Bar Code Design

This activity is based on two aspects of the design of bar codes used for products on sale in shops. The first aspect is that of a check digit and how it works; the second aspect is that of the actual design for the strips of numbers that make up bar codes. The activity here only deals with the left-hand side numbers in 8-digit codes but this can be easily extended to 13-digit codes and right-hand code designs.

Mathematical Strand

Number and Measure

Prior Knowledge

Only requires familiarity with digits and basic calculations.


  • AQA
  • C&G
  • Eduqas
  • Pearson / Edexcel
  • OCR

Suggested Approaches

Initial discussion about the significance of bar code technology, not just for shopping but in a variety of contexts; use bar codes that students already have on products; students work in pairs on the check digit tasks and similarly on finding acceptable designs for numbers.


In addition to this overview there are:

  • teacher guidance
  • handout with relevant data and questions posed
  • internet interactive programme
  • data sheet

Relevant digital technologies

No technology is needed but there is software that can be used for motivation.

Possible Extensions

The obvious extension is to consider 13-digit bar codes and both right- and left-hand-side codes; other extensions are into different bar codes, designed for other contexts.


This is a resource developed for the Core Maths Support Programme by David Burghes (CIMT, Plymouth University) and Al Reynolds (Exeter School).