Working in groups of 3-4 (or however many kids you have at each science lab table), kids will discuss the following prompt: Your teacher, Ms. Warndorff, is kind of an alien. She's NEVER eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! Can you and your group members explain to her, in writing, how to make a pbj?
I tell the kids to discuss for 2-3 minutes, and then everyone will write down the groups' ideas in their notebooks.
At the end of the 5 minutes, I choose a speaker for 1-2 groups and have them read their explanations, step-by-step.
As the first kid is reading, I am acting out EXACTLY what they say using real peanut butter, real jelly, real bread and a knife or spoon.
Note: During this time, kids like to shout out "No. Not that!" and they often try to change their steps, make sure they read EXACTLY what's in their notebooks and that they do not edit their steps until later in the lesson.
With their original groups, kids go back to the drawing board, so to speak, and revise their explanation for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. One the white board I have the following prompts to help make them successful in their second attempts. Kids can make their edits on their original posters, or you can hand them a second piece to see the progression from first to second revision.
How much peanut butter, jelly and bread?
What do you do first? Second? Third? ...
Note: During this time, I am walking around and acting out some of their steps if I think they aren't specific enough. Asking them, "What do you mean by put peanut butter on bread? How can you make that more clear for someone who has never seen this done before?"
It is important to act out EXACTLY what they have written in order to drive home the point of being specific. If you say "put jelly on bread" what do you mean by that? Exactly how do you want me to put the jelly on the bread?
After the students rewrite their explicit PBJ directions (hopefully more specific this time), a few students share their work. We go through the process of reading the explanation (one person from the group presents), and I act out these directions (exactly).
At this point at least one of the groups gets it right. If this is not the case, follow through with the final group's explanation and solicit edit suggestions from students. Questions to ask might be:
How can we change "add the second piece of bread" to make it more specific and to get the result we are looking for?
How can we make this step more specific? What are we looking to accomplish?
After one successful explanation has been reached and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich has indeed been made, facilitate a group conversation about the importance of being specific when giving and following directions.
(Kids can write these in their personal notebooks or this can be a partner-to-partner or whole class conversation.)
What did we observe the first time I tried to make the PBJ?
What revisions did your group make that helped Mrs. Warndorff to successfully make a PBJ?
Why do you think being specific is important for scientists in the classroom?
Note: This lesson addresses the standards W6.2, 6.3 and MS ETS 1-1 because it allows the students to address the problems and constraints of their own writing. It encourages them to be as specific as possible using language that is able to convey a procedure. Students will be writing, revising, and writing again in order to achieve the proper procedure.