Teaching How-To Writing, Part 1

It's always fun to start a lesson by saying, "Ok guys, I want you to pretend I'm an alien just for today." If you choose to do that, it's best to have a concrete plan about what type of alien you're going to be, because you will get lots of questions about number of antennae you have and suggestions for the colors of your space suit.  (For demographic purposes, I had two antennae and 6 googly eyes.  My spacesuit was purple.)

I introduced myself as an alien to start my How-To writing unit.  My students had been having trouble getting a complete thought on paper- they were often leaving important things they meant to say off, and then inserting them back when they read it aloud.  I asked them to think about what might happen if an alien landed in their house; how would they teach me all about living on planet Earth? We brainstormed a bunch of things an alien has to know, which was a really fun discussion.

I read them a How-To book called Let's Make a Kite by Jack Stokes, which is really old but it serves its purpose.  We noticed that the author included steps and illustrations to make the reader understand how to build a kite.  We also noticed that there were not too many words on each page, and that the sentences were short and sweet.  In the future I will try to find a mentor text that's a little more current, but our theme is kites and that's the one I had around!

I also showed them the poster I made from the book, so they could see the simple sentences in action.

When we finally started the writing process, I had them think of 6 things they could do with their eyes closed.    From there, they chose the thing they were the best at.

We discussed how, for example, if you're teaching the alien to get dressed, you can't just say "Put your socks on." Because where will the alien get the socks from? And what if she puts them on her antennae and leaves the house? Another example we used was, you can't just say, "Cook the rice." Cook it in what? For how long? Cook it where? Doing this exercise really opened their eyes to how specific you have to be when you are writing and speaking.

We talked about using sequential transition words- this student really wanted to use then for every single one but I talked him out of it.  You can't see it, but the very last line on the left and #5 on the right says "out of the pot NOT WITH YOUR HANDS!" because I played devil's advocate with each and every line they wrote and said things like, "Ouch! my hand is burning! You didn't tell me not to touch the egg!"  Or, "Wait...should I put the whole bottle of gel on my hair?"

This example is from my student who has the hardest time writing, but he really blossomed with this activity! He was so excited to show me something he could do. It took many, many, rough drafts but he got it! We had some difficulty understanding the difference between flower and flour and he still doesn't get it, but I will continue to work on that.
awww he made an alien!

Today when my kids came in they had the sillies, so while we were editing our final drafts, I had them go into a corner of my room and try and complete their own instructions.  I meant to do it as an individual activity to get the wiggles out, but the peals of laughter coming from the corner eventually brought us all over and we ended up watching as each kid tried to complete their own task in pantomime.  That was fun and I can see doing it as a listening activity- we will be repeating it for sure!

Stay tuned for part 2, because we're doing more How-To writing next week with Oreo's. For more great writing ideas, check out my pinterest board! Follow Everyone Deserves to Learn's board ESL Writing on Pinterest.  Yum!


  1. This is a great idea! I can just hear my kids asking me what I look like as an alien! Thanks for sharing.
    Hunter's Tales from Teaching

  2. I love the idea of acting like you are telling an alien how to do something. I also think it is great that you had them go and try to complete their own directions. It looks like your planning page was very helpful. Your students' work samples turned out very nicely.

    Eclectic Educating

  3. Great idea! I bet you had their full attention at the word alien!!! I'm your newest follower. :)
    Creating Lifelong Learners

  4. How fun! That is just too cute. I love the "NOT WITH YOUR HANDS" haha

  5. Thanks for linking up! Loved this post....stealing the alien idea :)

    Across the Hall in 2nd Grade

  6. That is such a great opening, I love it! I will definitely use that one in the future! I found your blog through Tpt and I am your newest follower! :)

    Fashion Craze Learning Days

  7. I love this, Maria!! So glad you linked up! Your organizer looks so helpful for the kiddos. I love how you had the boxes on there. I've never heard of Let's Make a Kite before. I'm going to check it out! Thanks for the tip!

    Second Grade Sparkle


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