What is a keyboard?

 

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What is a keyboard?

A teacher and pupil working on a computer together

What's coming up

A keyboard is one of the main ways that you control a computer. In this activity, we're going to look at what a keyboard does and how you can use it to control your computer.

You'll learn about a basic keyboard layout, the Space bar, Shift key and Caps Lock key, was well as punctuation and symbol keys and the Enter key.

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What a keyboard does

The main purpose of a keyboard is to type text. If you want to write a letter, search for a website, fill in a form or do anything that requires entering letters and numbers, the keyboard is how you do it.

A keyboard usually sits on the desk in front of the computer screen. Most keyboards connect to a desktop computer with a cable, and use the computer's power to work.

A graphic of hands typing on a keyboard with a computer screen showing a web page
A close up of hands typing on a keyboard

Some keyboards can connect to a desktop computer wirelessly, and are powered by batteries.

You can type on a keyboard with one finger from each hand, or all the fingers on both hands. It's up to you!

And don't worry if you type slowly. Typing letters and numbers accurately is more important than typing them quickly.

Basic keyboard layout

The letters on most keyboards are not in alphabetical order, as you might expect. Most keyboards show the most commonly used letters near the middle, while the less common letters are around the edges.

These are called 'QWERTY' keyboards, after the first six letter keys on the keyboard. The next slide shows a diagram of a keyboard with 'QWERTY' keys highlighted.

Basic keyboard layout

A typical keyboard with the QWERTY keys highlighted in blue

Number keys, number pad and Space bar

Above the letters are the number keys. On a full-size keyboard, there is usually another set of number keys, known as the number pad, located to the right of the letter keys. You can use either set of keys to type in numbers, depending on which you find more comfortable to use.

Below the letters is a long key, called the Space bar. You use this to place a space between words. The next slide shows a diagram of a keyboard with the number keys, number pad and space bar keys highlighted.

Number keys, number pad and space bar

A typical keyboard with the number keys, number pad and space bar highlighted in blue

Special keys

Around the edges of the letters, you'll see a number of other keys as well. Some keys are used for adding punctuation.

There are special control keys, such as Shift, Caps Lock, Backspace and Enter. We'll talk about these keys as we go through this course. The next slide shows a diagram of a keyboard with the special keys highlighted.

Special keys

A typical keyboard with the special keys highlighted in blue

Typing letters and numbers

To type letters and numbers, you just press the key that has the letter or number you want on it. The next slide shows a diagram of a keyboard with the letter keys highlighted.

The letters and numbers keys

A typical keyboard with the letter and number keys highlighted in blue

Typing spaces

To add a space between words, press the Space bar. It's the long key just below the letters. The next slide shows a diagram of a keyboard with the space bar highlighted.

The space bar

A typical keyboard with the space bar highlighted in blue

Delete a letter

To delete the last letter you typed, press the Backspace key. That's the key at the top right of the main section of the keyboard. The next slide shows a diagram of a keyboard with the backspace key highlighted.

The Backspace key

A typical keyboard with the backspace key highlighted in blue

Typing capital letters

When you press a key, it will usually make a lower case letter. But what if you want a capital letter instead? There are two ways to make a capital letter.

Shift key

To make a capital letter, hold down the Shift key with one finger as you press the letter key with another.

There are Shift keys on the bottom left and bottom right of the keyboard. Any letter you press while holding the Shift key will type as a capital. The next slide shows a diagram of a keyboard with the shift keys highlighted.

The Shift keys

A typical keyboard with the shift keys highlighted in blue

Caps Lock key

You can use the Caps Lock key to make a capital letter too. You don't have to hold it down, just press it once. Any letters you type afterwards will be capitals.

To return to lower case letters, press the Caps Lock key again. The next slide shows a diagram of a keyboard with the Caps lock key highlighted.

The Caps lock key

A typical keyboard with the Caps lock key highlighted in blue

Typing symbols and punctuation

Let's look at how you type punctuation and symbols, such as a full stop, exclamation mark or dollar sign.

Some keys show punctuation marks on the bottom half of the key. For example, the key to the right of the 'M' key has a comma, and the key to the right of that has a full stop.

Press those keys to enter punctuation. The next slide shows a diagram of a keyboard with some punctuation and symbols keys highlighted.

The punctuation and symbols keys

A typical keyboard with the punctuation keys highlighted in blue

More punctuation and symbols keys

Some number keys show punctuation marks and symbols on the top half of the key. For example, the '1' key has an exclamation mark ('!') above it, and the 4 key has a '$' sign.

To enter the mark or symbol on the top half of a key, hold down the Shift key while pressing the key.

For example, to type an exclamation mark, you should hold down Shift while pressing '1'. To type a dollar sign, you should hold down Shift while pressing '4'. The next slide shows a diagram of a keyboard with the number keys highlighted.

The number keys

A typical keyboard with the number keys highlighted in blue

Starting a new line

When you have finished typing and want to start a new line, press the Enter key. The Enter key is on the right side of the keyboard. The next slide shows a diagram of a keyboard with the Enter key highlighted.

The Enter key

A typical keyboard with the Enter key highlighted in blue
A close up of hands typing on a keyboard

Congratulations!

Well done, you've reached the end of the activity on What is a keyboard?

The computer keyboard may seem complicated, but its design is actually based around typewriters that have been used for more than a hundred years.

Once you get some practice, you'll find that you have no trouble typing capitals, entering symbols or quickly tapping out letters and emails on a keyboard.

Next up, we look at the other way you can control a computer in the What is a mouse? activity.