Computer Basics Lesson 3: Recognizing the Desktop, Icons and Menus

Back to the List of Computer Tutorials


In this lesson we will be discussing what you will see on your screen after turning on the computer.  Learning correct terminology and understanding how each of these items interacts with each other will enhance your knowledge and provide confidence in using computers.  Our topics in this section are Desktop, Icons, Start Button, and Mouse Pointer.

Back to top


After turning on a personal computer the picture or image you see is referred to as a Desktop. The Desktop allows for accessing programs and consists of Program Icons, a Taskbar, a Start Button, and a Mouse Pointer. Just as you may have a desk you use at home with assorted papers, pencils, stapler, or tape dispenser on it, so is the concept behind the Desktop of a computer. It can vary from person to person as each person can change it to reflect his or her working habits and styles. Below is an example of a Desktop.

the Windows desktop 

Back to top

Mouse Pointer

The Mouse Pointer typically looks like an arrow but can also look like an I beam or other object.  It enables you to see where the mouse is located on the screen.  As you move your mouse the Mouse Pointer moves.  You can change the image of the Mouse Pointer but we will not cover that is this lesson.

mouse pointer

practice recognizing mouse pointer 

Back to top


On the image of the Desktop previously displayed, we saw little pictures that were labeled My Computer, My Network Places, My Documents, and Recycle Bin. These pictures are called Icons. Icons are pictures that when selected (or clicked on) will do something. This “do something” is called executing. Selecting an Icon by clicking on it tells the computer you want to use that program. My Computer, My Network Places, My Documents, and Recycle Bin are standard Icons commonly seen on a computer.


icons on the desktop 

practice recognizing icons

Back to top

Shortcut Icons

If we look closely at the previously displayed Desktop, there is one picture that has a little black arrow in it. The little black arrow informs you that it is a Shortcut Icon. A Shortcut Icon will open a program that someone has added to the Desktop. The Shortcut Icon on our example Desktop will open the program called Microsoft Office Word, a program for word processing (typing a letter for example).

shortcut icon

Start Button

Located on the Desktop in the lower left corner is a Start button.  If you click on the Start button, a window will appear allowing you to select one of the options listed or access one of the Programs on your computer.  You can turn off the computer from the Start button as well.  A window similar to the one below will appear.

start button

start menu 

start practice

Back to top


It is possible to suppress the displaying of the commonly used Icons but it is recommended you don’t delete any Icon that does not have the little black arrow in it. It is equally important that you do not change a computer without the permission of the person who owns the computer.

Interesting Tidbit

You can change your Desktop so that it displays a picture. You can enlarge the Icons so you can see them better. Change the size of the Mouse Pointer or change it to be a different image such as a hand. As you get more comfortable with the Personal Computer, you may want to explore those options.


hand pointer 

Back to top

Vocabulary and Glossary

Allows for accessing programs and is the image on a monitor that consists of Program Icons, a Taskbar, a Start Button, and a mouse pointer.
Mouse Pointer
The arrow, I beam or other object that displays the position of the mouse on your screen.
Image or picture that when clicked on opens a program.
Shortcut Icon
Similar to an Icon but has a black arrow in the image or picture.
Start Button
This button provides access to programs, Help and Support, ability to change computer settings and turn off the computer.

Back to top

More Information

Change your mouse pointer:

Activate high-contrast on the desktop (good for vision problems):

Change your desktop background:

To visit the previous websites, place your mouse over the underlined link above then click. You must be connected to the internet in order for the link to work.

Back to top

Brought to you by the Clinton Essex Franklin Library System
and supported by Federal Library Services and Technology Act funds,
awarded to the New York State Library by the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.