Posts Tagged writing lesson

STEM Tuesday Exploration— Writing Craft and Resources

How-To

From how to trouble shoot your printer to how to complete your tax forms, we all use procedural texts every day. Some procedural writing is boring, rigid, and downright miserable. Ugh. But it doesn’t have to be.

Discovering a brand new, fuzzy, four-legged species, exploring a volcano on the barren desert called Mars, escaping quicksand — scientific exploration is full of procedures packed with fun!

You’d think writing down the steps to a process would be easy, but – as any educator who has survived the first week of school knows – teaching “how to” is a bit more challenging than teaching “what.”

You pick: teach someone what the Large Hadron Collider is (a machine for speeding up particles so scientists can study them) or how it works (umm . . .).

See, it can be kind of intimidating. You have to really know what you are talking about. No wonder young (and old) writers struggle. Even writing about something a little easier, like dissecting a roadkill skunk, requires lots of decisions. Hard decisions about who the audience is, what to include, and how to present the information.

Never fear, STEM Tuesday is here.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis month’s book list includes fantastic examples of writing about processes. Consider a multi-step, safety-critical process like blasting off to Mars presented by Pascal Lee in Mission: Mars (page 14). Some of the techniques used include: simplified numbered steps, sequential art, and detail-rich explanations. Lee re-uses these techniques on page 24 for the steps of landing on Mars.

Some questions for close reading:

  • How does the use of numbered steps add to procedural writing?
  • What aspects of page design help the reader?
  • Why might an author repeat techniques in order to explain additional processes in one text?
  • Is the author’s purpose primarily description or exposition? What leads you to that conclusion?

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe passages in Mission can be compared with more familiar approaches to procedural writing such as a fun submersible-building activity in Jennifer Swanson’s Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact (page 24) and/or a passage on how to pull a leech off your skin in Not for Parents: How to be A World Explorer (page 14).

Some questions for close reading:

  • What common elements of procedural writing do these authors use?
  • How are illustrations used in these examples?
  • What words, techniques, or signals indicate that these texts are instructional as opposed to descriptive? (For ideas, compare to pages 14 and 24 of Mission: Mars.)

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgFor a different take, check out a graphic novel. Starting on page 39 of Smash! Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe with the Large Hadron Collider, author Sara Latta and illustrator Jeff Weigel present their version of how the Large Hadron Collider works (see, it is possible). Their trick for turning the super technical into something readable while avoiding snores? Sequential art, characters who themselves need thorough explanations, and labeled diagrams. Breaking the complex process down into chunked steps, spread over several pages, didn’t hurt either.

Some questions for close reading:

  • What common elements of procedural writing are found in this text?
  • How does this passage differ from more traditional procedural writing?
  • How does this explanation compare to that of another complex sequence, such as that on page 14 in Mission: Mars.

Try it Yourself

  • Study an example of procedural writing. Identify a technique used by the author. Re-write the passage using a different technique. For example, convert the passage on leech removal into graphic novel form or write it without numbered steps.
  • Re-write a piece of procedural writing with a different point of view. Does that change the impact of the passage?
  • Write the steps for a familiar activity (eating pizza, shooting a basketball, cleaning up dog poop). The first time, write it in 5 steps. Re-write, providing only 3 steps. Re-write again with 10 steps. What’s different? Which was hardest? What audience might need each version? Which do you prefer?

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are WILD about animals. She reads and writes while high in a tree, standing in a stream, or perched on a mountaintop boulder. www.HeatherLMontgomery.com


THE O.O.L.F. FILES

This month, The Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files look at some not-so-ordinary ways STEM skills aid in exploration and expanding our knowledge base.

In addition to generating new knowledge, mind-blowing discoveries, and amazing high tech innovations, exploration can cause damage. One concern: pee and poop. From designing a space suit to handle six-days of pee to turning poop into plastic, people are getting creative to solve this problem.

  • Invisible Universe Revealed: A NOVA episode on the Hubble Telescope, its use in exploring the universe, and how an observation at home became a solution to fix Hubble’s “poor eyesight”.
  • Data Exploration: The digital revolution has allowed massive amounts of information to be collected, stored, and shared. Below are a few examples of how this data allows deeper exploration of the world around us.
    • Sabermetrics: The science and analysis of baseball data has changed the game of baseball forever.
    • Bioinformatics: The accumulation AND sharing of genomic sequences from all types of life have revolutionized life science.
    • FiveThirtyEight.com is a data-driven outlet that studies news, politics, sports, and society. (Their real-time election analysis & discussion is fabulous.)