Top Down Design and Decomposition in Karel

Now that we have most of the tools we need, let's focus on the structure of building a program. Recall that we have commands and methods as the building blocks of our program. Commands go inside of methods, and methods can be combined to build a program. So how do we effectively build programs?

When to use a Method?

Recall that methods are used to break down a problem into smaller parts. Grouping a series of commands into named methods also makes the program much easier to read.

There are a few basic principles to follow to know when to create a new method:

  1. The group of commands accomplishes a specific task
  2. The specific task is used more than once
  3. The specific task solves a smaller problem, but helps solve the bigger problem. If this is the case, it is ok if the method is only used once.

This leads us to the next discussion - what does it mean to have a specific task or a smaller problem?

Top-down Design and Decomposition

Each program has the goal of solving a problem. Most of the time, this problem is rather large and complex, or at least can be broken down into several parts.

When you write your program, you first want to consider the big picture - what is your overall goal? Then you want to break down the problem into smaller chunks. What is the first step? The second step? Once you have your steps, can you break down the steps even further? Keep breaking down each subproblem until you have defined definite tasks that need to be accomplished. These tasks don't need to be so small they are accomplished in a single command, but they should be small enough that you could describe them in a short, single sentence.

Making a Movie

As an analogy, think about making a movie. The biggest problem that needs to be solved is that we want a feature length movie that will have the biggest names in Hollywood with awesome special effects and will entertain everyone who sees it. You can see that this is a very large problem. So let's break it down, as shown in the picture below.

Movie Subproblems

The big problem is shown at the top. Then it is broken down into 4 subproblems. We need to entertain everyone, so we need a good script. We want the biggest names in Hollywood, so we need to solve the cast and crew problem. Then we want awesome sound effects, so we need to edit the movie. We actually need to have footage, so we need to film the movie.

Then you can see that each one of these problems needs to be broken down into more managable problems. Here, we only show that Film the Movie gets broken down into filming each scene.

You can see how each little problem is combined with the solutions to the other little problems to make up the solution to the overall problem.

Hurdle Karel

Now, say we have a problem where we want Karel to go down the street and jump over all of the hurdles. The beginning world would look like this:

Starting Hurdles

And the ending world looks like this: Ending Hurdles

Let's think about how to solve this. What is the big goal? We want Karel to go down the street, jump over every hurdle, and stop at the end.

What are the next smaller goals?

  1. Karel needs to go down the street until the end
  2. When Karel meets a hurdle, Karel needs to jump over it
  3. After the last hurdle, Karel needs to go to the end of the street

What tasks should be accomplished in methods?

  1. Karel should go to the next hurdle
  2. Karel should jump over the hurdle
  3. Karel should stop at the wall at the end of the street

See how each method is reusable? We will need to use the first method 3 times and the second method 2 times.

Finally, we can outline the code we need to write.

public class HurdleJumpingKarel extends Karel

    public void run()

    private void jumpHurdle()
        // Make Karel jump over a hurdle

    private void runToHurdle()
          // make Karel go to the next hurdle

    private void runToFinish()
            // make Karel go to the end of the street

For the sake of space, not all of the methods have been fully implemented. However, notice how the use of methods makes the program's goal obvious. You can read through the run method like it is telling a story. Each helper method accomplishes a specific, small part of the problem.


Programs are made up of methods, which are made up of commands. We need to build our program using methods to make our code readable and to break down the problem into smaller, more manageable tasks. The program's problem, or goal, should be broken down into single sentence goals. Each of these small goals gets its own method.

results matching ""

    No results matching ""