Blast from the Past
The first time I taught a “How-To” writing unit was in 2009. It was my first year teaching and the idea of a 21st Century classroom was a thing of the future.
I started the unit by making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The kids had to coach me and got a kick out of me putting the jar of peanut butter on top of the bread. The students laughed but realized the importance of being direct and descriptive. Upon choosing their topics, we ventured through the Writing Process; and after several revisions, they presented their work. One student taught us how to pack a carry-on, another walked us through tying a shoe. They were so proud of their work, and I remember wishing I would’ve recorded it.
10 years ago, How-Tos in daily life were foreign to my students. They asked, “Why do we need to do this?” I had to use grown-up examples like giving directions, following a recipe, or training someone new at work. Nowadays, children spend an average of 6 hours a day in screen time using platforms like Youtube to watch kids make slime, play video games, and review toys. They live for the “how-to”, and incorporating the phenomenon into the classroom would be more of an incentive than work.
This activity can be a guilt-free unit as it aligns perfectly to the Common Core State Standards. According to CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W. .2 , teachers should be guiding students to “write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.” How-To writing is a great way to address this learning standard while providing an authentic experience. The key to creating an engaging How-To project for kids in the 21st Century is using what they covet most: technology.
How to “How-To”
Model: Create your own video using the Genius Plaza app. Then play the video through the website on your projector or interactive whiteboard. The model video would be a great opportunity to show different versions of steps and how that would effect the outcome.
(Quick Review: I love the ease of the Genius Plaza app, as well as the ability to approve/request revisions of the student’s content. The parents can access their child’s work from their own accounts and the work the students submit can be graded from the website.)
Set guidelines: Use rubric. What is expected? I would allow the students free range on what topic to choose, but the key would be that they would still use the Writing Process to write out their script and go through revisions. Peer reviews would catch any missing or unclear steps. Have the students venture through, the incentive being able to create the video at the end. Also, keep in mind that some students are camera shy. Let’s not force them. What I love about Genius Plaza is their range of creation tools. Students can create an eBook with images of their How-To’s!
Standards: Many to choose from depending on the subjects being addressed. Reading standards can also be incorporated because the students would need to do some research. Don’t forget all the 21st Century Skills being addressed like communication, media literacy, and productivity. Allow them to work in groups to add collaboration to the mix.
Math: place value, Skip counting, addition/subtraction
Reading: decoding, compound words, using pictures to guide reading
Science: the life cycle of a plant, butterfly, and/or frog
Math: word problem strategies, fractions, long division
Reading: identifying the main idea, inferencing, answering comprehension questions
Science: scientific method, make slime, origami
Math: logic, algebra, Pythagorean Theorem, analyze data
Reading: comparing texts, figurative language
Older: read the periodic table of elements, conduct experiments
The possibilities are endless. Moreover, through Genius Plaza, the students can reflect on each other’s work, have a product that they can share with their families, and look back at their work with pride. Trust me, your “How-To” unit will serve as an interdisciplinary experience that they will always remember!