Last updated: 2/19/2013


Grade K/1 - Writing - How-To

  Subject:   English Language Arts (NYS P-12 Common Core)
  Grade:   Elementary, Kindergarten, 1st Grade
  Unit Title:  

How - To

  Approx. Number of Weeks:  

3 weeks

Unit Summary:

This ELA how-to unit is taught within writing workshop. Students will recall procedures they can do, and lay out the directions for the procedure starting from the beginning and proceeding step-by-step to the end. They will use numbers or transitional words to make the text understandable and will include conventions of the text, such as periods, parentheses and colons. They will reread their text and revise for clarity, sequence and detail, and missing steps. Skills and content are taught as mini-lessons within the writing workshop structure. Students take what they learn in each mini-lesson and try it in their own how-to writing. The classroom teacher confers with students about their writing process.


Next Generation Skills Addressed:
   Collaboration & Communication
   Creativity & Innovation
   Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
   Research & Information Fluency
   Social & Emotional Intelligence

1. What will students know and be able to do?


W.K.2 - Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.

W.K.5 - With guidance and support from adults, respond to questions and suggestions from peers and add details to strengthen writing as needed.

W.1.2 - Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure.

W.1.5 - With guidance and support from adults, focus on a topic, respond to questions and suggestions from peers, and add details to strengthen writing as needed.

Essential Understandings:

Writers of non-fiction use writing to explain, teach and inform. 

Writers of non-fiction communicate factual information to their audience.

Writing in non-fiction genres helps people understand what they read in nonfiction genres.


Essential Questions:

Students will know:

Understand the difference between narrative and procedural writing. 

How-to writing (procedural) is nonfiction writing that teaches others how to do something. 

How-to writing is clear, sequenced, and includes explicit detail.

How-to writers think about the needs of their readers when they write. 

Common features of procedural writing are diagrams, numbered steps, and special cautionary statements.

Common conventions of procedural writing are periods, parentheses and colons.


Students will be able to:

Write to give directions or instructions on how to do something.

Rehearse for writing by saying aloud what (s)he will write and sketching the steps. 

Write directions following an appropriate sequence.

Make the text understandable by using numbers or transitional words.

Include periods, parentheses and colons in his/her writing.

Work with a partner to reread the text and revise for sequence, clarity, explicitness and any missing steps.

2. How will we – and they – know?

Authentic Performance Task:

Common Benchmark Assessment:

Answer the following question:

How is a how-to book different from a story? 

Student Self-Assessment and Reflection: 

What did you learn as a writer in this unit?

Students should score a 3 or 4 using the PCSD District Writing Rubric.


pcsd grade1 writingrubric2009..pdf

pcsd gradeK writingrubric2009.pdf



3. What learning activities will students participate in?

Learning Activities:

What is how-to writing?

  • Show multiple examples of procedural writing (i.e. from games, recipes, assembly, books).
    • Discuss basic features (pictures, words, illustration with captions).
    • How is this type of writing different from a story?
  • Read a mentor text that can be referred back to in future mini-lessons for time-order words, specific language.

How-to writing: an introduction to the process (whole group)

  • Day 1
    • Review features of a How-To Book.
    • Choose a How-To topic familiar to the whole group.
    • Model writing a How-To book using this topic.
  • Day 2
    • Read and follow the procedure written in Day 1.
    • Discuss reasons the model is clear and sequenced.
    • Revise model as necessary for clarity.
    • Brainstorm other possible topics for independent writing.

Students become the teachers: independent writing of how-to books

  • Day 1
    • Reread the group How-To book.
    • Review the steps taken in writing it.
    • Students choose their topic, plan their How-To book and begin writing independently.
  • Day 2
    • Students continue writing.
    • Teacher uses conferencing to clarify differences between narrative writing and how-to writing.
    • Author’s Share will focus on “smart things” students are doing in their How-To writing.
  • Day 3
    • Show children a published How-To book and review the steps taken in writing it.
    • After reading the book, have the students share with a partner 1 or 2 things the author has done that they will try to do in their writing today.
    • Students continue writing.
    • Teacher continues conferencing with students and using the Author’s Share to focus on “smart thinking”.

Checking for clarity

  • Choose a student to read their How-To writing to the teacher. Students will watch the teacher attempt to follow the directions.
  • Students brainstorm ways to revise the original instructions.
  • Teacher re-enact procedure with revised instructions.
  • How did the changes improve the writing?
  • Students work with a partner to read, follow, and provide feedback for each other's directions, then revise as necessary.

