In the Classroom

Introduce the activity with a demonstration.
To help students think about the kind of writing they will be doing in this activity, ask them what the following types of writing have in common: recipes in cookbooks, rules of play that come with games, instructions that come with things that must be put together and scout manuals and other "how-to" books. (All have clear, logical steps for the reader to follow; they usually assume that the reader has no previous knowledge of how to do the process or task.)

Now demonstrate or have students demonstrate a simple process such as sharpening a pencil. Ask the students how they would explain this process to a visitor from another planet or someone from a very different culture. What would they say is the first step? It may be useful to perform the task more than once, allowing students to stop the action and list each step on the board.

Discuss how important it is to keep the reader in mind: The writer of instructions can't assume the reader will know anything about what is being described. Consequently, the writer must remember to include even seemingly obvious directions in his or her explanation. For example, steps in sharpening a pencil would have to include which end of the pencil to sharpen, which way to turn the handle of the sharpener, how fast to turn the handle, and so forth.

Set the stage for the demonstration that the students will be writing about.
Using the materials you have gathered in step 3 of the Preparation section, provide a context for the demonstration. If, for example, the students will be seeing a demonstration of bird banding, you could discuss the relevance of this activity and its ramifications for scientific research. If students will be watching a demonstration of glassblowing, discuss how industrialization and automation have changed the way in which glass products are made.

Last Modified September 19, 1997