One of the best parts of the adoption of CCSS is that it opens up the opportunity to design and explore new units and lessons. The same is true of new textbook adoptions and grade level changes (though this last one also lets you explore new levels of stress). I was intrigued by Writing Standard 7: Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g. explore a number of "how-to" books on a given topic and use them to write a sequence of instructions). This was something that I hadn't done in my classroom before, but it made a lot of sense when thinking about adult literacy skills, both in college, careers and in day to day life. After all, following instructions together or with someone else, and giving directions are common adult activities.
My class and I had enjoyed a previous lesson related to this standard, Future Vets of America, in which students participated in a collaborative research and writing project that confirmed the feasibility of such work by first graders. However, when I reviewed their work, I found that most of the class had skipped critical steps. With this lesson, I wanted to show them the importance of being very careful in explaining every step clearly and in sequence. Teaching them the importance of using well-developed details also supported them in writing effective informational paragraphs (W.1.2).
For today's how-to topic, I chose peanut and jelly sandwiches because most kids are familiar with them and like them, and I could set some "traps" for them during the process that would make them think about being specific and clear. (CAUTION: make sure you are 100% certain you don't have any peanut allergies in your class; otherwise, substitute, for example with smores or ham and cheese sandwiches).
I told the class that we were going to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but that I had forgotten how to make them, so I would need help.
A fun activity to add to this lesson is to teach them the Peanut Butter and Jelly song.
To make sure that they were able to write directions that would allow anyone to reproduce the process that they were describing, I wanted them to have a very clear understanding of the steps involved in making the sandwiches from scratch. To start, I laid out a closed jar of peanut butter, a closed jar of grape jelly and two slices of bread, and a plastic spatula.
Then I asked them to call out to tell me what to do first. This part can get a bit noisy, but it is fun, and it really shows them why we have to be specific and clear when giving directions. You need to take everything they say literally and try to follow their directions. It helps to have paper towels handy!
When I did it, students called out things such as, "Put the peanut butter on the bread!" I would put the peanut butter jar on top of the two slices. After the giggles died down, they said, "Open the peanut butter jar and put it on the bread!" This lead to more giggles and an open jar on top of the bread slices ... You get the idea! ...
After a few of these I stopped and suggested we think and talk about it before we continued.
Once I started getting specific, well-developed directions, I had them echo them. For example, the first one was "Get two slices of bread." We repeated: "First you get two slices of bread." The next good suggestion was: "You open the jelly jar, get some jelly on your 'knife' [we used craft sticks instead of knives] and spread it on a slice." We repeated: "First you get two slices of bread. Then you open the jelly jar, get some jelly on the 'knife' and spread it on a slice." It seems tedious, but the class was thrilled with the idea of making (and eating) the sandwiches and was engaged through out the lesson.
When I finished making the sandwich, I told them it was their turn to make their own but that they had to write directions for making it as they prepared it. I reminded them of our rule when dealing with food: nobody eats (or prepares) until everyone has what they need. I gave each a paper plate, a wooden craft stick, a napkin, two fourths of a slice of bread, and a blob each of peanut butter and grape jelly.
Eating and cleaning up! Lot's of smiling also.