“But, Mrs. Waters…YOU’RE the teacher! I’m just a little old 6-year-old!” This is my all-time favorite reaction from a student when I told her it was her turn to teach the class. We were at the very beginning of our how-to writing unit, and I had totally bombed the first day of the unit when half of my students drowsily half-listened to my lecture about using first, then, next, + finally. It was right after lunch + recess, in my defense, but…your girl was struggling in the engagement department.
The thing is, teaching how-to writing in the early elementary classroom is one of the units with the most potential for engagement! Here are 3 tried and true ways if you are looking to get your students excited about how-to writing.
How-To Writing Idea #1: Teach the Teacher
In a setting where students are most often on the receiving end of instruction, it can be absolutely thrilling for students to become the expert.
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Let’s talk Expert Days, Teach the Teacher Days, Demonstration Days—whatever you want to call them.
This can be a quick one-day, one-lesson thing, or you can really go all out and turn this into a thing. Let’s explore several options:
Option #1: One-Day Only
Students are randomly chosen to teach the class about their chosen skill. In a classroom setting, this is ideally how to do something, how to make something, how to draw something, etc. Students who are chosen come to the front of the class to teach their skill. Pretty straightforward.
Pros: Quick + easy
Cons: Less prep time for students; not everyone gets a turn
Option #2: Get Extra + Make It a Thing
Students can be assigned demonstration days. They choose an expert skill prior to their demonstration day; this can be a skill chosen from their how-to journal or a brand new one of their choosing. Ideally, you’ll tie a writing assignment to this project. Students will have to create a how-to procedure manual or list that they will use to plan and present on their demonstration day.
Some of the more popular topics students have done in the past include: how to tie your shoe, how to get ready for a soccer game, and how to spell your name using LEGO.
Pros: Super meaningful + authentic, highly engaging
Cons: Takes a lot of time
How-To Writing Idea #2: How-To Writing Prompts (With a Twist)
How-to writing prompts are always a good idea. You can brainstorm your prompts together as a class, or you can find pre-made prompts online. I like to use various how-to themes so students get to write factual procedures but also get to use their imagination a little (for example, on I Think Thursday, students get to write how-to instructions for hypothetical situations. Like, how to make a lion roar 😉
How-To Writing Idea #3: Partner Draw
This can be done several ways depending on the state of your classroom. Ideally, students would turn back-to-back with a partner. One student gives directions how to draw an item of their choosing, and the other student follows the directions to the detail. The most important thing here is that the recipient of the directions does not know ahead of time what they are being instructed to draw.
The goal here is that students will learn the importance of being thorough. Something as simple as a smiley face can be much more difficult to explain than we initially think. It’s quite hilarious to see not only the results of the drawings, but also the instruction-giver’s reaction upon seeing the often–very inaccurate–drawings.
Students giving the directions can silently choose their item or, the teacher can tell the item to the direction givers while their partners briefly leave the room. You can also choose to flash or draw the item on the whiteboard while the guessers are not looking.
In addition to a smiley face, some other commonly-known simple items are:
- A shape
- A letter
- A number
- An animal
- A word (this is a challenge for sure!)
And there you have it! Make sure to download the Hello, I Am An Expert name tag templates here.