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
- 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.
- 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.