Touchscreen basic controls


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Basic controls

a close up of a hand tapping on a touchscreen

What's coming up?

Unlike desktop or most laptop computers, smart devices (such as smartphones and tablets) can be controlled by touching their glass-like screens (which is why they are known as touchscreens). Different touches, known as gestures, tell the smart device to do different things.

In this activity, we look at the three main gestures to use on a smart device, including tapping, swiping and scrolling.

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The tap gesture works on a touchscreen device in the same way a mouse click works on a desktop or laptop computer. You use the tap gesture to undertake a range of tasks including opening a program, typing and selecting buttons when browsing the internet.

a finger pressing on a touchscreen
a finger tapping an address field on a smart device online form

How to tap

To tap, lightly place the tip of your index finger onto the screen and raise it again, quickly. The touch only needs to be for a fraction of a second for the screen to respond and you don't need to press down hard.

Tapping can be used for typing text and numbers, and to select buttons or open programs. It is one of the most common gestures used on smart devices.


If a webpage or document you are viewing on your device is too long to fit on the screen, you can use the touchscreen to move the page up or down to reveal more. This gesture is known as scrolling.

To scroll using your touchscreen, gently place a fingertip on the screen and slowly drag it up or down while keeping contact with the screen. It's easier if you use the flat of your fingertip to perform this gesture and you don't need to press down hard. You will see the page moving in the same direction as you scroll.

When you have found the place on the page where you want to start viewing again, lift your finger from the screen and the page will stay put.

a finger scrolling on a touchscreen by sliding down the screen in a continuous movement

Scrolling on a touchscreen

If you are using your tablet or smartphone to view this activity, try using this technique to scroll up to see the previous text and then scroll back down again to this section of the page. You can scroll as many times as you wish.

a finger swiping across a smart screen from right to left


Just as you need to scroll up and down to view the contents of a webpage or document, you may also need to move content from side to side. Moving content from left to right or back again is known as swiping.

To swipe, gently place one finger on the screen and drag it quickly to the left or right, then release your finger. You will see the webpage or document react and move in the direction you are swiping. If the content is very wide, the page will keep moving for a few moments even after you've let go, and you can keep swiping until you reach the spot you are looking for.


If you've tapped and scrolled your way to this point, you're doing really well. Next, let's look at typing letters, numbers or words on your touchscreen. The good news is it's as easy as tapping!

First, let's take a look at how it works, then you'll have a chance to practise.

a touchscreen device showing the keyboard that automatically appears when you need to type

Typing on a touchscreen

As you will have noticed, your touchscreen device doesn’t have a keyboard attached to it. It does however have a pop-up keyboard, known as the on-screen keyboard, that appears automatically when you tap into a text field. A text field is any space on the screen that is designed for you to enter text, such as the address bar in a web browser or an email.

Typing upper-case letters

Just like on a computer keyboard, you can type upper-case and lower-case letters on a smart device. To type in upper-case, tap the Shift arrow key before tapping on the letter. Once you tap the Shift arrow key, you’ll notice that the letters on the keyboard will change to upper-case.

You can tap the Shift arrow key at any time to change between upper- and lower-case letters.

a close up of the Shift arrow key on an on-screen keyboard that is usually marked with an up arrow
a touchscreen keyboard showing the special .?123 key that allows you to type numbers and symbols

Typing numbers and symbols

You may notice that your on-screen keyboard doesn’t display numbers, punctuation marks or other symbols that you’d find on a normal keyboard. This is because the limited amount of space available on a smart device screen means that only so many keys can be displayed in one go. The good news is they are available, but you need to tap a special key to reveal them.

To display numbers and other symbols, tap the 123 or .?123 key, usually located in the bottom right- or bottom left-hand corner of the keyboard, and then type as normal. Tap on the ABC key to return to the letters.

Auto-correct and word suggestions

Many smart devices will automatically replace a word as you are typing if it is typed incorrectly. For example, accidentally typing teh might be replaced by the without you having to fix it yourself. This is known as auto-correct and can be very helpful.

However, it can also be annoying if you are typing something the smart device is not familiar with, like sombody's name, and it assumes it is a mistake! The good news is, smart devices are exactly that, and they will learn from you as you type new words.

Likewise, your device may try to predict words as you type and offer these suggestions just above the keyboard. You can tap on a suggested word and it will be dropped into your sentence, ready for you to continue typing.

a touchscreen device highlighting how the keyboard shows suggested words it thinks you might be typing

Watch some typing in action

Let’s have a look at how you enter text on your touchscreen.

On the next slide is a demonstration of someone typing text using a touchscreen device. Select the Continue button below to begin and then follow the instructions to watch the demonstration.

Watch text entry

This is a video exercise that allows learners to watch how text entry works on a tablet or another device with a touchscreen.

This exercise has no sound track.

The video starts by showing how to make a keyboard appear on the screen of a tablet or smartphone and then continues with how to type text and make the keyboard disappear, or hide the keyboard, when you have finished typing .

This exercise is used to encourage confidence using the internet by watching a simple exercise in a simulated environment.

Well done!

You’ve completed the Touchscreen basic controls activity.

You've learnt how to tap, scroll, swipe and enter text.

With these simple controls, you could start using a touchscreen today.

In the next activity, More advanced controls, you'll find out about some other ways you can control your touchscreen device.

a dad and daughter using a touchscreen together