Tap Code Activity

Secret Messages: Using Tap Code
This activity is for two people. You will need two sheets of paper and writing tools.

In N is for Never Forget: POW-MIA A to Z, T is for Tap Code. During the Vietnam War, American prisoners of war were sometimes in separate cells and not allowed to talk. So they developed a secret code to communicate with one another so they could share information and encouragement.

Prisons of war used tap code to communicate with each other.

Try this activity to see if you can communicate using Tap Code.

  • On a sheet of paper, make a grid that is five blocks across and five blocks down, making 25 squares.
  • Using the example on the T page of N is for Never Forget, fill in the letters of the alphabet, beginning with A and going across each row. Leave out K, because the letter C is used for both C and K.
  • Practice with individual letters, first tapping the number down, a brief pause, then the number across to arrive at the correct square. For example, four taps, pause, two taps would be the letter R.
  • Decide who will send and who will receive. The sender and receiver may stand on either side of a door or a wall; or the receiver can sit with his or her back to the sender, while the sender taps the message gently on the receiver’s back, arm, or shoulder.
  • Choose a simple message, like “My name is John,” or “I am hungry” and tap the letters out to see how difficult it is to communicate using the code. It will be helpful for the sender to write down the message before trying to send it, and for the receiver to write down the letters as they are tapped.
  • Try one or two messages, then switch places.
  • Talk about the difficulty of sending messages this way. Was it harder to send or receive?
  • Why would being able to send messages be helpful to the prisoners of war?
  • What kinds of messages do you think the prisoners sent to one another?
  • If using this in a classroom, let students take turns tapping messages on a wall or a desk, so that everyone in the class can hear and decode the message.