Objective: Students will discover the importance of descriptive language in expository writing through this exercise.
Time: Approximately 1 hour
What You Will Need: 9×12 paper, manilla envelopes, writing paper, pencils, crayons, rulers, and other drawing materials.
Preparing For The Project: Introduce How-To writing to your students. Reading a how-to essay to the class, or following the steps of a how-to essay are both great ways to help students to understand the direction their work will need to take. For a couple of great illustrations and writing prompts, check out this blog: http://lasotaslittlelearners.blogspot.com/2012/01/how-to-writing.html
Discuss with your students how important it is to consider each step carefully as they prepare to describe the process they are about to explain. As a common illustration of this, I’ve seen teachers bring a loaf of bread and some jelly to the classroom. The teacher will ask the class to explain how to make a jelly sandwich. Many times, a student will offer the instruction, “Spread the jelly on the bread,” and the teacher will smear jelly over the bag of bread. Because the students’ assumed that the teacher would already know that he or she should take the bread out of the bag, they forget to include the instruction.
Illustrating how important descriptive language is in how-to writing is often very beneficial to the students as well. Similar to the illustration above, a student may offer, “Put the jelly on the bread,” as a sufficient instruction. Often times the teacher will place the whole jar of jelly on top of the bread. Using specific adjectives and other descriptive language helps the audience to understand the instruction given. In this case, spread would be a much more descriptive verb than put.
To Illustrate this further, students will help a classmate create a work of art.
1. It is now your students’ turn to practice how-to writing. Pass out drawing paper, writing paper, pencils, rulers and crayons to the students. Students can work independently to draw and write their instructions. The assignment is for students to describe how to draw a clown for a classmate. As they draw on one piece of paper, they will also write the steps of how to draw their clown on their writing paper. Remind them to use their details generously. Is the paper landscape or portrait? What materials come first? What size is each shape? Where does each shape belong? What is the name given on the crayon that is being used? Can another child repeat what I am drawing without seeing the artwork? Students should use as many of the tools as they can to be as descriptive as possible. Give students approximately 45 minutes to draw and write.
2. When the students have finished their drawing and their writing ask them to double check their work. Students will then slip their drawings into the manilla envelope and staple the instructions to the outside of the envelope.
3. Later, pass out another piece of drawing paper and the sealed envelops to a different student, or if you have the luxury, trade your packet with the packet from another class in your grade level. The object is to give the packet to a student who is unfamiliar with the artwork inside.
4. Students will follow the steps that were written on the front of the envelope give to them. Invite the students to be as literal about the instructions they are following as you were when you put the jar of jelly on the bread. The exercise works best if students do not assume any missing information. Students will need about 15 minutes to complete the steps on the envelope.
5. Allow time for your class to meet and collaborate with the writer of their packets. Discuss what important information was missing, and how the writer could have instructed their audience more effectively. Allow time for students to give positive feedback as well.
Assessment: Students should have access to the drawing that was made from their writing. Guide the students through a self-assessment process, or create a rubric for students to gauge their level of success in the exercise. For further illustration, find a few students who may be willing to volunteer their writing to be an example to the class. As a class, re-write the steps. Post them on your classroom blog and a invite readers to respond with a photo!