Using cipher codes is a great way to get reluctant students writing. Present one or more of these cipher codes. Build up the suspense by discussing how spies carried secret assault plans through enemy lines using various codes. Be sure to grab the printable at the bottom of the post.
Sending coded messages during times of war has been around for centuries. In Julius Caesar’s code, you shift the letters of the alphabet. In this example, the letters shift three spaces to the left.
The shifts can change to the right or to the left. Also, the number of spaces the alphabet shifts can also be changed. This keeps the enemy from easily deciphering the message.
Morse Code was invented by Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail. It uses a series of long and short pulses. A dot equals one short pulse (x) called a dit. The dashes called dahs are equal in length to three dots (3x). The space between each letter is equal to a dash (3x). The space between words is equal to seven dots (7x).
Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail developed the code for the telegraph machine. A telegraph operator would sit at the machine and tap out long and short taps to represent the letters in the message he was sending.
The Vigenère Cipher was invented by Giovan Battista Bellaso in 1553. It uses a table consisting of 26 alphabetized letters across and 27 letters down. To use this code, you must first know the secret phrase. During the American Civil War the secret phrases included:
- Manchester Bluff
- Complete Victory
- Come Retribution
Using the phrase “Manchester Bluff,” this is how you would code the word “Jackson.”
You would first put your pointer finger of your right hand on the M in the top row of letters because Manchester Bluff begins with ‘M.’
Next, you would then put your pointer finger from your left hand on the letter J in the first column of letters because Jackson begins with the letter ‘J.’
Slide your fingers together staying on the row and column. Where you fingers meet, is the letter you would write down in your secret message. For ‘J’ the letter is ‘V.’
By following this process, the word “Jackson” would read as “VAPMZSF.”
The Rosicrucian (also known as the Pigpen Cipher) was first published in 1531 by both the Rosicrucian brotherhood and the Freemasons.
The cipher uses a geometric simple substitution. First draw two grids (tic tac toe style) and two X’s. Write each letter of the alphabet in the blank spaces as shown. Add dots to the second grid and X to distinguish the two.
To use the code, swap out the shape the letter sits in for the letter. The chart below shows the shapes of the letters.
Click here to download the handout containing the cipher activities. I hope your students have fun with these.