Start of main content
Age Range: 11-14
Duration: 0-29 mins
  • Mathematics

Code breaking with the Rosetta Stone

Learning about spies and codes

Our lesson plan transports students back in time, from the ancient era of Egyptian hieroglyphs to the modern-day world of advanced cryptography. We delve into the fascinating history of communication, exploring how it has evolved from simple fire beacons to sophisticated space communication systems.

This activity reveals the intriguing story of the Rosetta Stone, the monumental discovery that unlocked the secrets of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and set the foundation for modern code-breaking techniques.

This is one of a set of resources developed to aid the teaching of the secondary national curriculum, particularly KS3. It has been designed to support the delivery of key topics within mathematics.

Activity: Learning about spies and codes

This activity introduces students to the art of code breaking through a mathematical solution involving a simple substitution code.

Students will conduct a survey using the frequency of letters in English sentences, align an encoded passage with these frequencies, and apply logical reasoning to decode a coherent message. The activity begins with a class discussion on various topics, including hieroglyphs, the Rosetta Stone, World War II code breakers, and the first use of computers. Following this, students will receive a Rosetta Stone handout, which they can work on individually or in groups to enhance their understanding of spies and codes.

Download our activity overview for a detailed lesson plan for teaching students about code breaking.

The engineering context

By uncovering the mathematical basis of codes and code-breaking, students will see learn how engineering principles can be applied to solve complex problems. The activity also introduces them to the vital role of engineers in designing and developing communication systems, from ancient hieroglyphs to modern cryptography.

Suggested learning outcomes

By participating in this activity, students will gain a deeper understanding of how mathematics can be used to crack codes. They'll learn how to collect and represent frequency statistics, such as the frequency of individual letters in English words. Additionally, they'll develop a greater appreciation for the role of encryption in history and modern society.

Download our activity sheet and other teaching resources

The activity sheet includes teachers’ notes, useful web links, and links (where appropriate) to the national curriculum in each of the four devolved nations; England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

All activity sheets and supporting resources are free to download, and all the documents are fully editable, so you can tailor them to your students’ and your schools’ needs.

Download our classroom lesson plan and handout below.

Please do share your highlights with us @IETeducation. 


Communications of the Future

Communications for safety

Related resources