Writing a How-To Essay Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

A how-to essay explains a process, or how to do something. The purpose of a how-to essay is to inform, or give informationm, to the reader. A how-to essay can describe how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, how to play baseball, or how do well on tests. How-to essays allow the writer to share and teach what they know or have learned. Your children should understand that finding the right topic for a how-to essay is important. The topic should be something they can break down into clear steps for the reader. Encourage them to ask the right question to explore. For example, “Why are pencils better than pens?” is not an appropriate question for a how-to essay, but “How do you sharpen a pencil?” has an answer that is clear. Encourage them to research resources to learn the different ways to do their chosen activity.

The first step in writing a how-to essay is thinking about all the materials needed to complete the process. Have your children think about all the supplies necessary to do the activity. Then they should organize ideas and think about the whole process. Encourage your children to use graphic organizers such as flowcharts or numbered lists to separate the process into distinct steps. They may want to close their eyes and imagine the entire process, sketch pictures, or practice naming the steps for a partner.

As they write the essay, they should use transitions to connect the steps and ideas together. They may want to use sequence words such as first, second, third, fourth, then, next, and finally. We recommend watching the Writing a Paragraph movie together as a review. Time-order words help the reader follow the steps more easily. After children have drafted the essay, they should check over their work to make sure all the steps are clear and proofread to correct any mistakes in grammar, usage, and punctuation. The final step is to publish or share the essay.

Empower children to share their knowledge and interests with others by writing how-to essays. Help them find examples of how-to essays in magazines, books, and websites and look at cooking, craft shows, or documentaries to see how how-to essays can be translated to other media.