How To Teach How-To Writing, by Elizabeth Swartz

Once they learn how to organize lists and thoughts into a piece of writing, kids will be amazed at how much they're able to teach others

Children enjoy making things and sharing their "how-to" knowledge with others, but their creativity often freezes when they pick up their pencils. Let's try for a "creativity thaw" this month as we teach "how-to" writing and also give the children a chance to teach each other.

I begin by preparing a basket full of slips of paper on which are written things such as How to get to school on time, How to surprise your dad, How to get good grades, How to get a sibling to quit bothering you, etc. I ask the students to describe, orally, how to do these things.

Next I like to do a large group project – teaching a new game, demonstrating a craft or helping the kids make a nutritious snack. Once I've demonstrated the activity and had the children repeat it, it's time to prepare for writing.

Step by step.
First, I ask the students to make a list of the ingredients or supplies we used. Then I put a blank flow chart on the overhead or board and ask the students to help me fill in the steps. After that, I divide the class into groups or pairs that work on combining the list and the flow chart into a "how-to" article that they write together.

Project swap.
It's fun to work on this project with another class. We send them our set of articles to try, and my class attempts to follow directions the other class has written. The students quickly realize the importance of clear instructions. Some students decide that a numbered list is the way to go and some want to include pictures of various steps and the finished project. I've found that students get more excited about writing when they can include pictures.

Working backwards.
Another day, I provide the class with only a flow chart for making a craft or snack. From that, the students compile a supply list, create a finished product and write directions for another class to follow without the flow chart. If you aren't able to work with another class, divide your class into groups.

A few days later, I give my students a how-to article from a teacher's manual or children's magazine. They follow the directions and again list supplies and make flow charts. At this point, I ask the children to write how-to articles for one another. Students can use the reproducible page to fill in the steps of playing a game, making a snack or assembling a Halloween costume. Once the page is filled in, students can use it as notes for writing their articles, then they can exchange the completed articles and follow the directions.

I hope how-to articles show you how to have fun teaching writing!

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts #8:
Students use a variety of technological and informational sources to gather and synthesize information.

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts #12:
Students use written language for their own enjoyment and/or for purposes of sharing information.

For a printable version of the reproducible click here. PDF 87KB


Elizabeth Swartz is librarian at Watsontown Elementary School and Turbotville Elementary School in PA.


Writing