Using Instructables to Teach Writing

Introduction: Using Instructables to Teach Writing

About: It's all about the process. The finished product is just a bonus!

I am currently a middle school English teacher. But long before I began teaching English, I joined this fantastic Instructables community and remain a staunch member, supporter, and all-around fan. So when I saw in my writing curriculum a chapter on writing a how-to essay, I immediately thought, "Why not do this on Instructables?!?"

Kiteman has already provided an excellent Instructable on using the site generally at school. Here I will be a little more specific and give you my experience teaching a how-to essay to a middle school English class using Instructables. Obviously, this can work just as well with high school students! I will leave it up to you teachers of other subjects to think about ideas of integrating Instructables into your respective classes.

Oh, and pssst, in case you didn't know, teachers may qualify to receive a complimentary premium membership. Click here for more.

Let's get started!

All images in this Instructable are used with permission.

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Step 1: Get Parental Permission

First, it's a good idea to get permission from the parents of your students before you start. Some parents are more cautious than others when it comes to their children opening online accounts, so let's err on the safe side. I send a permission letter home to the parents, and in it, I give them two choices:

  1. Child has permission to open his or her own Instructables account with parental oversight. In the Instructables terms of service, a child aged 13 and above may open an Instructables account, but until they are of legal age (which varies by country), the parent must supervise and approve of the child's use of the account.
  2. Child does not have permission to open his or her own Instructables account and will instead use a class account, which is managed by me.

To be quite honest, I have so far had 100% approval from the parents, so I have never had to create a "class account". I did have one situation where the student never turned in the consent form; in that case, I simply had the student do the project in Microsoft Word as a traditional essay.

Step 2: Get the Students Set Up

I encourage my students to set up their online accounts using generally-accepted internet safety measures:

  • username does not contain student's name
  • username does not contain students' sex
  • username does not contain students' age

I also require that the students give me their Instructables usernames and passwords. The reason is that not all of the students want to publish their Instructables; for some of them, the Instructable will only exist in draft form. By having my students' usernames and passwords, I can log into their accounts and review their drafts for grading. I tell them this at the beginning, so they are sure to choose a temporary password and not a favorite one that they use for other sites.

Once the project is completed, I instruct the students to change their passwords to ones only they know.

Step 3: How-To on the How-To Essay

The requirements of this essay are taken from the Holt, Rinehart and Winston Elements of Language curriculum, although I think many English curricula include a how-to essay. In short, here are the basic requirements of the essay:

  1. Introduction clearly identifies the activity or process.
  2. Introduction gives the reader a reason to learn the activity or process.
  3. The steps show a logical progression of ideas.
  4. The steps all have adequate explanation and elaboration.
  5. All details are relevant to the instructions.
  6. The conclusion restates the reason for learning the process and ends with advice.

I add other requirements for grading, such as grammar and spelling, completeness of their project folders (which contain prewriting worksheets), and general effort.

The students complete a rough draft, revise the draft themselves using a worksheet as a guideline, and then produce a second draft. The second draft is peer-reviewed by classmates (they log in and then switch seats). The second draft is also teacher-reviewed by me. After the peer and teacher evaluations, the students complete their final drafts.

The draft Instructables are not published...yet. After the final draft, I find out which students want to publish, and for those students, I get out the fine-toothed comb and go beyond the basic project requirements in my feedback.

If you want to know more about any part of the process, just ask a question here or feel free to send me a message.

Step 4: A Few Samples!

We just finished this how-to module a couple of weeks ago. Here are two Instructables from the class that have recently been published. Both of these have also been featured!

Mango FloatPaper Airplane Slingshot

And here are a few Instructables taken from my students' Draft folders. Grading has just finished, and so these have not been published yet. If they are, I will update the images below with a hyperlink.

French Bread PizzaDurian ShakeArroz con PolloCake Decorating

Step 5: Bonus Incentives

I provide the following incentives for the students:

  • If they publish an Instructable and it gets featured, I will give them 5 points of extra credit on whatever writing project we are currently working on (even after our how-to essay). If they win a prize in a contest, I will upgrade that extra credit to 10 points. This offer stands throughout the school year to encourage them to continue to pursue writing excellence!
  • I also reward the top authors with an Instructables achievement patch for their profile pages. As long as I still have some myself, I also give featured authors an Instructables patch or sticker and a 3-month premium membership. (I get them every now and then from being featured and from contests and judging.)

This is one way you can use Instructables in the classroom. I look forward to hearing other ideas you might have!

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    5 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Sounds like a great way to motivate your students. And judging by the variety of cultures represented by the first three samples alone ("French Bread Pizza/Durian Shake/Arroz con Pollo"), you also have an amazingly diverse student community as well! (I assume the Durian lover is Singaporean/Malaysian, because that fruit is a supremely acquired taste that few outside our region appreciate)

    Seems like a truly challenging and rewarding career.


    Reply 3 years ago

    You got that right! The students come from many different countries and continents. It's really cool. And you're close: the durian lover is not Malaysian or Singaporean, but our school is in the Philippines, which is another durian haven/heaven. :)

    Penolopy Bulnick
    Penolopy Bulnick

    3 years ago

    Sounds handy! I like the incentives you mention at the end :)


    Reply 3 years ago

    As do the students! Our new term has only just begun and one of them has already gotten a second one featured! :)


    3 years ago

    Great ideas, really encouraging. Some good tips on privacy / safety, and the bonus incentives are great too.