Planning for How-to Writing, FREEBIE!

Hey friends! We have recently started our unit on how-to writing. Since we are just getting started, our focus this week was on planning and organizing our ideas. This can be a challenging stage of the writing process for any student, but modelling certainly helps!
Planning Stage for How-to Books, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

I love this FREEBIE chart that I got from The Teacher Wears Prada. Having students move their name clips from stage to stage helps to reinforce their understanding of the writing process.
Planning Stage for How-to Books, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

Occasionally, you have some students that are really passionate about certain topics and have a wealth of ideas, but most of the time I have found that it's challenging for the majority of firsties to brainstorm multiple ideas for how-to topics, so I start out by modelling some for them. I thought aloud (a lot) about whether I knew enough about a topic to add it to my collection of ideas. Of course, I tried to add many ideas that they could relate to.
Planning Stage for How-to Books, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

I passed out clipboards (we were gathered on the rug) with a graphic organizer like my chart and asked them to list some of their own ideas. We discussed how all of them would be able to add "how to get dressed", but many of them would not list "how to play an instrument" if they were not already taking lessons for one! If you would like a copy, click on the picture/caption!

Planning Stage for How-to Books, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
I made the center frame blue simply so that it would print in gray scale making it easier for the kids to see which column they were writing in :)

Students sat and thought (and sat and thought some more!) for about 20 minutes. A lot of them copied my ideas, which was totally fine for now- they need a starting point, however, a lot of them were able to think about something unique that they actually knew how to do. Here is a sample of one student's organizer:
Planning Stage for How-to Books, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
FYI, the "for Bees" are our school rules! 4 Be's: Be Honest, Be Responsible, Be respectful, Be Safe.
Such a sweetie, this student definitely follows the rules!

The next thing I asked students to do was try to select 1 idea from each box to "test", meaning the 5 finger test- you should be able to explain at least 5 things (including materials and 4 or 5 steps) for that how-to topic. Lucy Calkins refers to this as "trying on a topic" (to see if it "fits" you!)

I paired up students and had them share their topics and conduct their topic tests. In the end they had to select 1 topic that they felt would be the best to write about. The friend above will be going with the topic, "How to Make a Paper Lantern". Can't wait to learn about that!

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back in soon as we share more about our how-to writing unit!


  1. Looks good Karli! I'm looking forward to reading more.

    :) Shelley

  2. I just pinned this post for future reference - thanks for the fantastic ideas & freebie writing planner! Jen :)


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