What is Scratch? – A Guide for Beginners

A guide to help you understand the basics of what Scratch is and how to get started with sequential block coding.

What is Scratch?

Take a look here: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/editor/?tutorial=getStarted

Scratch is a block-based visual programming language and online community targeted primarily at children. In computing, a visual programming language is a language that lets users create programmes with visual expressions and symbols rather than text. It’s like making a jigsaw puzzle out of a string of commands. You can programme your own interactive stories, games and animations and then share these with the online community. Scratch also helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systemically and work collaboratively, which are increasingly becoming essential skills for the 21st century.

Who can use Scratch?

Scratch is suitable for mixed ability classes and does not require any prior knowledge of programming. It is designed especially for ages 8 to 16, but can be used by people of all ages. Scratch has been designed so children can learn through exploring, experimenting and tinkering. This allows children to learn independently, freeing up parent or teacher time so they can get on with other tasks or work with another child.

The Jargon

Scratch has its own vocabulary which takes practice to get used to. Below are some common words that you will see when using Scratch:

User interface: the area in which the user communicates with Scratch.

User Interface Scratch

Stage area: features the results of your coding. This is the area where you can see your project come alive.

Scratch Stage Area

Sprites: these are the images that appear on the computer programme screen.

Scratch Sprites

Backdrop: is an image that can be shown on the stage.

Scratch Backdrop

Scripts: are collections of blocks that all interlock with each other. Each block will determine how sprites interact with each other and the backdrop.

Scratch Scripts

Costume: is one of the many different appearances of a sprite. These can be named, created, and deleted. Every Sprite must have a costume.

Scratch Costume

Coding area: we highlighted this with a red box in this image. This is the place where you can assemble your code by dragging the blocks on the left into this area.

Scratch Coding Area

Blocks palette: this is an area of the Scratch User Interface that is located to the left of the Code Area. The block to choose from change depending on which circle you select on the left e.g. ‘Motion’, ‘Looks’, ‘Sound’ or ‘Events’.

Blocks Palette

How to Use the Command Blocks

These are the different instructions you can give to your Sprites. They are broken down into eight varieties of blocks:

Motion Block

Motion: these relate to the ways in which your sprite will move. You can add in different commands that allow you to move your sprites, change angles and positions.

Looks Block

Looks: commands in this section allow you to control the visuals of the sprite. You can change the costume, backdrop, size of the sprite and more.

Sound Block

Sound: this section will allow you to add sounds to your programme. You can add sound effects and change the volume and pitch.

Events Block

Events: you can use this part to trigger different commands. For instance, an event could be ‘when the backdrop switches to Backdrop 2, change the loudness of the sound to 10’. This means, the background will change and the sound will increase on a certain command.

Control Block

Control: allows you to add conditionals and loops. A conditional is something that is either true or false, this means the conditional block will only run if the condition is true. A loop allows you to repeat an animation, you can add a motion and sound to a Sprite and then add a loop to ensure this is repeated.

Sensing Block

Sensing: allows your Sprite to interact with the surroundings. Let’s say you want to make a game where the goal is for two Sprites to never touch, you will need to write a script telling the programme this. Using the loop, can you use the ‘If’ statement to say that if Sprite1 touches Sprite2 then you must ‘Stop all’

Operator Block

Operators: these are used to script math equations and string handling. Basically, it takes one or more values and uses them to produce another value. When you use values to produce other values in programming, it’s called ‘performing an operation’.

Variable Block

Variables: these are the blocks used to hold values and strings (like your score or number of lives in a game). Variables allow for more complicated interactions. For instance, if you wanted to create a game where a cat chases a mouse that is moving randomly you would have to add in a series of variables to allow this to happen.

My Blocks

My Blocks: The primary purpose of these blocks is to make programming easier. They also give you functionality that isn’t built into the other Scratch blocks. For example, you could create a block that would choose at random, saying hello from a number of different languages. It lets you use one block that you’ve coded instead of a whole string of command blocks every time.

Find out more about Marty the Robot, or sign up for a two-week FREE trial here!