When I taught 5th grade, each spring I had the kids write “how-to” papers. Most used the topic from my example: “How to Tie Your Shoes.” After writing, they’d find a partner and read their paper out loud while the partner tried to actually follow the directions given to tie his or her own shoe.
It was always fun, though it was hard for the kids not to “cheat.” They already knew how to tie their shoes, so if a partner missed a step when giving directions, the other tended to fill in the step out of habit, making it a little harder for the writer to tell how effective their directions really had been.
Fast forward a bunch of years…
The technology we now have available opens up all sorts of opportunties for creating and presenting “How-to’s,” particularly with video.
On YouTube, there are millions of videos with directions “how to…”
Want to learn how to change a tire? to French braid your hair? to do the latest popular dance move? There are literally tens of thousands of videos to show you how to do each of these. (Which also presents an opportunity for lessons related to evaluation and reliability of a source…)
My son, who recently turned 5, has had two great loves for the last year or so: Legos and Super Mario. YouTube brings them together, with almost 100,000 videos about how to build Mario characters or karts out of Legos.
What I love it that he’ll watch the video and then actually try to create the same design himself. He’s watched so many videos that now, even when he’s creating something that’s his own design, he narrates (to himself), explaining what he’s doing as he goes. Now he’s all excited to start making videos of his own.
Using videos could make the how-to assignment I gave my 5th graders so much more effective. Not only could students try out the directions of their classmates, but they could share, compare and assess directions from students anywhere in the world.
And because they could be trying something new to them, like building a particular shape with blocks, they would have to actually follow the directions step-by-step, making it much easier for the writer to know if his or her directions were complete and accurate.
Some of the incredibly many possibilities:
1) How to Build a Particular Shape or Pattern Out of Legos or Blocks
- a basic pattern (ABAB, ABBABB, etc.)
- a random design
- a geometric shape
- model of a molecule
- an object or character
2) How to Do an Academic Skill
- How to diagram a sentence
- How to multiply a two-digit number
- How to look up a word in the dictionary (a skill I think computers haven’t yet completely eliminated the need for…)
3) How to Conduct a Science Experiment
- So many possiblities at all different levels, whether it’s how to to change the color of flower petals by coloring the water or creating some sort of chemical compound
I think this would be particularly effective and interesting for experiments that take place over time. For example, during a study of pollution, my students grew grass seeds in paper cups, and then “watered” each with different liquids at a range of pH levels: lemon juice, soap water, milk, glass cleaner, etc. We took pictures every day to monitor the changes, and video would work well too. Students could explain the changes each day and make predictions about what would happen next – especially when unexpected things happen, like the styrofoam cup one student used dissolving from the acids poured on the grass in it!
4) How to Make a Craft or Art Project
- How to draw a face
- How to make a paper airplane (which could count as science, possibly, as well) or an origami design
- How to tell the difference between Cubism and Surrealism
5) How to Do Something You Love to Do (My Favorite Possiblity)
Give students a chance to show off what they know and love, what they are passionate about:
- How to track baseball stats
- How to knit a scarf
- How to play the violin
- How to do a magic trick
- How to jump rope
- How to organize your backpack
- How to make a clay sculpture
- How to do a basketball lay-up
- How to…
I think my favorite part would be how much I would learn from my students!