Image of a Windows Desktop labelling the desktop

Tactile Windows Desktop Map

Here’s a fun activity to help your students (of any age) orient themselves to the Windows Desktop.

What you’ll need:

What to do:

  1. PREP WORK: Prior to class, test the keyboard commands used in the following directions to make sure they work on the version of Windows you have in your classroom. Make your braille or large print labels for your desktop landmarks. Try to clean up your computers’ desktops by moving any files or internet shortcuts saved on the desktop, so the machines look pretty similar (i.e. same icons). Right before class, make sure that no programs- except your screen reader OR screen magnifier- are open on each computer. **Please, please do not open a screen reader AND a magnifier at the same time- unless you enjoy tap dancing in order to entertain your students while the computer unfreezes… Just don’t. **
  2. CLASS STARTS: First, discuss the Windows desktop briefly.  Next you will direct your students to “Press the Windows key and the letter D at the same time”. The Windows key is the little guy between the left Ctrl and Alt keys. Pressing this key combination moves your focus to the desktop.
  3. Normally, if the bits and binary align just right inside your computer, the focus aligns at the top left corner of the screen on your icons. In reality, when your student presses Windows + D, you will be on an icon, but it might be in the bottom right corner. Pay attention to where the focus is (in reality), because the goal here is to direct your students to move in a logical grid pattern around the screen using the arrow keys.  If focus is not at the top left corner, press Control + Home (which moves you to the top of any kind of page) and then press Windows + D again. Once you determine where the focus is, discuss icons as representative of computer programs, then ask each student to move the arrows, then describe what they hear or see on the screen. Optional: You can also discuss other terminology like browser, email, etc. when you get to that type of icon.
  4. Have the students determine a different tactile representation for each icon on the main desktop, and glue it in the correct location on the Desktop Map, one at a time. The labels should also be glued on the Map Key beside each icon with a short name (e.g. Word, Outlook, Firefox).

**If you have an antsy group, stop after the icons for a dance break or perhaps even start with the next step on the next day. **

  1. Once all icons are complete, “Press the Windows Key all by itself.” This opens the Start Menu. Explain what the Start Menu is used for, then have the students glue the Start Menu to the bottom left corner of their Desktop Map and update their Map Key.
  2. Next, discuss the quick launch toolbar- the area within the taskbar (along the bottom of the screen to the right of the start menu) that is a convenient way to open programs that you use frequently. “By pressing Windows + the number 1, you will open the first icon to the right of the Start Menu”. Have each student try it and tell you the name of the program that opened when they pressed the key combination. Then glue a piece to the Desktop Map and update the Map Key. Close that program with Alt + F4. Repeat this process with Windows + 2 in the same manner until you are finished with all of the items pinned to the quick launch task bar.
  3. Next discuss the task bar- this is the area to the right of the quick launch toolbar that shows all of your open programs.  “Hold Alt down and tap Tab to move through the programs open in your task bar”. You may need to repeat this- many, many times. Most people will hit Alt + Tab quickly (like a regular shortcut key) but that will only show you the last open program you used. You may have 10 more programs open that you will be able to see if you just hold alt down and tap tab. When you release those keys, the program that was in focus in the task bar at that exact moment in time, will pop up in the front of the screen.  So be sure to hold Alt down and tap Tab to move through all of your open programs. Make the tactile representatives for taskbar for the Desktop Map and update the Map Key.
  4. “Press Windows + the letter B to move to the system tray”. This is the area also known as the notification area. Use the right arrow to move between the options. When you get to “Show hidden icons”, press Enter, then continue to press the right arrow. You should move through things like network connection, volume, all the way to the Date and Time in the bottom right corner of your screen. (At this point, ask the students to pause when they finish labelling the clock).
  5. But- surprise! When you are at the clock, in the bottom right corner and you press the right arrow AGAIN, you should move into the hidden icons area that you opened earlier! Explore this area using your arrows. This is where you may see “Safely Eject Hardware” or your anti-virus program. Instruct the students to label their Desktop Map with the hidden icons- stacked above the “Show Hidden Icons” symbol, in the shape of a square. Glue the symbols for the system tray and the hidden icons to the desktop map and update the key. Voila! This completes your tour of the Windows Desktop.
  6. HOMEWORK: Make a desktop map of your computer at home. Compare it to your desktop map from class. What areas are the same on your computer? What areas are different? What does pressing the Windows key + the letter D on your computer do? What does pressing the Windows key + 1 on your computer do? What icons do you have on your computer? What browser do you have on your computer? What is the start menu?
  7. My last few cents:  I fashioned this activity using a Windows 7 computer and a mixture of various tactile maps I saw on Pinterest. (Don’t you just love Pinterest??)  Be sure to keep it casual and have fun during this activity. Take your time with this lesson and answer all of the many, many questions because this is the true foundation of learning to use a Windows computer.



Pinterest collage for tactile windows


By misty.williams


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