
  • shift
  • tab
  • ctrl
  • alt, Alt-Gr (also right alt key)
  • Windows, command (on Mac) or meta key (other operating systems)
  • arrows

File Management

  • save
  • open
  • locate
  • create a folder
  • create a desktop shortcut
  • name/ rename a file or folder, be aware of special characters, extensions
  • mark files using ctrl and clicking
  • using shift to select more files
  • compress/ decompress


  • print
  • print preview
  • print to file (PDF, XPS)

GUI Elements

  • use the menu
  • resize a window
  • minimize a window
  • maximize a window
  • move a window
  • locate items in Start Menu
  • using the scrollbar
  • using search

Editing Options

  • copy
  • paste
  • cut
  • undo
  • redo
  • spell check

Overall Suggestions


Some obvious and hopefully some not so obvious suggestions; It is important to make it interesting for the specific person, while keeping it simple enough to avoid frustration. To achieve both goals at the same time you should;

  1. Ask them what they want to do.
  2. Find the simplest method of accomplishing the task.
  3. Try it a few times to simplify the process and organize your lesson.
  4. Then walk them through the lesson.

At first skip the start menu by using a desktop shortcut. Yes they will need to learn it, but getting straight to something useful is key to avoiding frustration.

Use lower screen resolution (for instance 1600x900, 800x600, beware the aspect ratio) or dots per inch (DPI) scaling in newer operating systems and larger icons for improved visibility and mouse accuracy.

Change the mouse sensitivity to be easier to control.

Use only click, and drag on the first lesson.

Choose the save to directory and make sure you are viewing with thumbnails.

Teach the menu from left to right, i.e. start with 'file' on the first day then 'edit' the next. This should prevent having too many students unsure which menu item to click.

Note that similar things can be taught together when they are done in the same way. Like dragging a window and dragging a pasted item. However when two different things could be confusingly similar, teach them at different times, and teach the distinction when teaching the second. Some examples of this; the menu items, click/double click, and save/save-as.

Use consistent language, and find the easiest term to relate too. Students will learn the synonyms later without even realizing they are learning. Here are a few examples

Arrow, pointer, cursor, mouse (I prefer arrow, pointer works well also). Enter, or return (use whatever is written on the key, and stick with it).

In the first few sessions avoid button combinations of any kind. Using Ctrl C to copy is faster, and easier, but not for those new to computers. Even Shift key for capital letters is potentially frustrating. Introduce these combinations after your students are good at computers.

Lessons in Paint


In this series of lessons we use Microsoft Paint. This is a good program to use; it is already on the computer, is fun to use, and is great practice for the mouse. You can teach most of the basics using Paint.

Paint Lesson 1


Open MS Paint

First you setup the computer;

  • Change the screen resolution to 800 x 600.
  • Choose the location for saving files.
  • Set to view files as thumbnails.
  • Change the mouse settings to be less sensitive.

(This will help students who are new to using the mouse, making it easier to select things.)

  • Next you put an icon of the Paint program on the desktop.

The students will be learning how to click, drag, and point the mouse. To avoid overwhelming the student we will focus on just those 3 things. We will cover double click, and right click in another lesson. We will also want to focus on only things that can be done when pressing one button at a time. An example is shift key for caps; you should consider not using caps, or using the caps lock.

Mini Lesson #1

  1. Show how to select the icon and hit enter to open (not double clicking).
  2. Have them click on the line tool.
  3. Show how to drag to make a line.
  4. Demonstrate picking a color from the palette.
  5. Show the circle tool (ellipse tool).
  6. Let them have fun.

Watch for anyone having trouble, and be ready to answer any questions.

Next we show how to save;

  1. Click on file.
  2. Click save.
  3. Choose a name.
  4. Type it in.
  5. Click save.
  6. Show how to close the Window (using the X).

Congratulate everyone on completing the first (mini) lesson.

Mini lesson #2


Have everyone start again, on their own as much as possible. Show the pencil tool and have the students see what all the tools below it do.

  • spray paint (airbrush)
  • line
  • rectangle
  • oval (ellipse)

Kids can easily remember these tools because the icons have simple representations of what the tool does.

Tell the students they can draw a picture for the computer. This will give you some time to help and reassure those who need it.

  1. make sure everyone has saved their picture
  2. click on 'file'
  3. click on 'save as background image centered'

Now their work of art is the center of attention on the computer. This should bring their focus from the paint program to other parts of the computer.

Paint Lesson 2


Check the settings are suitable to your needs, just as in Paint Lesson 1.

  1. Have everyone open Paint by double clicking on the icon.
  2. Show the Brush and demonstrate the options (shapes and sizes).
  3. Have the students draw with the diagonal brush so they can see the ribbon effect.
  4. Explain how most tools have options in the same place.
  5. Let them look at the tools and options and try them out.

You might have them find how many don't have options (pencil, fill tool, eyedropper). Let the students get comfortable using them to see what happens.

Most of the options are related to size making it easier to understand.

For now we will move on to explain edit options starting with undo.

  1. Show how to undo from the edit menu and let everyone practice.
  2. Show how it will only go back 3 times.
  3. Demonstrate redo, and how it is the opposite of undo.

End the lesson by having everyone save their pictures and make it the background image.

Paint Lesson 3


You should begin by teaching anything you may have skipped in from the past lessons. Next you should cover the text tool

Reference Links


These sites have great suggestions on how to help people learn computers; Phil Agre Ask MetaFilter

Software Links

  • If you want to teach computer programming, kids like . info has an encyclopedia article that discusses of the best educational programming languages and links to their teaching materials.
  • Tux4Kids Has two useful programs that are fun for kids. They are Tux Paint, and Tux Typing.
  • Microsoft Windows Media Encoder is a free program that can record video of all or part of the computer screen in use, including audio recording. This type of tutorial is being called screencasting and it can be a great way to show people how to use computers. People new to computers may not benefit most from learning this way, but this can be used to review lessons more easily.