I became very excited when I first read this prompt. Hey! I am a teacher! This is going to be fun. Especially since we are concluding our unit in writing on how-to pieces!
But then… *crickets*
Uh… What am I going to write about? I could teach you to make something – brownies, pasta sauce, sugar cookies, buffalo chicken nachos… Or I could write a how-to about making paper snowflakes. That’s what I did at school for my students. I could teach you to make a paper fortune teller, or how to be a bucket-filler, or how to choose a ripe pear. But those aren’t really unique ideas. None of my ideas really spoke to me at all, honestly. How did I conquer my writer’s block?
Well, I didn’t. I drew a blank, and I gave up.
Then it occurred to me: I would consider that behavior unacceptable in my students. I wouldn’t let them choose not to complete the assignment because they “couldn’t” think of something, or “didn’t like” their ideas. I would’ve told them to choose something and make it work.
Last week I had my students complete a writing assessment required by the district. I give them a writing prompt and they have 40-45 minutes to write on the topic. I am not allowed to give them any help, guidance, or feedback during writing time. The prompt asks them to think and write a true story about something that happened to them or something they did. Every time I give this prompt, about 12-13 of my students begin writing immediately. The other 3-4 sit with a look of fear plastered on their faces and appeal to me for help. What am I allowed to tell them? Nothing, other than some encouraging words. Just do your best! Think of something that you’ve done and write about it! You can think of something! And eventually they do. (As a side note, their narratives this time around were good – I was very impressed with their progress).
It’s hard to watch them struggle and not be able to offer any help. As I struggled with coming up with a good idea for the daily prompt, I thought to myself… wow. If it’s hard for me to come up with a good idea, an idea that I can really devote myself to, is it really fair to be asking this of students? This is a low-stress situation for me – it really doesn’t matter whether or not I actually respond to this prompt. In their first grade minds, do they know that this is an assessment used to keep track of their developmental writing? Probably not. But they do know that their teacher is asking them to do something difficult, and it is important because she said there is absolutely no talking allowed, which happens very rarely in our classroom. They also know that they work very hard to please their teacher, and they want to do something they can be proud of, so that she will be proud of them too. The stress level there is higher than it is for me, laying in bed at home, contemplating a blogging prompt.
Generally speaking, during lessons where we write narratives, how-tos, fictional stories, whatever the topic or genre – my students have a few days to plan and brainstorm ideas. We never just start writing, unless it is an informal journal entry, usually where they are allowed to choose the topic. So I chewed on some ideas, and decided to write you a first-grade how-to on writing a how-to.
How to Write a How-To
Pencil, pen, or markers
Crayons or colored pencils
A computer with a word processing program
A typewriter, if you’re old school like that.
Have you ever struggled to teach someone to do something you’re good at? Sometimes it can be tricky to properly give instructions to a friend when you want them to learn how to do something. In this how-to you will learn how to properly write your very own how-to piece!
First, create a list of things you are an expert at doing. Read over your list and choose a topic that you would like to write your how-to on. You can either write your list (and how-to) with your pencil, pen, markers, and paper or using a computer.
Second, write a list of all the things your reader will need to complete your how-to. This is called a materials list.
Third, write an opening or introduction for your how-to. It helps to start with a question like, “have you ever…” or “do you know how to…” because it draws the reader in. Next, tell them what they will learn in your how to or why they should keep reading it.
Now it’s time to write out the steps. Carefully think through every step of your how-to. You don’t want to leave anything out! Write the steps down in the order that they should be done. Read over them to make sure you have all the information you need.
After you have the steps written, you will want to go back and add in transition words. Transition words are words like first, second, third, next, then, after, last, and finally. These words help the reader know what the steps are and the order to do them in.
Next you can write the closing. The closing usually sums up what you’ve written in your how-to and tells the reader what they can do now that they are armed with this knowledge. Sometimes the closing tells the benefits of knowing how to do this new activity, using words such as, “enjoy!” or “have fun!”
After the closing is written, you can go back and add pictures to your steps. Pictures are very important in a how-to because it gives the reader a visual aid as they attempt to follow your steps. Use your crayons and colored pencils to make your pictures interesting and pleasing to the eye.
Finally, you can add labels to your pictures. Labels will also help the reader to better understand the directions you give in the how-to.
Now you have your very own how-to book! You can make your how-to into a little booklet and give it out to friends and family. Try following these steps again to write how-tos on a bunch of different topics. You can write how-tos on how to make food, crafts, or how to play games and sports. Be creative! Happy writing 🙂