Using the “How-To” in a 21st Century Classroom

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.


After reading Theresa Ducassoux’s article on We Are Teachers and how she used technology during her own “How-To” video projects, I wondered how would my How-To unit pan out today?

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.

Helpful Tools

There are many platforms available that allow for How-To videos to be created on any available device; including Shadow Puppet EDU, FlipGrid, iMovie , and Genius Plaza.

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.

How-To Ideas


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

How to Prepare for a Hurricane


Math:  word problem strategies, fractions, long division

Reading:  identifying the main idea, inferencing, answering comprehension questions

Science:  scientific method, make slime, origami

How to Find Character Traits

High School

Math: logic, algebra, Pythagorean Theorem, analyze data

Reading:  comparing texts, figurative language

Older:  read the periodic table of elements, conduct experiments

How to Cite Your Quotes

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!

Brenda Matos

Former teacher turned product designer on a mission to continue the work of making a difference in the lives of children by providing teachers with the right tools.

12 thoughts on “Using the “How-To” in a 21st Century Classroom

  • April 2, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    Great post. I’ve always believed that you can know how to do something but the more in depth you are able to explain it the more you actually understand it.

  • April 2, 2019 at 7:27 pm

    “How to Videos” are great for any subject area and a terrific way for students to show mastery.

  • April 2, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    As a long-time educator, I’ve always known and taught the importance of using specific, descriptive language when writing and/or presenting a “How-To” Project. But, wow…these videos are awesome! I never thought about incorporating technology in this setting. All the points you made were extremely insightful. Moreover, watching the student examples demonstrate their range of creative and excitement just made my heart melt! I will definitely be sharing these ideas and resources with my fellow educators! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  • April 3, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    I love the concept of ‘how-tos’. I love the videos displayed and i love how the students are the ones who are teaching us how to and you can see that they are happy and excited to do so.

  • April 3, 2019 at 2:25 pm

    As a 5th year teacher, I love the concept of making your students do a How to video, I think it makes the child understand that not every instruction can be straight forward and it also makes them truly understand what they are doing as they are presenting.

    • April 3, 2019 at 2:37 pm

      As a special education teacher I find the idea to use “how to videos” is awesome. For many of my students writing on paper and expressing thoughts can be difficult. The videos allow students to explain their knowledge of the topic by using something they have a passion for technology. Working hands on and visuals are always a better way for some of my students to learn. Thank you for sharing. This post is awesome!

    • April 3, 2019 at 2:40 pm

      I love this!!!! Besides being able to see in more detail what’s being done I feel it’ll also help with remembering how to do so next time it needs to be done and also maybe incorporate it in to a different project as well!!!

      • April 3, 2019 at 11:31 pm

        What an interesting read! I love how these resources are available and how they can be incorporated inside or outside of the classroom. Well done!

  • April 3, 2019 at 8:28 pm

    Even as an adult I’ve definitely used how to videos to quickly learn something and have encouraged my son to watch how to videos on youtube to help him learn things in areas I may not be strong in.

    I think bringing How to videos into the classroom is an awesome idea and a great way to combine critical thinking skills and technology. Life is packed with problems to solve, and students creating how to videos can make learning more fun and engaging, and allow them to have a deeper understanding of a particular topic.

    Thanks for adding the ‘ How to “How-To” ‘, it really makes it easy to get started right away!

  • April 4, 2019 at 6:55 am

    If the students are offered a video opportunity, they would love it! This generation grew up watching and admiring youtubers – this is such a great and interesting way to motivate them to write. It’s like they are creating a script first. I love this approach Brenda Matos. You’ve inspired me to introduce a new How-To writing format in my classroom. I needed a fresh approach! Thanks!!

  • Pingback:Celebrate National Poetry Month In Your Classroom

  • Pingback:Tech Tools That Help Parental Involvement

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *