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Class Signal Code

Name of Corresponding Unit Plan: War of 1812

Grade Level: 4-8

Common Core Standards
RS.9-10.4. Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context.

Content Areas: Reading, Social Studies

Recommended Length/Duration: Two class periods for development, and then on-going.

Learning Goals: Students will identify routine class processes that can be communicated non-verbally.
Students will develop a code to identify specific class processes.
Students will read and respond appropriately to predetermined visual signals.


  1. Create a set of signal flags based on the International Code of Signals (included in the worksheet for the lesson plan Introduction to Reading Signal Flags).
  2. Discuss how ships at sea often need to communicate with each other without being able to talk. A code of signals can be developed to communicate routine messages. The code can only address routine actions that can be anticipated in advance. Everyone must be able to read and understand the coded message.
  3. On the board make a list of actions the teacher and students do in class every day (e.g. sit in seats, check homework, give attention to the teacher, stop talking). Try to be as comprehensive as possible.
  4. Once the list is complete, go back and rank each action according to frequency.
    1 = many times a day; 2 = daily; 3 = less than once a day.
  5. Explain that the signals that are used most frequently are generally the shortest and easiest to read. Less frequent actions can have more complicated signals if necessary.
  6. Assign the most frequent actions one letter codes. Try to make them easy to remember by using codes that connect in some way to the meaning. Q might mean quiet, S sit, L lunch.
  7. Less frequent actions might need two letter or number codes. Continue identifying code symbols until all routine actions are accounted for.
  8. Make a list of code signs and their meaning. Make copies so students can keep one at their desk or make poster that can be hung on the wall. Also make copies or a poster of the international code flags.
  9. Explain that you will not be giving oral instructions for the routine actions that you have identified in your code of signals. Instead you will be raising the flag hoist that communicates what you need to say. So if Q means quiet, whenever you raise the quiet flag students must stop talking. If 2 3 means take out your homework, raise the two flags to communicate this.
  10. After a few days’ practice discuss what some of the advantages and disadvantages of the visual signal system are. Also, add new signals that were left out of the original list if needed.

Assessments: The teacher can informally assess the understanding of the signals by the degree to which students respond to their use. To familiarize students with the signals, the teacher may want to give a short quiz much like a spelling test or create a game to reinforce rote recall of each signal.

Materials/Resources: A set of paper signal flags ((included in the worksheet for the lesson plan Introduction to Reading Signal Flags), Chart paper

Special Considerations: Most students will respond well to the novelty of this activity. However, teachers with special behavior management issues will want to make modifications that will ensure a safe and efficient instructional environment.


Students may want to use actual international signals for actions that are listed in the International Code of Signals:
C = yes
K = I wish to communicate with you
U = you are running into danger
X = stop carrying out your intensions and watch for my signals
CB = I require immediate assistance
NO = negative