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Through the activities described below, students will understand that before computers, typewriters were a useful tool for people whose work involved writing a lot of letters or stories, and be able to imagine a tool for communicating in the future.
- 4-minute video about typewriters
- a typewriter (if possible)
- drawing and writing materials
- images (click on the images below to enlarge for printing or display)
With your students, watch the video 'What is this? Typewriter'.
Advertisement for Remington typewriters. Courtesy of the Early Office Museum
Ruth Park, children’s author, using a typewriter, 1962. Source: National Library of Australia (nla.pic-an24574252).
Four members of the South African Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, Cairo, 1942. Source: Australian War Memorial.
Girls and a supervising nun at the Home of the Good Shepherd girls home, Ashfield, 1963. Source: National Library of Australia (nla.pic-an24493420).
If possible, bring a typewriter into the class so that students can each take a turn at typing some words on a page. Compare with typing on computer keyboards or phone/tablet touchscreens.
2. Investigating images of typewriters
Show students the array of images about typewriters, including early advertisements for typewriters, and photographs of people using typewriters. Invite them to consider:
- When were typewriters used and by whom? Typewriters were used for about 100 years, from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. Many different kinds of people used them in offices, on battlefields etc, including secretaries, reporters, authors and people employed to turn speech into text. They were mostly used by women.
- Look at the early advertisements, one by one: what worries do you think people might have had about typewriters when they were first invented? Maybe they would be hard to use? Maybe they would make communication less personal?
- In what ways do you think that typing would differ from writing by hand? Typing was quicker, more uniform and easier to read, less personal because everyone’s handwriting is unique, but typewritten text is consistent regardless of the typist.
- Look at the photographs of people using typewriters. In what ways do you think that typing would differ from writing on a computer? Would typing be more manual or tiring? There’s no ‘undo’ button on a typewriter – so it's more difficult to correct your work! Many typing tasks were not very creative – often the typist was making a copy of something already written.
Having looked at the images and talked about them, ask each student to write down a question they have about typewriters.
Select some of the most interesting questions for further exploration. If you have a typewriter in the class, you could type up each of the most interesting questions on a page.
Rather than answering the question, invite others in the class to respond. If no one is able to answer the question, talk about ways you might find out the answer. If appropriate, ask the students to see if they can find out the answer by talking to their grandparents.
Remind students that typewriters were used 100 years ago but that today they're hardly used at all in places with electricity because we have computers. Ask them to imagine how we’ll communicate our words 100 years from now – when the students are great-great-grandparents. Draw a picture or write a description of how the communication happens.
Go to What is this? and the teacher support video.
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