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posted: Mon, Jan 15th, 2018
Nandy Felix and Leah Swaim follow a how-to model to decide how it can be improved

How to write a good how-to 

Gina Ciccarella tests the clarity of the instructions for making a snowman by following the steps to make one  

If you’ve ever put together a piece of furniture, you know. Directions that seem crystal clear at first glance somehow become hieroglyphics when you have tools in hand and are doing the actual assembly. And even when things do make sense, that missing period at the end of a sentence or misspelled word scream out to be noticed.

Teacher Kelly Wilson didn’t want the how-to’s her second-graders had written to suffer the same pitfalls. She created a special assignment that would inspire her kids to think critically about the ways that instructions can go wrong and compel them to put themselves in the shoes of the readers of their own how-to’s.

Mrs. Wilson had students follow a how-to she’d written, which intentionally contained errors and oversights, some subtle and some obvious. As the kids went through the steps of “How to Make a Superstar Snowman” out of construction paper, they saw and understood some of the problems that could arise. They made revisions to Mrs. Wilson’s directions and critiqued her writing using the same rubric that she would use to grade their papers.

Was everything in the proper sequence? Were important details missing? Were the steps easy to follow? Were grammar and punctuation perfect? 

The kids even used the same color-coded comment system that Mrs. Wilson uses: red=needs editing, yellow=detail that was added, and green=great word choice. The students thus became teachers themselves – an instructional technique that has been proven to reinforce subject matter and help students retain information. 

“With some critical and minor detail missing from the model, we ended up with a few different looking snowmen,” said Mrs. Wilson. “ I was amazed at how much detail the students wanted to add to my example. These awesome writers now know how important each writing trait is.”

Armed with added insight, the students then went back to put the finishing touches on their how-to’s. It was the final step in the writing process which took students through the prewriting and sharing of ideas, the step breakdown and outlining, the first draft, addition of detail, editing and final revision.

The topics that students had chosen to write about tapped into their hobbies and interests. They included how to set up for a soccer game, how to make a slime tree, how to make a box fort, and how to play Jenga.

Informational/explanatory writing is an important part of the second-grade language arts curriculum.

That’s not dirt on their hands, it’s science

Fifth-graders recently learned that sometimes science means getting your hands dirty.

Students in Tricia Mitchell’s class engaged in a multi-day science project that wasn’t just hands-on, it was hands-in. Their mission was to purify containers of muddy water by separating out the dirt, sand, and gravel.

Working together in small groups, the kids were not given any instructions to follow. They had to come up with the process themselves using the tools they had available: wire mesh in two different sizes, coffee filters, pipettes, strainers, and cotton balls.

And as if that wouldn’t be messy enough, the group had to separate the impurities and weigh each type, comparing the weight of the initial volume of water to the combined weight of the separated substances and clean water.

The groups had to log the precise steps undertaken. When the experiments were completed, the students were asked to objectively examine their processes, evaluate what worked well and what did not, and write what they could have done differently and more effectively. They also created posters that summarized their findings. 

All students were able to see the practical applications of what they were doing.

“My uncle and I like to go camping,” said Richie Vanatta. “If we were lost and came across a river or a lake, we might be able to filter the water if we had to.”

This school year, the district implemented a new elementary science curriculum that focuses on discovery and exploration. The new curriculum, which supports the Next Generation Science Standards adopted by New Jersey in 2014, engages students with experiments and experiences that let kids see science in action. 

The science experiment was part of the fifth-grade’s study of the properties of matter and the differences between mixtures and solutions. 

Anthony Gonzalez works on his dream

Dreams for the world

Devon Marques’ first-graders have dreams:

"I have a dream that one day all people will show respect to everyone they see."
– Sophia Botros

"I have a dream that one day all people will give money to charity and share things with people that need it."
– Aryan Patel

"I have a dream that one day all people will stop smoking because it's bad for your health and lungs."
– Sachit Kulkarni

"I have a dream that one day all people will stop littering."
– Jillian DiPietro

Those dreams echo a famous speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for good reason. They were written as part of a series of lessons about the iconic civil rights leader. 

The students watched historical videos on the Discovery Education website about Dr. King and the inequality in 1960s American that he fought against. In learning about his impact on society, the students also discussed the concepts of fairness and respect.

“The kids really only know how things are now so It was eye-opening for them to learn that people weren’t always treated so equally,” said Ms. Marques.

The students considered the changes they thought would help make the world a better place and the class compiled a master list of ideas. Each student then wrote a personalized statement expressing his or her wish for the future. 

The dreams were posted on a bulletin board outside the classroom for all to see, along with snippets of information about Dr. King and his legacy.

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Sandshore School
498 Sandshore Rd Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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