Standard Lesson

Writing Technical Instructions

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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Learning to write technical instructions is challenging. Writers must consider audience, purpose, context, length, and complexity—plus the specific content of the instructions, such as the steps in using a stapler.

In this lesson, students walk through the process of creating technical instructions by first analyzing existing instructions. They then select an item and an audience for which they will write technical instructions. After writing their own instructions, students conduct usability tests of each other's instructions, providing user feedback. Finally, students use this user feedback to revise their instructions before publishing them.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Teaching students how to write technical instructions helps them see that "to write, to engage in any communication, is to participate in a community; to write well is to understand the conditions of one's own participation-the concepts, values, traditions, and style which permit identification with that community and determine the success or failure of communication" (Miller 22). Similarly, in discussing finding meaningful writing activities for the English classroom, Weber writes: "The technical writing approach is one of many avenues to this goal. It engages my students in the total communications process: creating, planning, writing, editing, presenting, listening, sharing, and evaluating." Understanding discourse communities requires students to analyze the audience for a written work, and learning to write instructions is one such way students can learn about both audience analysis and technical writing. This lesson works toward building students' understanding of the importance their writing has on real audiences.

Further Reading

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.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 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

  • Sample technical instructions (Manuals, user guides, etc.)

  • Household items for writing instructions

  • Access to computer with Internet connection, Microsoft Word or Publisher, and printer

  • Large white paper (Chart-sized sticky notes work well for hanging items on wall)

  • Digital camera (optional)




  • Collect a variety of written technical instructions for household items for students to use to analyze. Try to collect both effective and ineffective examples. Examples are also available online, at the Websites listed in the Resources section. Review the examples to familiarize yourself with their features and effectiveness.

  • Prepare three or four examples of effective and ineffective written technical instructions, using those you gathered or online examples, to be shown on an overhead or a document camera.

  • Make sure students have access to computer labs during sessions two through five.

  • Prepare copies of all handouts for distribution in class.

  • Test the Notetaker on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • analyze technical instructions to learn what makes them effective or ineffective for an audience.

  • analyze and describe the audience for a set of instructions, noting what that audience needs from that document.

  • understand the difference between technical writing and other genres of writing.

  • use document and audience analysis, drafting, peer response/user feedback, and revision to create effective technical instructions.

  • reflect on their writing process, noting how this assignment will be useful to them in future writing.

Session One

  1. Ask students to talk about their experiences reading and using different types of written texts.

  2. Discuss the differences between the genres of different types of writing: literature, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, narrative, journalism pieces, pieces written in popular magazines, comic books, and others. Use the questions such as the following to guide the discussion:

    • How are these different?

    • How do these genres speak to different audiences?

    • How do these types of writing work toward different purposes?
  3. Ask students to focus on technical writing as a genre and to brainstorm the different kinds of written instructions they have seen or used in the past. Record their responses on the board or an overhead transparency.

  4. Then ask students to discuss what was effective and ineffective about those instructions, again recording their answers on the board or on an overhead transparency. Use the questions such as the following to guide the discussion:

    • What were they using the instructions for?

    • How helpful were they?

    • What were the best parts of the instructions?

    • What parts were difficult or hard to use?

    • What did they do if they had trouble using the instructions?
  5. Arrange the class in groups of two to four students each, and give each group a set of instructions from those that you gathered. If the class meets in a computer classroom, share the links to instructions included in the Resources section.

  6. Pass out copies of the Analyzing Technical Instructions, and ask students to analyze their instructions and record their observations on the handout.

  7. When students complete their analysis, bring the class together and have each group report on their set of instructions.

  8. On a sheet of chart paper, make a list of the top five effective and top five ineffective things students noticed about the instructions.

  9. Hang this paper on the wall in the classroom for reference during the next three class sessions.

  10. Ask students to bring one common household item to the next class session. Explain that students will write their own instructions for the item, so they should bring items that do not already have written instructions.

  11. Brainstorm and discuss with students what would make good items and what would be too complex.

  12. Encourage them to bring items that are not overly complex but not too simple either. Examples may include a stapler, clock, paper punch, flashlight, mechanical pencil, etc. Students should be able to write instructions for operating 2–3 features of the item. (For example, how to use a stapler and how to replace staples when cartridge is empty.) Encourage students to be creative in their choices.

  13. Gather some extra items from the classroom or your home before the next session so you have options for students who forget to bring items.

Session Two

  1. Review the top five effective and ineffective things about technical instructions from previous session with the class.

