The Enigma Machine

Grades 7-9, 60min

In the Enigma Machine lesson, students will learn the intricacies of cryptography used in World War II to convey secret messages to soldiers in the field. Students will start by looking at a simple shift cipher and will create their own cipher wheel to send and receive encoded messages. Students will then learn about the German Enigma Machine and will run a web-based emulated version to better understand how it works. Finally, students will discover how the Allies broke the Enigma’s code in WWII and the effect that had on winning the war. Part of this lesson was adapted from a lesson plan by Northern Illinois University.

Topics addressed:

  • Basic cryptography and relevant vocabulary
  • Shift ciphers and how they encode plain text using a simple algorithm
  • The Enigma Machine and its impact on the outcome of World War II
  • Primary CT concept: algorithms. Students will consider different algorithms used in various forms of cryptography, including the very complicated logic involved in the Enigma Machine.

Students will be able to:

  • Explain why cryptography is necessary to keep messages secret
  • Explain the algorithm of a simple shift cipher
  • Understand at a high level how the Enigma Machine operates
  • Understand at a high level how the Enigma Machine was defeated


  • PowerPoint presentation: powerpoint
  • Shift cipher template and instructions: word pdf

Suggested lesson breakdown:

  • 10-15min – introduction to cryptography
  • 10-15min – students create and test cipher wheels
  • 5min – discussion on shift cipher
  • 7min – Enigma Machine video
  • 10min – Enigma Machine web emulator
  • 10min – Cracking the Enigma Machine video

WA State Standards:

  • WA.SS.
    Understands and analyzes how technology and ideas have impacted U.S. history.