Psst. You. Come here. We all have our secret little tips for teaching application classes. But before you switch to autopilot and get in front of yet another word processing class, why not enhance the learning experience with some great new exercises? With these tips, you can even offer a little laughter and levity along the way, believe it or not.

Moving and copying type
Want to inject some fun into teaching copy, cut, and paste? Here’s how I do it. I have two files on each machine: one with Dilbertesque gibberish containing management style words and another with a simple story. I have my students take the story and copy, paste, or move the Dilbertesque words into the story similar to Mad Libs. (Mad Libs, for the uninitiated, are little sheets that allow for the insertion of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.) So a new sentence may read: “Dave’s meeting went awry because he reorganized the proactive prioritization table.” As an added bonus, keep an eye out for anyone writing down the nonsense for use in his or her job.
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Teaching tabs
Tabs confuse people, so you might as well have fun while you try to get your point across. When teaching tabs, create a document with tabs similar to a table. Name the first column Names, the second column Age, the third Income, and the fourth Occupation. When you begin the second row, choose a student and fill in his or her name. Then the fun begins. Ask that person what age he’d like to be, what income he deserves, and what he wishes he did for a living. You can make several rows and add several students. This allows them to play around while you teach them to right align, left align, and center align tabs. The income column is good for using a decimal-aligned tab.

Celebrity mail merge
When teaching mail merge, have a table ready with information to be placed in a form letter or on an envelope. The envelopes are standard and pretty boring, but you can have a blast with mail merge and form letters. I built a table with the following columns:

  • Last Name
  • First Name
  • Address
  • City
  • State
  • Zip
  • Magazine Subscription Purchased
  • Repeat Customer

Then I filled in the table with names of celebrities, sports figures, government officials, and notable persons in history, and I made up names of roads and cities that would be linked to the individual. An example is: Mel Blanc lived at 1020 Merry Melody Lane, Toonville, CA 02468. Mel subscribed to Hare Restore Monthly and he has never been a subscriber before. Fill this table with about 50 records and make sure some cities, magazines, states, and repeat information overlap. Use mail merge to create a form letter using all the variables to teach. Watch the students’ faces as they start looking at the names and attempt to figure out the correlation between the columns. As a bonus you can use this table in both spreadsheet and database applications.

Don’t be embarrassed about your AutoCorrect fetish
AutoCorrect is cool—not because I can misspell a word and it fixes that word. That’s boring. It’s because I can type very long, specialized names and give them an acronym so I never have to type them in again. I showed this to some employees of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, most of whom typed in the above moniker on every new document and had to reference it often. I placed this in AutoCorrect and gave it the acronym fjfj. This way, whenever they needed to type “Department of Housing and Urban Development,” all they had to do was bang on the two index finger keys and achieve the same result. I got a free lunch out of that one. Using AutoCorrect in this manner also benefits anyone who must type people’s names.

A secretary who must send out memos to constantly changing groups of individuals will love this. Simply teach them to type in the name of the individual and use their initials as the AutoCorrect key. Beware of initials that may be used as actual words. In these cases, some modification may be necessary. Also, beware of people who use AutoCorrect to replace the word “the” with “My Computer Hates Me” on other people’s computer. I have never met these people nor do I take responsibility for showing them that. (Bart Simpson would be proud.)

Word up
These are some of the ways I use to make word processing applications fun to learn. While I rank real learning at the top, having fun in class is second. You might actually start looking forward to teaching a word processing app class too! Sorry ’bout that.
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Schoun Regan is a consultant to training firms. He travels across North America educating people for Complete Mac Seminars.