Advice on teaching HTML to a 4th grader

I have a young family member who’s expressed interest in what I do for a living (10 year PHP vet) Though I have some idea where to begin I frankly don’t have much experience teaching 10 year olds. She has strong math and English skills already (straight A student) Advice sought.

(I know this is a little off beat for this area of the forum but it feels like the closest match)

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Isn’t it traditional for a language’s first step to be a “Hello World”?

I know you mentioned HTML, but why not start her off with Stencyl (or Construct or GameMaker). These game engines feature drag&drop support, meaning she can get started right away. And since they also let you drop in code snippets, she can learn about and master progressively complex concepts as she develops. Debugging is also a treat.

As you know, internet searching is a huge part of web development. I’m not sure if she has full access to the internet (or if that’s even an issue these days), but the game engines also feature packaged, in-app help guides, tutorials, and videos. Plus there are plenty of interactive examples for her to mess around with.

And if you need it there’s the OpenGameArt library, which has a huge library of free art.

In my opinion, HTML is a little trickier to start off with since it requires learning multiple technologies (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) that don’t necessarily share concepts…and yet you need all 3 to showcase something. In otherwords, you can’t really apply what you know with CSS to HTML (outside the style attribute) and to JavaScript (outside jQuery selectors).

The key to teaching younger people is to avoid theoretical information and too much explanation. They can’t really process it. Give them bite-sized tasks to complete. Simply show them what to do, and give plenty of room for repetition and practice.

  • So, introduce her to a code editor, and how you can save a file as .html.
  • give her a simple starting template like this:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
<meta charset="utf-8">



  • save it and open it in a browser. Nothing there, right?
  • type some words in the body section, save and refresh the browser. OK, putting words in the body section makes it show on screen.
  • next, wrap <h1></h1> tags around the text, save, refresh the browser. Do this with other tags as well, and let her see how tags give different messages to the browser.
  • By this means, she can learn all the basic tags and what they do, and she’ll quickly have a basic web page.

After that, introduce her to some styling:

  • between the <style> tags, gradually type some CSS, like h1 {color: red;}. Save and refresh, and she’ll start to see how you can style content. Gradually introduce more styling features.

Over time, give her little tests, such as creating a page with certain headings, a UL etc. She’ll need to revise the skills over and over.

Via this process, see how far you can take it. Show her some simple JS, perhaps, but let it always be practical, with an observable result.

Eventually, you could set up a local server (MAMP etc.) so she could play with a bit of PHP.

That that helps a bit! (I used to be a primary school teacher.)


Among all the choices of programming languages, HTML offers the great advantage that you do not need a compiler or a server. You can simply edit then open the file in a browser and see the effect.
The ability to set up a REPL cycle will help accelerate learning and encourage experimentation and discovery.

My advice:

  • Ask the youngest “What would you like to build?”
  • Pare down their out-of-this-world idea to something simpler
    • As Ralph mentioned, bite-sized chunks. Take one small aspect of the GRAND IDEA in order to get started
  • Avoid the temptation to explain about structure, semantic layout, styling
    • I can guarantee those lessons will make themselves apparent as the youngster builds confidence and starts to ask questions (“so, how can I make this part bold?”)

The single most important piece of advice I can offer is to be sure YOU are having fun. Your joy and enthusiasm will become contagious.

Best or luck


Focus on the end result and not on coding.

If the child is wild about butterflies, come up with a simple webpage about butterflies with images, hyperlinks, maybe a list of types of butterflies, etc.

After you come up with a plan of what to build regarding butterflies (e.g. Butterflies of North America), and as you talk out a strategy, you can work in the code and theory and it will be fun.

Few people live to read about ordered lists, but this child may be tickled to organize their Top-10 Favorite Butterflies in an HTML Ordered List.

Make sense?

P.S. Give this young person some homework and responsibility in this “shared project”. For instance, say, "I need you to get me a list of all the butterflies in North America. And we will also need to know some things about them, including color, size, location, etc.

That will make sure this kid has “skin in the game”. After they complete this task, then you come in and subtly work in how HTML can take butterflies from paper to the web!!


I’ve started coding HTML when I was 11, and it wasn’t that easy for me. I had to do it on my own cause there was nobody to learn it to me. just make it fun to code for her and she will try to learn on her own eventually.
PS start with basics like what a tag is and some imaging and text

i like this approach. I learnt by doing. Loads of free hosting sites to start a little website on and introduce the various parts.

I guess it would be good to provide a really good but basic html5 layout to start with so they see that it is there in front of them from the start, but not necessarily need to be told why at this stage. Just concentrate on the bits mentioned like making a list or doing headings with heading tags and changing the colors.

then move on to parrallax layouts in week 2 :slight_smile:

possibly point her toward a good validator, as bad habits are easy to pick up. at this stage and age, they will likely stick.

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