Introduction to Spreadsheets

This activity introduces students to spreadsheets over the course of two or three lessons. The first lesson helps students learn the parts of a spreadsheet and how to read a spreadsheet table. The second lesson directs students to make changes to their spreadsheet. Through this activity, they will see one of the most powerful aspects of spreadsheets: the use of formulas.

You may want to use pictures of spreadsheet windows from our spreadsheet manual as part of your classroom lesson. This may mean making an overhead transparency of a picture from the manual that shows screen display (e.g., the menu options, the icon bars, the formula bar). Going over this information in class will help students before they use the spreadsheet in the lab.


Recognize basic parts of spreadsheet window

Read a spreadsheet with data

Make changes in a spreadsheet


What To Do


printed copies of a spreadsheet window

Files to Use

Download Info/Instructions

income.xls (sample spreadsheet)

income.doc (student worksheets)

Treasure Hunt Game (math concepts lesson)

Optional Resources

transparency of a spreadsheet window

spreadsheet manuals


Lesson 1

Lesson 2


Lesson 1 - Reading a Spreadsheet with Data

Classroom Discussion and Activities

Teacher Note: Depending on your lab arrangements, this section may be done either in the classroom or in the computer lab.


Spreadsheets are like lined paper with columns. They can be used to write numbers and make calculations. By using formulas for adding, multiplying, or even finding averages, the spreadsheet will do the math for you. There is also a great advantage to spreadsheets over calculators. They allow you to see all of the numbers at one time. This is important if you are trying to keep track of a lot of different things, or if you are asking "What if" questions. People in business ask "What if" questions all the time. They will change a number like the amount of money that they have set aside for salaries to see what happens to their total expenses. You can use spreadsheets to keep track of your money, your test scores, or to work a complicated math problem.


Menu bars
Column and row labels
Formula Bar
Sheet tabs
Work Space
Active cell
Mouse pointer


text (words)
formulas-formulas always begin with an equal sign. They tell the computer to do a math problem.


In the Lab (Individual or Paired Work)


Follow your lab's directions for starting Excel and opening income.xls. Have students answer questions about cells and data. Use the first two worksheets for this exercise. They can be found in income.doc and are called Parts of a Spreadsheet and Reading a Spreadsheet.


Added Activities

If you want to extend this lesson, have the students play the treasure hunt game, an introductory activity for spreadsheets. See treasure.doc.


Lesson 2 - Making Changes to a Spreadsheet

Classroom Discussion and Activities (Whole Group)


Discuss with students the fact that when they use a calculator the numbers "disappear" with each new entry and are therefore difficult to check for accuracy. With a spreadsheet you can review your typing and see if your work is accurate.
With a calculator, changing a number means retyping the entire problem. With a spreadsheet, when one cell is changed, the computer does the recalculations.


The place where a row and column cross is a cell. Cells look like boxes. Each cell has a name. Cell A10 is in the place where Column A and Row 10 cross. It contains the abbreviation JUL for July.
Cells can contain:
Numbers - 25, 8, 0
Formulas - = B3+B4+B5
Formulas tell the computer to do math operations with certain numbers. Move your cursor to cell B16. The status line reads: =sum(B4:B15), but you see the number $210 on your screen. A formula always starts with an = . Whenever you see the equal sign (=), the computer computes an answer for you. $210 is the answer to the formula =sum(B4:B15), because this formula asks the computer to add up all of the numbers from cell B4 to cell B15. You will learn how to write formulas in the computer during a later lesson. For now it is only important that you identify when a cell contains a formula rather than a number or word.

Teacher Note: You may want to make a transparency of the student worksheet, go over the spreadsheet in class, and keep it up on the overhead during this lab.


In the Lab (Individual or Paired Work)