Make your own spy decoder wheel! In just a few steps, you’ll be sending and receiving coded messages with the help of this clever device.

The fun part about this decoder is that it provides 27 different codes, making it difficult for someone to crack.  If you make two decoders, siblings or friends can send encrypted messages to each other, even if they are not in the same physical location. It might be fun to have friends in another town or cousins in another state print their own decoder, and then the kids can send coded messages back and forth!

This post was originally published in April 2014, and we updated it in June 2020 to provide a printable version of the spy decoder wheel.

To make a decoder, you will need:

  • Printable template – see the link below
  • Scissors
  • A paper fastener

And that’s it!

I recommend printing the template on card stock for durability. I had some colored card stock, so we decided to mix and match colors.

To assemble your spy decoder wheel, cut out a top, middle, and bottom circle.

There are two choices for the middle circle. Either use the one with the letters filled in, or use the spaces to draw your own letters or symbols. It might be fun to use symbols like a star, heart, smiley face, etc. instead of letters.

Line up your three circles and attach them with a paper fastener. It’s important to have the circles lined up precisely, so you may want to poke the holes one at a time.

To write a message:

First, set the code. You’ll need to decide what letter “A” on the outside circle will correspond with.

Some ideas:

  • Turn the decoder so that the “A” on the outside circle matches up with the first letter of the receiver’s name.
  • Set the decoder so that “A” matches the letter of the current day of the week.
  • Make “A” match the first letter of a code word that you send along with your encrypted message.

To write a message, find the letter you want on the outside circle and write down the corresponding letter on the middle circle.

To read a message, find the letter on the middle circle, and write down the corresponding letter from the outside circle.

Ready to print your spy decoder template? Click the link below. The file will open, and you can print from there.

CLICK HERE: Spy Decoder Wheel

The Thomas Jefferson Cipher Wheel – Here’s an interesting tidbit from history… Thomas Jefferson created a cipher wheel which was used to send encrypted messages in a similar way.  The wheel was made from 36 discs on an axle that could be turned to spell out a message.  To encrypt the message, the sender would copy down any other row from the cipher wheel other than the intended message (which would appear to be nonsense).  The receiver would line up the discs on his (identical) cipher wheel so that they matched the nonsense message and then turn the cipher wheel until they saw a row with the hidden message.  Click here to read more about the Jefferson Cipher Wheel – it’s quite interesting!  You can also purchase a replica (that really works) from monticello.org.

Have fun with secret codes!

Looking for more spy and detective activities? We’ve got several!

Make some Pencil and Tape Fingerprints. It’s amazing how much detail you can see!

This Spy Obstacle Course is an absolute blast! Fun for a rainy day, and it would also make a great spy birthday party activity.

3 Comments

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  1. Ilze Apr 20, 2014

    I have drawn this chart on word that might help. You print 2 of the same size and just cut the one smaller and add the letters of the Alphabet again on the smaller one. Now the size is maybe not so important. I will have my boys do their own chart on Excell and Word as IT practice.

    This form does not want to accept my inclusion of the wheel. I will try and post it on FaceBook

    Reply
    1. Shana Mar 25, 2015

      This is great, thank you for laying out all the dimensions, its great for an older kid to learn how to measure out and great lesson in fractions and division.

      But you don't really explain that your "?" is actually acting as a key in a way. It is optional and not really necessary for the "device"

      There is a printable version here that is very good, but doesn't have the "?".

      http://allfortheboys.com/storage/AFTBDecoder.pdf

      Reply
      1. Shana Mar 25, 2015

        oops It does the have "?" nevermind :)

        Reply
        1. Sarah Mar 26, 2015

          It's necessary for the device if you want to be able to use a ? in your messages!

          Reply
        2. n Feb 5, 2016

          I just saw this on Pinterest. This is the best I've seen for making a secret coder!

          I have a link part that I'm trying to grow. I invite you to share this -- and a couple of other links -- at my Party in Your PJs link party on my site Grandma Ideas http://grandmaideas.com. I think that my readers would enjoy this!

          The party goes until midnight on Sunday. I hope you'll be able to make it!

          Warmly,
          Nina

          Reply

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