Key ICT skills in the Primary Classroom

Teaching Strategies

By Michael Hilkemeijer


Why teach young children ICT capabilities?

To answer this question, you really need to dig deeper than this and ask why use technology in the classroom. Not all, but most believe that the use of ICT will improve student learning. This is something which I can affirm to. ICT brings many benefits to classroom learning one of which is motivation and engagement with students. And just these attributes come with associated benefits.




ICT Skills Vs ICT Capabilities: Which is best to teach in Primary Ed?



I specifically ask the question of ICT capabilities and not ICT skills.

While many of us are familiar with the latter, it is with developing capabilities in ICT that encompasses teaching strategies that develop metacognition in students.


Then there is the purpose of teaching in primary education and that is to prepare children for their future.

If technology is already a part of their present and inevitably, their future, then it is essential that ICT capabilities is taught.

ICT is widely used in many industries and employers now expect staff to have a degree of ICT literacy when they are hired.



Primary ICT Skills as a key component of ICT Capability

ICT skills in primary education can be broken down into several components that together constitute ICT capability. ICT capability has components such as:

Routines: basic ICT skills such as moving a mouse or double clicking an icon. Much of this is done without significant thought.

ICT techniques: such as adjusting margins are procedures that still require a degree of conscious thought. They are methods known to have specific effects.


Typically, these are the ones that taught the most in lessons but do not fully develop a student’s capabilities in ICT.


Processes: these are a series of ICT techniques or multi-stage procedures for achieving a goal. An example would be developing a publication or developing a presentation for English.

Higher order skills – the most significant component it comprises of more than just the knowledge of processes and techniques. It is the ability of the student to use this knowledge to monitor its progress and to evaluate the solution gained.


Each of these components are developed differently:

  • Routines or Basic ICT skills – are primarily learned through practice;
  • Techniques – are developed slowly through trial and error, and copying others;
  • Processes and Higher order skills – are developed through examples, exploration, experience and reflection. The teacher’s role may be one of support and guidance – taught sessions need not be overly elaborate.



The best way to develop a student’s ICT skills within their ICT capability is to provide them with meaningful activities, embedded in purposeful subject-related contexts.

For example, rather than teaching children how to use a database, a knowledge of database principles and processes and the skills required to enter and manipulate data, can be taught through using a database to help the children learn something useful about a subject (Bennett, Hamill, & Pickford, 2007).


Developing ICT skills in the Primary Curriculum

One of the biggest challenges of being a primary teacher today is creating ICT activities within a subject that will develop a student’s ICT capability.

Typically, a key issue associated with this is the teacher’s lack of confidence in ICT. Sometimes, it is the opposite being confident in ICT but not sure how to structure the ICT activity for progression across various applications.

Just how can progression in ICT capability be assured if ICT is to be integrated across the learning in several subjects?

The answer lies in the following principles (Bennett, Hamill, & Pickford, 2007):

The level of ICT challenge can be adjusted in most activities to suit the needs of the learner without affecting the subject outcomes

Although there is a hierarchical structure to ICT capability, projects can be organised to provide opportunities for basic skills and knowledge to be acquired on a ‘need to know’ basis.


For each time that you plan on having students use ICT skills you need to:

  1. Determine the ICT objectives;
  2. Clarify the key topics in the subject context being taught;
  3. Identify the opportunities for ICT within each subject;
  4. Select and adapt the ICT projects which are most appropriate for achieving the ICT objectives with the subject contexts.



Primary ICT Skills in The Learning Continuum

It is for this reason that it is the role of primary educators to establish a foundation in ICT capabilities and not ICT skills.

In curricula such as the Australian Curriculum, it is evident that the vast level of progression is in primary education.


The ICT Capability Learning Continuum is divided up into several elements:

  • Applying social and ethical protocols and practices when using ICT.
  • Investigating with ICT.
  • Creating with ICT.
  • Communicating with ICT.
  • Managing and operating ICT.


All of these elements comes with its own level of capabilities.



The Importance of Focusing on the Concepts behind the ICT Skills

With every opportunity within a lesson to use ICT for students comes the opportunity for you as a teacher to develop their capabilities further in ICT.

A student’s ICT capability is a time when they have the disposition to construct ICT solutions to problems which are appropriate to the context and are based on the knowledge of the opportunities and limitations offered by the systems available.



