How To Teach A Group of High School Students How To Write a "How To" Essay

1) Spend your weekend skiing and hanging out with friends and not planning for your nonfiction writing class.

2) An hour and a half before your class is to begin, rush to the library to find an inspiring yet brief essay that high school students will find enlightening and entertaining.

3) Finding none, begin to panic, not knowing how you are going to fill the hour and twenty-five minute class.

4) Arrive to class late and hungry since you skipped lunch in order to go to the library.

5) In a moment of spontaneous brilliance, calmly tell the students, that, according to plan, today we will write "how to" essays.

6) Ask the students to list topics that might be suitable for "how to" essays.

7) Write the responses on the board, misspelling at least one, just to see if anyone is paying attention.

8) Tell the boy who prefers to be called by his internet gaming name, that simply telling how to play his favorite video game is not adequate, though you won't necessarily be able to come up with a coherent reason why except that you do not care to read an essay, even a very short one, about how to play a video game.  As you try to explain that these are essays meant for a general audience, and that the interesting part of the essay is not necessarily what you are explaining how to do, but how you choose to say it, you come off sounding like a cranky old lady who can't relate to the younger generation, setting at least a couple of the students against you.

9) Wish that you had a very fine example of a "how to" essay written by a celebrity that all the students would admire.

10) Tell the students they have 20 minutes to write their own "how to" essay.  Remind them to just start writing, to not worry about whether or not they have a good idea, that ideas come from the physical act of writing and not from sitting and trying to think of the perfect thing to write.  Feel a little foolish saying it, since they have all heard it so many times before that they finish your sentences for you.

11) While some begin to write, sit and worry if it is even good advice to begin with.

12) Walk around and remind the students who have their phones out to put their phones away.  Feel like a cranky old lady again when they take out an earbud to tell you that they are just picking some music to listen to.

13) Squat down beside the morose girl with her head on the desk and ask her very quietly if there is something that she would like to write about.  When she says no, suggest a topic that you think she might like to write about since you have seen her drawing a particular animal in her notebook.  She says she doesn't know anything about that. You tell her she probably knows much more about it than most people since she once told you that she keeps several of those animals as pets. Tell her you think that would be a very interesting thing to write about.  Instantly regret saying it because from the look on her face you can tell that this news makes her want to write about it even less.  Still, encourage her to get out her paper and start writing until she finally does, just to make you go away.

14) When most of the students have begun to twirl their pencils and look exceedingly bored, suggest that it is time to share.  When no one volunteers, call on the student most likely to not refuse.  While listening intently, try to think of a pity and useful comment, but having thought of none, say, "Nice start!" Repeat until no one else is willing to share.

15) Talk vaguely about essay structure, hoping that will carry you to the end of class.

16) Realize that there is still 20 minutes of class left and try not to panic.

17) Be thankful that one of the students suggests that they keep working on their writing.

18) Sit down and keep your mouth shut until the bell rings.

19) When the bell rings and the morose girl rips up the paper she was writing on, think to tell her that all writers, no matter how experienced, have days when they feel their writing is shit, that it's just part of the process of trying to express yourself.

20) Instead, smile and say, "Have a nice day!"

21) Later regret not having said the thing which probably wouldn't have helped anyway.


  1. I wish I was back in High School!

  2. Sounds like another meeting of department heads at a well known institution, although at least they are being paid for their mutual suffering.