NOTE: Teachers may take an additional 1-2 days for mini-lessons and writing/revising time based on student needs.

Revising words and pictures

  • Choose a child's writing that needs revision.
  • Have a different child or adult read the writing while the teacher dramatically follows the steps.
  • The author adds clarifying details.
  • Model how to mark (with sticky notes, highlighter, colored pencil) confusing sections to guide revision.
  • The class will help the author clarify a confusing section through specific words and/or pictures.

Incorporating features of how-to writing

  • Day 1
    • Look at a How-To page of writing to explicitly point out features that one author used.
    • Display a chart with these features.
    • Pass out How-To books for students to look at independently or with a partner to look for similar or additional features.
    • Choose one additional feature to add to chart.
    • Go through the chart and have students indicate with a thumbs-up/thumbsdown whether they found that feature in their text.
    • Give students independent writing time to revise their writing to include these features.
    • During the Author’s Share time, go through the features on the chart one more time, having the students look for the features in their own writing.
    • You may spend an additional day using this same process, but with a variety of How-To texts, such as game instructions, memos, etc.

Editing: using periods, parentheses, and colons

(This aspect of the unit may be done through individual or small group conferences or at the culmination of the unit.)

  • Display an example of How-To writing that uses the punctuation you want to highlight.
  • Have students discuss the punctuation they observe with a partner.
  • Discuss observations as a whole group.
  • Make multiple copies of one student's text and have students work with their partners to add periods.
  • Reread the text and show them where the periods belong.
  • Repeat this process having partners find instances to add parentheses.
  • Students choose a piece of writing to prepare for publication.

 Opportunities for Differentiation

Raise the challenge level by having students invent steps in areas of personal expertise, rather than well-known procedures.

  • Provide greater scaffolding for struggling writers by sharing additional examples of How-To writing and/or by doing a think aloud with a topic similar to the one they chose.
  • With a small group of students who are ready, study Gibbons’ writing and have them observe the structure of “lists with a twist” (special endings).
  • Copy an example of How-To writing without pictures, numbered steps, captions, and so on to allow the children to experience the resulting confusion.
  • Go in-depth with ways to make pictures more instructive.
  • Use a flip video camera to record a procedure. Watch, rewatch, and pause as many times as necessary to analyze the process and write clear, sequenced steps with explicit detail.
  • Use a camera to take pictures of individual steps of a process. These pictures can then be used for sequencing; as a prompt for whole group, small group, or individual How-To writing; as a visual aid for revision.




Units of Study for Primary Writing:


Nonfiction Writing – Procedures and Reports by Lucy Calkins Session 1


The Conferring Handbook by Lucy Calkins Pages 67-73 


Conferring With Primary Writers by Lucy Calkins “Can I Show You How Writers Find Ideas?” and “What Are You Teaching Your Readers?”


Units of Study for Primary Writing: Nonfiction Writing – Procedures and Reports by Lucy Calkins Session 2


The Conferring Handbook by Lucy Calkins Pages 64-66


Conferring With Primary Writers by Lucy Calkins “Which Part Goes Where?”


Units of Study for Primary Writing: Nonfiction Writing – Procedures and Reports by Lucy Calkins Session 3


The Conferring Handbook by Lucy Calkins Pages 64-73 Conferring With Primary Writers by LucyCalkins Part 6


Units of Study for Primary Writing: Nonfiction Writing – Procedures and Reports by Lucy Calkins Sessions 4 & 5 


The Conferring Handbook by Lucy Calkins Pages 64-73 


Conferring With Primary Writers by Lucy Calkins Part 6 


Units of Study for Primary Writing: Nonfiction Writing – Procedures and Reports by Lucy Calkins Session 6


The Conferring Handbook by Lucy Calkins Pages 34-36 & 70-73 


Conferring With Primary Writers by Lucy Calkins Part 6




Discipline Specific Considerations:

Vocabulary – Specialized and High Frequency 

Genre – a category of literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.

Topic – the subject of the book.

Directions – a set of explicit instructions.

Steps – individual parts of a process.

Revision – revisiting a piece of writing and using strategies to make it better.

Clarify – to make or become more easily understood.

How-To (procedural) writing – nonfiction writing that teaches others how to do something.

Sequence - the order in which things are related.

Diagram – labeled picture.

Time-order words – first, next, then, after, finally.

Periods – the mark used at the end of a complete thought.

Parentheses – a pair of marks to enclose a word or group of words.

Colon – the mark used before a list.


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