Since is a student’s ability to carry out each of the major components of ICT capability which matters, it is very important that you focus on the concepts behind the ICT skills.



You can use whole class teaching to discuss examples and non-examples of a concept, with and without ICT, in order to highlight the important features of the concept.

Any naïve ideas about handling ICT tools should always be challenged, both in whole class teaching, where appropriate and when monitoring the progress of individuals.


Here are a few examples:

When students use spaces to spread out text on a line or page – show them the effect of adding extra text so that the spaces move to a different position on the line.

When they use the backspace key to delete back to an earlier mistake and retype – set them a task requiring the editing of previously composed text to achieve a different goal.

When they use calculations in a spreadsheet using values directly rather than formulae containing cell references – change the values in the cells and point out the incorrect result from the calculation based on the previous values.



Core Skills in Primary Education

In Primary education, the effective development of student ICT capability is imperative. So it is necessary to understand the best ways to start this occurring within all Learning Areas.

Studies have shown (Ager, 2003, p156) that it is essential that teachers help children to develop basic ICT skills and to become familiar with ICT in its broadest capacity and also to be able to use in a positive way.

It is essential that children develop their ICT capability in two main areas. These areas are concerned with allowing them to learn techniques that help them to interact with the computer or ICT device.


Keyboarding Skills

The best way to introduce children to inputting information into the computer is through the use of an overlay keyboard.

An overlay keyboard is used with software that enables children to link pressing a particular spot on the keyboard to a particular action that will occur on the screen. 

Software that accompanies your overlay will allow you to design the overlay for the computer by first dividing the A4 or A3 space into large areas.

By doing this, you are providing a wide range of pads that can be pressed by the child. Your next step is to add text and pictures to the overlay and decide what you want to happen when the particular section is pressed.



Mouse Skills

The mouse is a very important device that allows users to input into the computers. It is mainly involved with selecting other tools or features of software being used by clicking.

So it is necessary to make sure that the mouse children use is considered carefully. As they come in various sizes you need to ensure that won't be too large for size of children's hands.

Other methods to be taught include helping children to pick up the mouse and repositioning it in relation to the computer.

This can best be achieved by using a mouse mat and checking to ensure that they always work with the mouse in the middle of the mat.

In addition, the technique of sliding the mouse and then lifting it slightly so that there mouse hand is at a sensible distance from the computer and screen.

The above information represents significant areas of learning for children in Primary education. ICT capability development revolves around the ability of children to use them confidently.

Within the Learning Areas of the Australian Curriculum, it is the responsibility of primary and early childhood teachers to develop the first four levels of progression in its Learning Continuum.

The effective use of these devices by children will help you to initiate the creation of ICT capable students in your classroom.



Clicking and Double clicking

When first introducing the mouse, ensure that children do not grip but hold it quite gently with the palm of their hand resting on the body of the mouse and their forefinger positioned over the main button.

Begin by getting them to click on part of a picture to start an event, such as an animation or sound. Next, encourage them to click on a particular image on the screen.


Children will see that the image will appear to stick to the mouse pointer and will be able to move it around. They can then click the mouse button to make the image stick to the background again.

Double clicking is the final technique needed to be taught and it means that you press the mouse button twice in succession quickly.

The best way for children to learn this is by setting up within your computer how large or small the gap is between the two presses.

It is important when doing this to ensure that the gap is not too large as it then may be interpreted as two 'single clicks'.


The above information represents significant areas of learning for children in Primary education.

ICT capability development revolves around the ability of children to use them confidently.

Within the Learning Areas of the Australian Curriculum, it is the responsibility of primary and early childhood teachers to develop the first four levels of progression in its Learning Continuum.

The effective use of these devices by children will help you to initiate the creation of ICT capable students in your classroom.



Other ICT Skills in Primary Education

Many of the ICT skills that students need to learn are related to the educational software which they will use during their time.

With each of these, it is necessary to you guide them as a teacher while they go through their creative journey which culminates into effective harnessing the software’s capabilities to the child’s purpose.

All the same time, developing their own capabilities in ICT.

As a result, the level of integration available is very good so let’s have a look at what they are and where they can be applied.



Word Processing ICT Capabilities

By far the most commonly used throughout a child’s education and indeed, globally used in just about every industry.

