One of the units at school requires students to write a process essay, or a how-to essay. I found the concept was hard for the students, so I produced a lot of material to help them.
Earlier I put up one example process essay with an activity designed for Halloween. Another thing I used was incomplete instructions on something they probably don’t know how to do. The idea was to show them how to write detailed and complete instructions by showing them what incomplete instructions look like.
So I gave them a small piece of paper with this written on it:
Read the following instructions on how to register an Internet web site. Are these instructions clear? Can you follow them? Or do you need some more information?
Registering your own Internet address is easy and fun. Then you can put a webpage up with anything you want.
You need to go to a special website that registers addresses. Then you need to decide on an address for your site. There are different web addresses that end in different domains like .com, .net, and .org. So make sure you get the right one for you. And pick an awesome name because you will have that same address forever. Then you just fill in some information on that site.
Congratulations! You have your own website. Now you can put up a blog or video or pictures!
After students read the directions, I asked them what they thought. They told me the directions were great (maybe because I am the teacher and can do no wrong?). So I asked them if they were ready to register a site.
“Oh, yes,” they said unwittingly.
“Great,” said I, “Please go ahead.”
After a few blank stares, I asked them to get out their iPods or whatever and try to register a site. That elicited what I had wanted in the first place, namely:
“But teacher, we don’t know which site to go to.”
“Oh, I didn’t say which site. OK, Two popular sites are godaddy.com and register.com”
“But teacher, what’s the difference?”
“Well, Godaddy costs more but register.com provides fewer services,” I told them, making it up as I went along.
At this point, they were starting to catch on, so I asked them, “What’s the difference between .com, .org and .net? How do you pick an awesome name?”
And finally a student asked what this other information was on the form, and didn’t we have to pay any money?
To wrap up I elicited all the questions they still had on the board. Then I basically reread the paragraph with the missing information included (I could have had a better essay ready, but I didn’t know what exactly they would notice) so they had a good model.
Next time I will add a fun game a colleague mentioned to me, which is asking them to tell you how to put on your coat and following their instructions literally. It’s a chance to play Mr. Bean and it does demonstrate the need to give details and be specific (Put your RIGHT arm in the RIGHT sleeve).
The follow-up for homework was to have them write up a short description of how to do something. The next day in class, they swapped and added what they needed or wanted to know to each other’s directions.
Overall it was a fun and rewarding lesson.