Lesson 4: Real-Life Algorithms: Paper Airplanes

Unplugged | Algorithms


In this lesson, students will relate the concept of algorithms back to everyday activities. After discussing algorithms, students will make paper airplanes using an algorithm. The goal here is to start building the skills to translate real world situations to online scenarios and vice versa.


In this lesson, students will learn that algorithms are everywhere in our daily lives. For example, there is a specific algorithm to plant a seed. Instead of giving vague or over-generalized instructions, students will break down a large activity into smaller and more specific instructions. From these instructions, students must determine a proper order for the sequence of instructions to be in.


Warm Up (15 min)

Main Activity (20 min)

Wrap Up (15 min)

Assessment (15 min)

Extended Learning


Students will be able to:

  • Decompose large activities into a series of smaller events.
  • Arrange sequential events into their logical order.



Heads Up! Please make a copy of any documents you plan to share with students.

For the Teacher


  • Algorithm - A list of steps to finish a task.


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Teaching Guide

Warm Up (15 min)


This lesson has one vocabulary word that is important to review:

Algorithm - Say it with me: Al-go-ri-thm

A list of steps to finish a task.

What We Do Daily

  • Ask your students what they did to get ready for school this morning.
    • Write their answers on the board.
    • If possible, put numbers next to their responses to indicate the order that they happen.
      • If students give responses out of order, have them help you put them in some kind of logical order.
      • Point out places where order matters and places where it doesn't.
  • Introduce students to the idea that it is possible to create algorithms for the things that we do everyday.
    • Give them a couple of examples, such as making breakfast, brushing teeth, and planting a flower.
  • Let's try doing this with a new and fun activity, like making paper airplanes!

Main Activity (20 min)

Real-Life Algorithms: Paper Airplanes - Worksheet

You can use algorithms to help describe things that people do every day. In this activity, we will create an algorithm to help each other fold a paper airplane.

You know your classroom best. As the teacher, decide if students should do this individually, in pairs, or in small groups.

Lesson Tip

If deciding on the correct steps seems too difficult for your students, do that piece together as a class before you break up into teams.


Lesson Tip

If you are concerned about injury when your students begin flying their paper airplanes, we recommend having them blunt the tip of the plane by either folding it inward or ripping it off and covering the ripped edges with tape.

  1. Cut out the steps for making a paper airplane from the worksheet provided in the resources.

  2. Work together to choose the six correct steps from the nine total options.

  3. Glue the six correct steps, in order, onto a separate piece of paper.

  4. Trade the finished algorithm with another person or group and let them use it to make their plane!

Wrap Up (15 min)

Flash Chat: What did we learn?

  • How many of you were able to follow your classmates' algorithms to make your airplanes?
  • Did we leave anything out when making the plane?
    • What would you have added to make the algorithm even better?
    • What if the algorithm had been only one step: "Fold a Paper Airplane"?
      • Would it have been easier or harder?
    • What if it were forty steps?
  • What was your favorite part about this activity?


Having students write about what they learned, why it’s useful, and how they feel about it can help solidify any knowledge they obtained today and build a review sheet for them to look to in the future.

Journal Prompts:

  • What was today’s lesson about?
  • How did you feel during today’s lesson?
  • Can you imagine an algorithm for building a real airplane? What do you think that would look like?
  • Write out an algorithm that will take you from your desk to the front of the class.

Assessment (15 min)

Daily Algorithms - Assessment

  • Hand out the Daily Algorithms - Assessment and allow students to complete the activity independently after the instructions have been well explained.
  • This should feel familiar, thanks to the previous activities.

Extended Learning

Use these activities to enhance student learning. They can be used as outside of class activities or other enrichment.

Go Figure

  • Break the class up into teams.
  • Have each team come up with several steps that they can think of to complete a task.
  • Gather teams back together into one big group and have one team share their steps, without letting anyone know what the activity was that they had chosen.
  • Allow the rest of the class to try to guess what activity the algorithm is for.
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Student Instructions

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Student Instructions

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Student Instructions

Standards Alignment

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CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards

AP - Algorithms & Programming
  • 1A-AP-08 - Model daily processes by creating and following algorithms (sets of step-by-step instructions) to complete tasks.
  • 1A-AP-09 - Model the way programs store and manipulate data by using numbers or other symbols to represent information.
  • 1A-AP-11 - Decompose (break down) the steps needed to solve a problem into a precise sequence of instructions.