  2. Spend more time with this topic, asking students to create a rubric determining what makes technical documents effective or ineffective. Use the Sample Technical Instructions Rubric as a model or starting point for the task.

  3. Ask students to take out their household item, and spend five minutes freewriting about why they chose that item and how difficult it may or may not be to write instructions for it.

  4. Arrange students in pairs, and ask them to share the item they brought and their thoughts from the freewriting.

  5. Have students interview each other, using the Technical Instructions Planning Sheet to take notes about each other’s items.

  6. Once interviews are complete, have students begin drafting their instructions. Give them large pieces of white paper for them to design, or mock up, their rough drafts.

  7. Pass out copies or share an overhead transparency of the Visually Drafting Your Instructions sheet. Explain that students will draw separate boxes for each part of the item they want their instructions to cover, following the information on the handout.

  8. Demonstrate how to use the ReadWriteThink Notetaker to document the steps in instructions, sharing the Using ReadWriteThink Notetaker to Draft Instructions handout with the class.

  9. Have students use their notes on the Planning Sheet and their copies of the Visually Drafting Your Instructions handout to begin writing. Students can use the Notetaker to draft their instructions.

  10. After students have outlined their instructions using Notetaker, ask them to print their work. Work cannot be saved in the Notetaker.

  11. For homework, ask students to continue drafting their outlines using the Notetaker. Students should bring printed copies of Notetaker outlines to next session.

Session Three

  1. Review outlines created using ReadWriteThink Notetaker with students.

  2. Ask students to discuss how they will organize their notes into instructions, how many pages they will need, whether they need to include pictures to illustrate instructions.

  3. Ask students to sit at a computer and review the following sites, which discuss writing technical instructions.

  4. After students review the site, ask them to write down three things they learned that they will consider as they write their own instructions.

  5. Invite students to share their observations and discuss the advice as a whole class.

  6. Review the expectations for the project using the rubric students created during the previous session. Answer any questions that students have about the project.

  7. Explain the options that students have for creating polished drafts of their work. Point out the available software (e.g., Microsoft Word, Publisher) that students can use to type and format their instructions. (Depending on the class, instructors may need to instruct students on using the software to do this).

  8. Review the ways that students can add pictures to their work:

    • inserting Clip Art images.

    • drawing diagrams of their items using the computer or drawing by hand.

    • labeling parts or connecting the diagrams to the instructions.

    • importing images taken with a digital camera.
  9. Ask students to print copies of their instructions when finished.

  10. If additional time is needed, ask students to finish drafting their instructions for homework.

  11. Remind students to bring a copy of their instructions and the related item to the next class.

Session Four

  1. Students will bring a copy of their printed (complete) instructions and their household item.

  2. Pass out copies of the instructions for Conducting a Usability Test and review the instructions with students.

  3. Ask students to use the remaining class time to conduct at least two usability tests. Ensure that students understand that two different students will read and test their instructions for using the household item.

  4. If time allows, students can begin revising their instructions in class and consult with the testers as appropriate.

  5. For homework, students can continue working on revising their instructions. Students will finish revisions during the next session and submit their work.

Session Five

  1. Review the expectations for the project using the rubric students created during the previous session. Answer any questions that students have about the project.

  2. Have students revise their instructions, using the available resources—word processing software, clip art, and so forth.

  3. Encourage students to consult the notes from their usability testing as they revise.

  4. As students revise, circulate through the room, meeting with student to discuss revisions and offer suggestions.

  5. Ask students to print their technical instructions, staple or attach pages as needed, and present final products to the class or school by the end of the session.


  • Spend additional time exploring document design by exploring alternative publishing options such as pamphlets, brochures, and different-sized documents.

  • Rather than writing instructions for operating a common household item, ask students to write instructions for completing a basic task, such as making a sandwich or addressing an envelope.

  • For a humorous break, share this Wendy’s training video and ask students to discuss what was effective and ineffective about those instructions. Be sure to discuss when the video was produced and how the video fit (or didn’t) the needs of the audience at the time it was produced.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Collect students’ worksheets, including the Analyzing Technical Instructions and the Technical Instructions Planning Sheet, and the notes taken during the Usability Test. Review the work for completion and understanding of the basic goals of the lesson, including comprehension of the role that audience and purpose play in effective technical writing.

  • During class discussion and students’ work in pairs, listen for comments that show students can think critically about the goals and effective strategies for technical writing in general and specifically for instructions.

  • For a formal assessment, use the rubric created by the class during Session Two, which was based on the the Sample Technical Instructions Rubric.