Giving Directions: Writing a “How-To” Essay

giving directions

By Jennifer Swanson

Directions. We follow them every day. Some of them are things we’ve just learned to do. But other directions need more explanation. How do you ride a skateboard? Or make cupcakes? You read the directions. A How-To” essay is simply an article that tells people how to do something. But are reading directions as easy as writing them? They are if you keep these things in mind:

1. Pick an interesting topic and think of awesome title.
The topic, if you can pick it, should be something your readers are interested in. Don’t write a “How to drive a car” article for middle schoolers. Try an article about “How to ride a skateboard” or “How to bake cupcakes”.
Come up with an awesome title. Remember the book “How to Train Your Dragon” by Cressida Cowell. What a fantastic title! I mean who wouldn’t want to learn how to train a dragon? So find something fun and catchy for your essay title. Maybe “How To Bake Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cupcakes” or “How to Keep from Falling Off Your Skateboard”

2. Write a clear introduction that summarizes your essay.
Tell the reader exactly what your essay is about. Define what you are doing. Riding skateboards requires balance, concentration, and training. But it’s fun and allows you to get places faster.
An essay about making cupcakes might address how learning to bake is a skill that everyone should know. So why not start by making something fun – and yummy at the same time!

3. Give steps in a logical order.
Using terms such as “First”, “Next”, “Then” and “Finally” or “Last” help the reader to understand the order they need to do things.
For example, “First you get the skateboard and place it on a flat piece of ground.” Or “First, gather all of the ingredients on the list and place them on the counter.”

4. Be specific in your directions.
If you are writing about how to make cupcakes. Tell the reader the exact ingredients needed. Be sure to include the amount of each ingredient. 1 tablespoon of salt instead of 1 teaspoon of salt could spell doom for your cupcakes. Salty cupcakes are NOT yummy.
If you are writing about how to ride a skateboard. Tell people to put on their safety gear. An injured wrist makes it tough to write any essays in the future. (And even though that may seem like a good thing, it’s not!)

5. Test it out.
No two ways about it. The best way to see if your essay works is to follow the directions yourself. Test out what you wrote. Does it work? Or do your cupcakes – or you—fall flat?
If something is missing, go back and add it in. If you can’t follow your own directions, no one else will be able to either.

Want to see an example of a great “How-To” Essay? Check out this one on Times for Kids: CLICK HERE.
Want to see a sample rubric for a “How-To” Essay? CLICK HERE.

Writing Prompt

Think of something you do every day. Tie your shoe? Brush your teeth? Make your bed? Pick one or think of your own and Write a short “How-To” article that tells someone step-by-step how to do it. Now give it to someone else. Have them follow your steps. Did they end up with the same result? I hope so.

Jennifer Swanson


Jennifer Swanson is a self-professed science geek and is always on the hunt to learn something new. Like any good scientist and author, Jennifer is rarely without a notebook and writes down her observations throughout the day. You can learn more about Jennifer HERE and at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com.

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