You may have heard the familiar tap, tap of a telegraph machine in a movie. But have you ever listened to or created Morse code yourself? April 27th is Morse Code Day, so this would be a great time to learn a little bit about inventor Samuel Morse and the telegraph! Explore this day with the family with these activities designed for a range of ages.
Exploring Morse Code
Explore the world of Morse code, learning more about its development and how it was used throughout its history.
- Read a copy of the graphic novel Samuel Morse and the Telegraph.
- Print out a copy of the Morse code alphabet, check out this cool visual representation, or a Morse code tree.
- Watch a short video about the development of Morse code. (For more detail, check out this Wikipedia article.)
- Make a chart listing the letters of the Morse code alphabet. Next to each letter, list the number of sounds (dits, dahs or both) needed to make that letter. Talk about how developers of the system of code decided which letters should have longer or shorter codes. (For a hint, check the fourth paragraph of the Development and History section of the Wikipedia article on Morse code.)
- Listen to and visualize each letter in the Morse code alphabet with this video.
- When you transmit Morse code audibly, you will need a way to make short sounds, and also sustained sounds. Talk about different ways to make noises with your body or things in the home and whether those methods are capable of creating sustained sounds. Some options to discuss include …
- blowing a whistle
- playing a piano key
- using a game buzzer
- shutting a door
- tapping a pan with a utensil
- Translate between the alphabet and Morse code using a free app like one of these: iOS / Android / Kindle
- Play with Morse code using this Morse Code Machine!
- Make letters or words (audibly or visually) in Morse code for someone else to translate. Translate a friend’s Morse code.
- Have contests to make words with Morse code:
- the word using the fewest number of dits and dahs
- the word with the lowest average of dits and dahs per letter (for older students)
- Check out this archival footage of a 1966 military video training soldiers in the use of Morse code, or this 1944 unclassified military training on “The Technique of Hand Sending” which includes a brief explanation of the sending machine and its parts.
- View this reenactment of the telegraph communications between the Titanic and the Carpathia after the Titanic struck an iceberg.
Hands-on Morse Code Activities
Now that you know a little about Morse code and how it works, explore further by engaging in some of these projects or design ideas!
- Make your own telegraph machine with this Morse Code kit.
- Or, if you own a set of Snap Circuits, you can make your own Morse code generator using this set of instructions (project #228, p.44).
- Make a Morse code design on graph paper, following these instructions (for a visual of the spacing, see this portion of “The Technique of Hand Sending”):
- A “dit” is one box long. A “dah” is three boxes long.
- Leave one space between each “dit” or “dah” in a letter.
- Leave three spaces between each letter in a word.
- Leave seven spaces between words.
- Make Morse code necklaces.
- Younger children might enjoy threading yarn with penne pasta and o-shaped cereal.
- Older students can create Morse code necklaces with two colors of pony beads.
- Choose one color for “sound” and another color for “silence”.
- One “sound” bead = one “dit.” Three “sound” beads = one “dah.”
- One “silence” bead of space is needed between each sound in a letter.
- Three “silence” beads of space are needed between each letter in a word.
- Seven “silence” beads of space are needed between words.
- Got a budding jewelry artist in your home? Morse code jewelry is really a “thing”! Check out some examples.
Think Morse Code is a “dead language”? Think again! Even though the need for Morse code was decreased by the development of radio and telephone technology, Morse code continued to be of use. Older students might be interested in learning about ways in which Morse code is still being used to communicate, especially to communicate secretly! This is interesting because Morse code and telegraph communication were not originally designed to facilitate secrecy! (Note: Some of these examples occur in hostage situations, so content may be too intense for younger students.)
- Jeremiah Denton, who went on to become a U.S. Senator, was a U.S. P.O.W. for eight years in Vietnam. During that time, his North Vietnamese captors forced him to participate in a televised press conference. He blinked the word “T-O-R-T-U-R-E” in Morse code as he answered questions. You can see the amazing footage here.
- Read about how the Columbian army used Morse code hidden in a pop song and broadcast on the radio in 2010 to encourage hostages of the FARC guerilla soldiers not to give up hope. (Warning: Discussion of drug trafficking, guerrilla warfare, prisoners of war, and torture.)
- Pam and Jim from the popular show “The Office” learn Morse code so that they can talk about Dwight secretly.
- Sheldon and Leonard of “Big Bang Theory” try to use Morse code to communicate through a wall.
- The band Rush used Morse code in their song YYZ. Read more about why here. (Note: In searching for material to share, I found a lot of fascinating information about the use of Morse code in modern pop songs. However, most videos and articles included graphic or explicit content. If this is something that might interest your teen, search with care.)
For more background on Samuel Morse and a free pack of printables, check out Samuel Morse and Morse Code Day over at Homeschooling without Training Wheels!