Standard Lesson

How-To Writing: Motivating Students to Write for a Real Purpose

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 40-minute sessions
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What do students need to know to succeed in fourth grade (or third or fifth)? What supplies are needed? What rules and steps should be followed? These and many other questions provide the framework for students to write how-to essays for a specific audience—future fourth graders. Although this lesson focuses specifically on fourth grade, it can be easily adapted for third or fifth graders. Students first learn about the how-to writing genre by reading an assortment of instruction manuals. This also demonstrates how how-to writing relates to their everyday lives. The teacher then models each step of the writing process as the students write about how to be successful fourth graders. After students publish their writing, the final drafts are saved for the following year's fourth graders to read at the beginning of the next school year.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Students need to understand that there are purposes for writing other than for the teacher to read and grade it. Writing how-to essays has been found to be a successful alternative to the traditional research paper or teacher-based essay.
  • How-to writing is a genre that appeals to most students because it is applicable in the world. This genre involves exploring interests and needs to identify a topic, conducting several research methods, and working through the writing process.
  • When students' writing has an authentic audience beyond the classroom teacher, they can see a direct connection between their lives and their literacy development.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computer with Internet access and LCD projector
  • Assortment of instruction manuals as examples of how-to writing
  • Chart paper
  • Overhead projector and transparencies




1. Gather a few instruction manuals to use as examples of how-to writing in Session 1. Possible items include instructions for board games, recipes, and instructions from a children's craft magazine.
2. Be prepared to model appropriate steps in the writing process each session. Steps of the writing process include prewriting, writing a rough draft, revising, proofreading, and writing a final draft
3. Visit and familiarize yourself with the Essay Map. If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, arrange one 40-minute session in your school's computer lab (see Session 2). Bookmark the Essay Map on the computers your students will be using.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Recognize that how-to writing is a genre they encounter in their everyday lives
  • Identify the characteristics of the how-to writing genre and incorporate them into a how-to essay about succeeding in the fourth grade
  • Identify the audience for their how-to essay (i.e., future fourth graders) and shape the essay to appeal to this audience
  • Apply the steps of the writing process to complete the how-to essay

Session 1

1. Pass out the instruction manuals you have gathered in advance of the lesson to groups of students (see Preparation, 1) and ask them to take five minutes to scan the manuals, focusing in particular on the characteristics they notice in the samples.
2. After five minutes, ask groups what they found in each manual. List the characteristics on a piece of chart paper and post it in the classroom for future reference. These characteristics may include logical sequence, enough detail for someone to read the directions and easily complete the activity, and the materials needed.
3. Explain to students that they are each going to be writing a similar instruction manual for the new fourth graders to use at the beginning of the next school year. Their writing prompt is how to succeed in the fourth grade. (You can easily modify this lesson for whatever grade you teach.)
4. Introduce the concept of audience. Discuss the audience of the students' essays and what students feel will be important for future fourth graders to know. They are now the fourth-grade experts. Discuss how their audience will not know any of the rules and procedures so their explanations will have to be very detailed.
5. As a prewriting activity, use an overhead projector and have students brainstorm a list of materials needed for the fourth grade. Students can then choose which materials are most important (maybe all) and include them on their How to Succeed in the Fourth Grade: Graphic Organizer.
6. On the overhead projector, make another list of the rules for fourth grade, and have students again choose the most important to include on their graphic organizers.
7. Using the overhead projector once again, ask students to brainstorm the steps for success in the fourth grade. Have each student choose the steps he or she feels are most important and to include them on the graphic organizer.

Note: This prewriting activity allows students to work together to brainstorm ideas for their writing, but it also allows for each essay to be different, as students may choose different materials, rules, or steps for success in the fourth grade.

Session 2

1. Give students the How-To Succeed in the Fourth Grade: Writing Rubric. Discuss the expectations for the writing assignment as described on the rubric. Focus the discussion on how students can achieve a score of four in each category.
2. Model for students how to use the Essay Map to help them organize the information from the How to Succeed in the Fourth Grade: Graphic Organizer. For example, information about the supplies or materials needed for fourth grade can comprise the first paragraph of the essay and should go in the box labeled Introduction. During this modeling, show students how to add detail and explanatory information that would be relevant for the audience of their essays.
3. Emphasize the importance of keeping the information organized in the map, because they will use it to write their first draft. You may instruct students to write one paragraph about the supplies needed in fourth grade, one paragraph about the rules for fourth grade, and one paragraph about how to succeed in the fourth grade. This organization makes best use of the information students recorded during the prewriting stage.
4. Have students fill in their own Essay Maps using the information from their graphic organizers. They should print their maps when they are finished.

Session 3

1. Model for students how to use their Essay Map printouts to begin drafting their rough drafts. Tell them to skip lines as they write their drafts to allow for revisions and proofreading marks.
2. Circulate while students are working to offer support and answer questions.

Session 4

1. Begin this session by showing the Peer Edit with Perfection! Tutorial. [You may also want to access the lesson "Peer Edit with Perfection: Teaching Effective Peer-Editing Strategies" to give students more practice with peer editing.]
2. Discuss how to work with a partner to help each other improve and revise the rough draft (i.e., make positive comments first, ask detailed questions, and accept your classmate's comments without becoming angry).
3. Have students work with a partner to review each other's rough drafts. Students should first switch papers to read silently. They can then use colored pencils to make comments and suggested changes. Make sure that students remember to discuss spelling, punctuation, and capitalization errors that they notice in each other's essays. They should also ensure that the essay includes the characteristics of how-to writing (as posted on the chart paper in Session 1) and is appropriate for the intended audience of future fourth graders.
4. Ask students to revise their essays based on the peer editing for homework.

Session 5

1. Bring students to the computer lab to access the Power Proofreading website. This site has grade-appropriate activities for students to practice their proofreading skills.
2. After students complete the practice activities online, they can begin proofreading their own essays using the Correcting and Proofreading Checklist.
3. After making appropriate corrections, students can prepare their final drafts.
4. As a reflection activity, discuss with students how they felt about this writing activity. Ask questions, such as:
  • What did you enjoy most about this activity?
  • What did you learn about how-to writing as you went through the steps of the writing process?
  • What would you do differently the next time you write a how-to essay?


Students may choose a topic of interest to write another how-to essay. For example, students may choose to write instructions for how to play a board game or a sport that they enjoy.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Use the How-To Succeed in the Fourth Grade: Writing Rubric to assess students' writing.

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