Photo of 3 cups stacked in pyramid formation

Coding Unplugged: My Robotic Friends Activity

Challenge your students with this fun activity only requires plastic cups, a couple of command cards and brain power!

Note: This version of the Traveling Circuits lesson “My Robotic Friends” is brought to you under Creative Commons, with the understanding that any user may share, copy, adapt or transmit the work as long as the work is contributed to Thinkersmith and Traveling Circuits. No part of this can be re-sold or commercialized without the written permission of Thinkersmith.

In a nutshell, this is an unplugged coding activity in which students are given a cup stack card with a picture of how the cups should be stacked. The student team then “writes” the code using arrows to determine how the human “robot” (another student who has NOT seen the stack card) is to move the cups into the correct position.

The full lessons are geared for middle school students and older; however, there are modified lessons for Grades K-3 and 4-6.  

Please read the original My Robotic Friends lesson plan before reading the modifications for students with visual impairments below.

Modified Materials for Braille Students

Here is an example of the first activity – creating a 3-cup stack in a pyramid formation. Two cups are on the bottom and the third cup is centered on top of the bottom two cups. 

3 cup stacked in a pyramid shape

Print image the 3 Cup stack. Note: The print version of the Cup Stack cards are available on the linked website.

Image of print 3 cup stack: black trapezoids representing the plastic cups on an index card.

The tactile version is three foam trapezoids (in the shape of a plastic cup) adhered with double-sided tape to a large index card. Create a stencil of the trapezoids and cut out the shapes from a foam sheet. You can choose to use pre-cut foam sticker shapes instead.

Photo of tactile cup stack card with three foam trapezoids stacked in a pyramid formation.

Create additional Cup Stack cards needed to complete the desired activities. (The complexity of the stacking patterns will vary, according to the age and abilities of your students.)

Tactile Cup Stack Guide

It is critical that braille students have a tactile Cup Stack Guide card, as this concept can be challenging for students!

The print version of the cup stack card has 8 vertical lines evenly spaced across the page. These lines are labeled at the top, starting with Back 1 Step. The lines are spaced to be slightly wider than half a cup width apart. Each cup has a line through the center of the cup; there is space between the sides of the cup and the next line. The height of this cup enables the third cup to be centered and stacked on top of the two bottom cups, forming a pyramid of three cups. Note: Each “step” is half the width of the cup.

Cup step guide with vertical lines, 4 nested cups and 3 cups stacked in a pyramid shape.

Modified Cup Stack Guide: Use the same template to cut out the tactile foam cups. Ideally, the four nested cups will be four cup cutouts stacked on top of each other but slightly off, making it easy for the student to feel the bottom edges of all four cups. Hint: Add additional length to the foam cutouts for the stacked (nested) cups to support the top cup.

Use Rainbow Tape (also called Washi Tape) to create the tactile lines. Note: The braille does not show up well in photos, so I added print labels too.

Photo of tactile cup stack guide with foam trapezoids and Rainbow Tape lines.

Tactile 3 Cup Stacked Arrow Code

In the example above with the three cups stacked in a pyramid formation, the arrow directions would like this:

First Line: Up arrow, right arrow, right arrow, down arrow, left arrow, left arrow

Second Line: Up arrow, right arrow, right arrow, right arrow, right arrow, down arrow, left arrow, left arrow, left arrow, left arrow

Third Line: Up arrow, right arrow, right arrow, right arrow, down arrow

Image of the print version of the code (arrows) for the 3 cups stacked in a pyramid formation.

Image of printed cup code arrows with three lines of

Image of the tactile version of the code (arrows) for the 3 cups stacked in a pyramid formation. Note: I tried using bigger arrows first, but due to the amount of space required for the number of arrows per line, I found that smaller arrows work best. The arrows in the picture below are between a nickle and a quarter in size. The arrows can be adhered to paper using double-sided tape (to keep them from slipping as students “read” the code and enables the arrows to be used multiple times). However, double-sided tape can be challenging for students to deal with. I added magnetic tape to the back of each arrow and used a magnetic board. The smaller arrows with the smaller bits of magnetic tape, did not adhere as strongly as the bigger arrows with larger pieces of magnetic tape. I’d suggest that if using magnetics, use good magnetic tape and a real magnetic board. (The arrows did not adhere to the cookie sheet in the example picture as well as they did to a real magnetic board.)

Photo of small green foam arrows in three lines displaying the code for the 3 cup stacked in a pyramid formation.


Instruct their “robot” to build a specific cup stack by following instructions written in arrows. See full activity instructions, coding terms, and age modifications in the original My Robotic Friends post.


Image of print answer key.

Key for arrow symbols.

For braille readers, this answer key should have tactile arrows and brailled text.


For additional unplugged coding activities geared for younger students, see the Egg Carton Unplugged Coding Activity post and the first in a series of unplugged coding activities based on children’s storybooks, Coding Concepts: We are Going on a Bear Hunt.

By Diane Brauner

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