The impact that it has can be categorised into three areas, however, the most significant in my view is that it makes explicit links between knowledge, skills and understanding.

Word processing is closely related to literacy and language development at all levels and so it has a real contribution to make in the primary curriculum.

Others include being able to extend, enhance and facilitate children’s learning. You as a teacher can model ICT techniques to students either individually or as a whole class using the projector.

It also allows you to demonstrate and intervene at appropriate times.


The word processing techniques that you need to be competent in are the same for that of students in your class.

These include:

  • Creating, opening, saving, closing, deleting and printing documents;
  • Selecting font, font size, colour, style (italic, bold), line spacing and justification;
  • Inserting, deleting, selecting, cutting, copying, pasting and undoing;
  • Utilising help;
  • Altering defaults;
  • Forcing page breaks;
  • Utilising spelling- and grammar-checkers (including how to switch on and off), thesaurus, print preview, highlighter and talking facilities (including how to switch on and off) and find and replace;
  • Utilising tabs and indents;
  • Inserting bullet points, tables, clip art, borders, shading and find and replace;
  • Connecting alternative input devices (overlay keyboards, touch screens);
  • Constructing and utilising on-screen word banks;
  • Inserting page numbers;
  • Inserting text, graphics, tables and documents from other applications.


Classroom Integration Ideas:

  • Allow students to present mathematical investigations.
  • Import graphs from graphing or database programs and images from painting and drawing packages or a digital camera. They can add commentary, perhaps to pose questions for their peers or to produce fact sheets to contribute to a whole class reference document.
  • WP can assist with sequencing and sorting information. The degree of preparation and structuring required may vary with the development of the children. Young children may begin by using an onscreen word bank featuring images with text labels, to sort materials into hard and soft, for instance.
  • Word processors can be useful tools when children are seeking information from databases.
  • Editing offers powerful possibilities, and may be structured in ways that develop both English and ICT capability.



What about Desktop Publishing skills?

This type of software is concerned with the design of the document……the overall look and feel of the end product and the impact that it will make.

Despite this, the capabilities that you will need to teach are similar to that of word processing. In fact, many word processing software these days have additional features found in DTP programs.

Each of these features comes with its own capabilities for children to learn and master:

  • Master page.
  • Templates.
  • Rules and guides
  • Frames
  • Manipulation of frames



Graphics Skills

This covers both drawing and painting programs and teachers need to be competent and confident users of primary graphics software in order to facilitate children’s learning.

You need to have a working knowledge of the software so as to be able to plan, support and assess appropriate activities.

It is also important that you have strategies to support the children in their discovery of how the software works, as well as to assist with problem-solving.


The following will help you identify the knowledge, skills and understanding to teach them effectively:

Painting program ICT skills –

  • creating, opening, closing, deleting and printing documents;
  • selecting file type and saving documents;
  • selecting page size, margins and page orientation;
  • inserting, modifying and deleting background colours and textures;
  • selecting, modifying and utilising tools from the tool bar (spray, round brush, draw a circle);
  • utilising fill; utilising the pipette/choose a colour tool;
  • utilising undo/redo;
  • from image resizing;
  • inserting, deleting, manipulating and saving imported images;
  • exporting images to other applications;
  • clearing the screen; utilising help;
  • altering defaults;
  • customising set up;
  • connecting alternative input devices (overlay keyboards, touch screens, graphics tablets);
  • protecting documents.


Drawing programs ICT skills –

  • creating, opening, saving, closing, deleting and printing documents;
  • selecting page size, margins and page orientation;
  • inserting, modifying and deleting background colours;
  • selecting, modifying and utilising tools from the tool bar (line, arrows, shapes);
  • utilising fill; utilising undo/redo;
  • grouping and ungrouping elements;
  • selecting, cutting, copying, pasting, cropping, resizing, reshaping, reordering and rotating elements and drawings;
  • switching grid on and off;
  • utilising zoom/magnifier;
  • exporting drawings to other applications; utilising help;
  • altering defaults; customising set up;
  • connecting alternative input devices (overlay keyboards, touch screens, graphics tablets);
  • protecting documents.



This page isn't finished more digital technologies are integrated into the classroom, more capabilities in ICT is needed to be taught.

Stay tuned.

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