Lesson 1: Inputs and outputs (free lesson)

Learning about the different forms of inputs and outputs and their functions, pupils develop their understanding that computers follows instructions

Before the lesson

This unit of lessons works really well alongside the ‘Hello Ruby’ book ‘Journey Inside the computer’ by Linda Liukas, where a young child called Ruby explores what’s inside a computer, learning about how it works.



  • Teacher video: Inputs and outputs
Teacher video: Inputs and outputs

Have ready

  • Presentation: Inputs and outputs (see Attention grabber, Main event and Wrapping up)
  • Link: ‘Canva for Education’*
  • Link: ‘Sketchpad’**
  • A desktop computer. You ideally want a desktop computer to show the children the keyboard, mouse and screen connections. If there is not a desktop computer in school, try the school office and see if you could take the class for a quick visit. Another affordable solution is to buy a cheap computer, such as a Raspberry Pi.



*We have used the software ‘Canva’ for this lesson. This does require you to register your school for free by filling out a form with your teacher details at ‘Canva for Education’. Once registered, your students will be able to access all the Canva tools and features.

Canva can be accessed in an internet browser such as Chrome or Safari on any laptop/desktop (Mac or PC). Canva tablet versions include Android and Apple and a Chromebook extension is also available here.


** If you would prefer not to use Canva, we suggest ‘Sketchpad’ as an alternative. Whilst ‘Sketchpad’ does not feature the same templates as ‘Canva’ does, ‘Sketchpad’ does not require a login. If using ‘Sketchpad’, the pupils will need to save their work to the school network as there is no save functionality within the program.

Sketchpad can be accessed in an internet browser such as Chrome or Safari on any laptop/desktop (Mac or PC), tablet (Apple or Android) and Chromebook. If using on a tablet, then ideally, you would use something with a mouse or touchpad.


  • Activity: Computer parts images (see Classroom resources) – one per pupil

Download classroom resources

Activity: Computer parts images
icon download

Learning objective

  • To recognise basic inputs and outputs

National curriculum

Pupils should be taught to:

  • Design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts
  • Use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output
  • Select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to design and create a range of programs, systems and content that accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information

Success criteria

  • I recognise some inputs and outputs
  • I understand that a computer follows instructions
  • I can suggest what the computer is doing

Cross-curricular links

English: Spoken Language

  • participate in discussions, presentations, performances, role play, improvisations and debates

Attention grabber

Display slide 2 of Presentation: Inputs and outputs   to discuss the Learning objective and Success criteria

Presentation: Inputs and outputs

Show on your interactive whiteboard

Slide 3: hand out some paper to each pupil – either three smaller pieces or a sheet of A4. Explain that the children have two minutes to do a quick, simple drawing of the object that you call out. You’re not looking for artistry, but for them to show they know what you are talking about. Explain that the children can  label anything they think is not clear.

Set a two minute timer and ask them to draw the following:

  • A keyboard.
  • A mouse.
  • A screen.


Ask the children to compare their drawings with those of the other children on their tables. Some children may have drawn an on-screen keyboard like that which would find on a tablet, or have drawn a trackpad mouse as opposed to a desktop computer mouse.

Display slide 4 and show the children pictures or examples of a ‘real’ keyboard, mouse and screen to make sure the children have correctly matched the words and images.

Using slide 5, introduce the terms ‘input’ and ‘output’:

  • Input – a way of telling the computer what you want it to do.
  • Output – a way of seeing whether the computer has done what you asked it to.


Ask the children to look at their three pictures and decide which they think is an input and which they think is an output. Encourage pupils to discuss this with a partner so that they feel more confident in their comments and questions.


Desktop computer

Show slide 6. Ensure that the desktop computer is on and connected to the screen (this could be an interactive whiteboard or just a monitor), but do not plug in the keyboard and the mouse. Explain to the children that you want to type a presentation. Ask them how you could tell the computer to open the program you need. Model talking to the computer and it not responding, then asking the children what you should do. Hopefully, they will suggest the mouse.

Plug the mouse in and model that you can now tell the computer to open the program you need. Great – a mouse must be an input!

Now, explain that you want to type on the page all the things you know about inputs and outputs. Ask pupils how to get the computer to write. Again, try talking to it, now try using the mouse to ‘click and drag writing’ and say that this doesn’t work either. The children should suggest the keyboard. Plug this in, model it working and then establish that this is also an input.

