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Dear Otto: How do you teach file types?

Posted by on March 10, 2014

tech questionsDear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Kaylene:

Dear Otto,
How do you go about teaching file types to students? I’m sure you begin early – but even my 6th graders’ eyes glaze over when I try to explain the difference between a .jpg and a .xls! Any tips?
I teach them as they come up. For example, when students use KidPix, the file extension is .kpx. That doesn’t work for slideshows so I take the opportunity to discuss file extensions and how to get KidPix drawings into presentations. When they upload images to KidPix, it wants ‘.bmp’ or adjust the settings for .jpg. We upload images and take the time to chat about problem solving (since most images students use won’t be .bmp).


Same with Photoshop. We talk a lot about file types when working with this program. Students need to understand the difference between saving as a .psd and a .jpg to use this program well.

When students search images, we talk about file type and file size. I ask them to find .jpgs of a certain size–mostly to get them to pay attention to that, but also for quality issues.

If your sixth graders are blogging, it will ask for a certain file type to load an image. that’s a great opportunity to discuss ‘file types’ and why an .xls won’t load but a .jpg will. Perfect time to teach screenshots–which will save a non-interactive version of the .xls as a .jpg and enable loading. Also a great opportunity (if you have GAFE) to show them how to load an interactive spreadsheet with the.html (another extension).

In short, I pause and chat about extensions whenever the opportunity arises. I don’t make it a separate unit. I tried that and just didn’t work. Became boring very fast.

Does that help?


More tips on teaching tech:

 13 Reasons For and 3 Against Technology in the Classroom

The Secret to Teaching Tech to Kids: Delegate

9 Mistakes Teachers Make Using Tech in the Classroom

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a columnist for, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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