Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How to Teach How-to Writing

Who: Elementary-aged students

What: Students practice procedural writing, an exercise that will make them think carefully and choose words purposefully. 

You can keep it easy and give students a pre-writing sheet to follow. (I wrote the handout for kids who will make a top tab book for their portfolder. If your students aren't making one, it doesn't matter how many steps they write.)

Or you can extend the lesson and choose from the following activities.

1. Watch the Sesame Street video to see what can happen when our instructions are vague. Nothing educational here...just fun.

2. Read mentor texts, such as How to Blow a Bubblegum Bubble or How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World or Apple Cake: A Recipe for Love or How to Teach a Slug to Read. Browse the juvenile section at the library to find more options.

3. If you have more than one student, invite them to choose a scenario from the list below (or one of their own).  Ask Student #1 to verbally give Student #2 step-by-step instructions to accomplish the task, stopping after each step to allow Student #2 to dramatize it.  To avoid misunderstandings, Student #1 will likely need to tweak the instructions. Change roles, allowing Student #2 to give instructions. (If you have one student, you can be Student #2.)

  • I want to enjoy a bowl of ice cream right now, but I’m not sure what to do.  Help me! 
  • I feel like I have a fever.  I think I should take my temperature, but I’m not sure how to do it.  Will you help me?
  • I just got out of my pajamas and need to put on my pants.  How do I do that? 
  • My recipe calls for an egg.  It doesn't seem right to drop the whole thing into the bowl.  What should I do?

4. Do a science experiment to practice procedural writing. When I taught at a homeschooling co-op, I performed the following experiment. It caught the students' attention and produced lively writing.
Put water into a clear 35-mm plastic film canister, filling about one-third of it. Set the canister on a tray in a place where you don't mind a bit of a mess. Drop half of an Alka-Seltzer tablet into the water, close the lid tightly, and get out of the way. Warning: expect an explosion.        ~from Flash! Bang! Pop! Fizz! by Janet Parks Chahrour, 13.
5. Gather ideas on a pre-writing sheet.

Questions to consider for drafting:
Will I write a paragraph or a longer piece?

What will be the style of my piece? Will I stick to the facts? Will I use a creative setting or character?

Will I write in first, second, or third person?

How will I introduce my piece? Will I write a question, make a statement, tell a little story, or do something else?  Will I write a sentence, a paragraph, or something in between?

Will my instructions be simple, or will they be specific, descriptive, and detailed?

Will I number my steps, or will I use transitional words and phrases to move the steps fluidly from one to the next (to begin, first, next, after, then, at the same time, meanwhile, finally, at last...). 

How will I close my piece?

A Paragraph by a Young Student
Pulling your teeth hurts, but at least you get money for them. First you fetch a piece of string and tie one end of the string around the doorknob. Next you tie the other end of the string around your tooth. Then you slam the door. Now your tooth is hanging from the door by a piece of string. Pulling your teeth hurts, but if you get a dollar for each one ($20 in all) who cares about the pain!
 I'd love to see the topics your students choose. Please share them in the comments.

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