Passphrases for Tiny People

Gail Menius //

Once upon a time, in a land not too far away (about two miles from where I’m sitting now) I used to be an elementary school librarian.  The kids and I used to read books together…look for books in the library together.  We would even explore the internet together.  

When they got to be about eight years old, I would teach them how to make passwords for our learning management system.  I used to use the curriculum on CommonSenseMedia, here is a lesson plan for k-2:  

The scope and sequence for common sense media is great.  But I found that this particular password lesson had a family guidance sheet for creating passwords that is a little behind the times when it came to password guidance.  The guidance suggests eight characters with hard to remember passwords which include numbers and symbols.  Even 5th graders have a hard time finding and using symbols on a keyboard.   So when I followed the curriculum “to the letter”, the kids had a super hard time coming up with and remembering their passwords, and even worse, they would tell each other their passwords.  

So on password day, I would do a different lesson, one that helped them to create and remember their passwords.  Since I’ve been working at Black Hills Information Security, I decided to publish my lesson plan with a few tweaks for my friends at Knollwood Elementary School and any other teacher who is interested in Common Sense Media or creating strong passwords for tiny people.

We don’t want children getting in the habit of writing down their passwords and just handing them out willy nilly.  So I’m going to show you a way to get kids to come up with a password on their own.  Then we will call their parents, grandma, or whomever their password manager.  This way, when they get a little older, they will know that a password manager is where they go to get their passwords so they don’t have to remember all of them.)

Here is a two-day lesson I think you can do with a child or a group of children to help them come up with a passphrase.


  1. Recognize that short passwords are easy to crack
  2. Create a passphrase that keeps your information safe.

Mini-lesson 1

Prior Knowledge

Make sure that the children have seen you log ito a site before and have said the word “password” or “passphrase” when you log in.  Have something that the kids will actually make a password for.  Here are a list of sites that can be used: (something you need to protect, like a piggy bank).


Paper (3) and Markers or Promethean or Smartboard


Remember when I went to Learncode (or whatever you use) and put in a password to be able to play the games?


Today we will make a Password. Next time we meet we will make a passphrase (Both are something that you type to let you into a website that protects your private information.)

Show examples of passwords.

Active Engagement

1. Come up with toys that are fun to play with together and write them on the Promethean for them as they come up with ideas.

  • Car
  • Truck
  • iPad
  • Barbie

2. Come up with numbers and write them on the board as well.


  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13

3. Then have them a word and a number and put them together to make a password.  Show them an example of how to do it.  Then have them help you do one.


  • car10
  • barbie12


  1. If I asked you to guess my password, how would you do it?
  2. Ask them to turn and talk with their neighbor how you would guess the password.
  3.  Show them how long it will take to crack:

Link to future Learning

Next time we meet we will make something even harder to guess than a password.  It’s called a passphrase.  Instead of having just a word and a number together, it will be three or more words together.  


Mini-lesson 2


List of passwords you made last time.

Paper  or notecards and pencil for students.

Smartboard or promethean for writing an example passphrase and writing a passphrase together.


“Remember how we made passwords that were easy to guess?”

“Today I will write a passphrase and give it to a password manager.  (My mom).

Here are some examples:”

  • whenigrowupiwanttobeadoctor
  • mygrandmamakesthebestcake
  • Blueracecarsarecool

“What do they have that is the same?” (Have students turn and talk to their neighbor)

A passphrase is a password that is super hard to guess.  It’s a group of words that make sense together so they’re easier to remember.  Who thinks this would be harder to guess than the passwords we made last time?  


“First I will pick a sentence that you would like to finish.”

Sentence starters list (on the promethean board):

  • I like to
  • When I grow up I want to be
  • My mom likes to
  • My cat is funny when she
  • My best friend is
  • My favorite animal is a
  • My favorite food is
  • The best sport is

“Then I will write the sentence starter I like best.  It is…”. (write that down on the other paper so everyone can see).

Demonstrate writing a sentence.  “When I grow up I want to be an astronaut.  Then when I am finished, I will draw a picture on the back of the paper of me being an astronaut.”

Active Engagement

“Now it’s your turn.  PIck a sentence starter that you like and write it down.  When you are done, turn your paper over and draw your picture.  If you  need help spelling something, you can raise your hand or ask your neighbor.” (Go around and help them finish writing their sentence.)

(When everyone is done, then you take your sentence and turn it into a passphrase by taking the spaces out.)


When I grow up I want to be an astronaut.



Then as a wrap-up activity, you can show them how long it takes a computer to crack a password.

Enter student passphrases into the website to show how long it would take to crack it:

Then tell them that you will be their password manager, and collect their cards.  Make sure they have their names on them before you take them.

Link to future learning:

“Next time we will practice typing passwords.”



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