Getting Ready to Write a How-to Book

My students have been working hard on their How-to writing.   I always enjoy reading students’ how-to pieces.  Not only do I learn about the students as writers, but I gain more insight into their areas of expertise.  Sometimes, I am very surprised at the topics students choose. Today, I would like to share some tools my students used to organize their how-to writing.

This post shows you how my second graders get ready to write their how to books.

I introduced this unit with two great mentor texts.  I chose one fiction,  How to Babysit a Grandpa and one nonfiction, How to Swallow a Pig.  Both of these books were full of specific examples, providing students with models for their own writing.  When conferring with students about their how-to pieces, I like to keep these books on hand to refer to as needed.

Two great mentor texts for how-to writing.  These books are perfect to carry with you during writing conferences as students write their own how-to books.

How to Babysit a Grandpa makes for a very fun read aloud.  I love using it as a mentor text because it is full of specific details and examples.  Each page tells about an important aspect of babysitting a grandpa.  You can find opening sentences, transitions, and examples that are very specific to the topic. Here is one of my favorite pages.

How to Babysit a Grandpa - an excellent mentor text for writing how-to books.

I also like to use a nonfiction text for how-to writing.  How to Swallow a Pig is a great book for showing how different animals have unique knowledge in how to perform certain tasks.  This book is great for prompting students to find a unique skill that they can share details about with the class.  This page is a great example of step by step instructions for how a leaf cutter ant farms for its food.  I like how it provides an opening paragraph for each skill.

*Bonus – You can learn a LOT of cool facts about different animals in this book!

How to Swallow a Pig - an excellent mentor text for writing how-to books.

After reading these books to students, I modeled how to brainstorm topics for their own How-to writing. We completed the organizer below with our areas of expertise.   I prompted students to think of ideas that were unique to them whenever possible.  We also discussed being specific (How to Steal a Base instead of How to Play Baseball).  You can download this organizer by clicking here or on the picture below.

Students use this free form to brainstorm areas of expertise prior to beginning their how-to books.

The next day, students brought their expert brainstorming sheet to the carpet.  I modeled how to select a topic and narrow it if needed.  I originally had “Taking care of a dog” on my expert sheet.  I explained to students how that was too broad.  I narrowed it down to how to feed a dog.

After narrowing my topic, I modeled how to use this graphic organizer to plan my writing.  I included details like making sure my dogs sits, looks at me, and waits for my command that it is okay for her to eat.  You can download this organizer here or by clicking on the picture below.

Students use this free form to brainstorm their steps prior to beginning their how-to books.

After they saw me model the process, students highlighted the topic from their expert organizer that they thought would work best.  Then they got to work on planning their own How-to writing.

We are now in the final stages of this writing project.  The organizer has been a great help during writing conferences throughout the writing process.  In the beginning, it helped students make sure they could choose an appropriate topic and identify steps.  Later, we referred to the organizer to talk about transitions and going step by step.  Next year, I plan on doing a little more modeling and conferencing with students prior to beginning drafts.  I think that will save me some time in the long run, especially with students who originally chose a topic that was too broad.

This post shares two great mentor texts and two free brainstorming forms for students to create their own how-to book.

Thank you!

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Teaching blogger for elementary teachers

Mary Wingert, licensed educator (K-12 Special Ed. & 1-8 General Ed)

I started teaching in 1993.   I have taught special education, fifth grade, and fourth grade.  I moved to second grade in 2015, and I am still there today.  

I believe in teaching strategies that are effective, differentiated, and engaging. I am looking forward to building a community of teachers who feels the same!  Read more here.