Show slide 7. What about the screen? Does it give the computer instructions? No, it shows us that our typing is working or our clicking has opened the program – it must be an output. Some children may mention touch screens, which are used for input as well, in place of the mouse, as well as having a built-in keyboard.


Key questions

  • What does a keyboard/mouse/screen look like?
  • Why have some people drawn different types?
  • Are both types of mouse the same? Do they do the same thing?
  • What does a keyboard/mouse/screen do? What’s it for?
  • What’s an input?
  • What’s an output?
  • Why does a computer need inputs and outputs?
  • What happens inside the computer when you move the mouse?
  • What happens inside the computer when you click on something?

Main event

Display slides 8 and 9 of the Presentation: Inputs and outputs. Pupils are going to role play how the computer sends and receives messages from input devices to output devices. You need seven volunteers to play the roles of:

  • Computer (x 1) (stands in the middle of the room) – receives instructions from inputs and sends instructions to output.
  • Keyboard (x 1) – gives the computer typed instructions.
  • Mouse (x 1) – gives the computer click instructions.
  • Screen (x 1) – shows what the computer tells it to.
  • Data (x 3) (one stands next to the mouse, one stands next to the keyboard and one stands next to the computer) – information that is being sent around the system.


Show slides 10 and 11. Repeat what you just did on your screen (opening presentation software and typing something) using the children to model what happens:

  • ‘Mouse’ moves the mouse.
  • ‘Data’ moves to the computer and says “Mouse is moving up” then returns to where they started.
  • ‘Computer’ then passes this onto their ‘Data’ child.
  • ‘Data’ by the computer says to the screen “Mouse is moving up” then returns to where they started.
  • ‘Screen’ says “I’m moving the cursor up”.
  • ‘Mouse’ says “Click”.
  • ‘Mouse Data’ tells the computer he/she clicked on the presentation program.
  • ‘Computer’ then passes this on to their ‘Data’ child.
  • ‘Computer Data’ tells the screen to show the presentation program opening.
  • ‘Screen’ says “Opening presentation program”.
  • ‘Keyboard’ types ‘input’.
  • ‘Keyboard Data’ tells the computer “They pressed i, n, p, u, t”.
  • ‘Computer’ passes this on to their ‘Data’ child.
  • ‘Computer Data’ tells the screen to show ‘i, n, p, u, t’.
  • ‘Screen says “Drawing the letters now”.


Show slide 12 and explain that all of this is happening inside the computer. The computer doesn’t know how to read or write, so the messages being sent through the wires match what is happening on the screen.

Show slide 13. Children use the website on Link: ‘Canva’ to create a poster explaining inputs and outputs and what they have learned from the role play activity. (See Have ready for notes on Canva and the Sketchpad alternative).

Model logging into Canva either using the website www.canva.com or the app and show the children the ‘Poster’ option.

Talk through the basics of using Canva if this is the children’s first time (see Teacher video: Inputs and outputs). Discuss the success criteria for the children’s posters:

  • Clear title
  • Explain what an input/output is
  • Explain what messages are sent through the computer
  • Choose appropriate pictures/colours/designs

Encourage the children to share what they know about inputs and outputs. To challenge pupils who are working at a greater depth, get them to consider forms of input and output on other computerised devices.


Pupils needing extra support: Try using a desktop computer where they can experience plugging/unplugging the different peripherals.


Pupils working at greater depth: Should include more detail on their posters about what happens when a key is pressed/mouse is clicked. What information is sent? Where is it received? They should also consider other forms of input and output.

Wrapping up

Show slide 14 of the Presentation: Inputs and outputs. Children score their posters against the success criteria and discuss the different forms of input and output they mentioned in them.

Assessing pupils' progress and understanding

Pupils with secure understanding indicated by: Suggesting what inputs and outputs are and recognising that the computer sends and receives instructions.


Pupils working at greater depth indicated by: Explaining, with little support, the instructions that are being sent and received.


  • Input

  • Output

  • Computer

  • Monitor

  • Keyboard

  • Mouse

  • Computer

  • Data

  • Program

Created by:
Sway Grantham,  
Computing specialist
Sway Grantham (@SwayGrantham) is a Primary School Teacher, a CAS Master Teacher and Specialist Leader in Education for Primary ICT. She also has a BCS Certificate in Computer Science Teaching (Primary). She has written several curricula and conducted research into the…
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