Communicating with Others
Time: 3 Hour
The Big Idea
Students will learn that clear and accurate communication, especially written communication, is important. Through discussion and a messy activity, they learn about “technical writing” — a type of writing they will become familiar with as they learn to troubleshoot and fix computers.
Students will develop their written communication skills and sequential thinking by researching and composing a definition for technical writing and writing a set of instructions.
- Students will be able to write more precise step-by-step instructions
- Students will be able to better understand the need for planning and precise thinking when they write
- Students will understand that technical writing is a special type of writing that will be useful when they do tech support
Step by step instructions are important. Without exact language and specific details, how would we be able to follow directions or learn something new?
There are three reasons we start this course with an activity on technical writing.
1. Technical writing is clear, factual, and helpful writing. Part of successful tech support is the ability to clearly communicate problems and solutions to others. Everyone has horror stories about technicians who can’t communicate. Our goal is to create tech support agents who are solutions, not problems.
2. Technical writing is similar to programming. Some of your students will be interested in pursuing programming as the course goes on. To program, you must learn the language of the computer, and these languages must be used carefully and precisely. it’s not hard to do, but starting this course with the same emphasis on care and precision in ALL written communication means the student who wants to will be that much closer to understanding programming.
3. Writing is an academic task that helps make this course more than just an internship. For this course to succeed as an academic course, the reflective process that writing requires is mandatory.
Starting with technical writing also allows the teacher to start evaluating and working on improvements from day one. Have the students use the blog on the Generation TECH site, and require good writing practice. The project tool is another opportunity for good writing and assessment.
- Read some of the online resources for descriptions of technical writing.
- Decide how rigorous you will be in requiring citations when students are blogging their Internet research results. If your school does not have citation style guidelines, you can find different citation guidelines at: Online! Citation Styles. (Note that online citation formats are still being decided, you will find conflicting information.)
- Be sure to address the very common confusion between a web “site” and how you “cite” a source. “Site” means a place, as in “job site”. “Cite” means to refer to, and is most often used in research and journalism where you “cite” a source of information by writing down exactly where you found it. These two homonyms are often mixed up.
- Find out your school’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) regarding students doing Internet research, downloading material, and copying.
This activity makes a mess (and it’s better if you do!) Lay down wax paper where you will be working. You may need to spread peanut butter on the desk or something as crazy if the instructions are incomplete.
- Wax paper
- Simple cleaning supplies
- Peanut Butter (skip peanut butter if allergies are an issue)
- Butter Knife
Most of the students will be familiar with technical manuals (sometimes called documentation) from some kind of consumer electronics like a camera. The start of this activity is a class discussion about the nature of these manuals. Before starting the activities, talk to the students about manuals. Use questions to help them find their own answers.
- What is a good manual?
- What kinds of things do manuals have in them that other writing doesn’t (novels, textbooks, or a newspaper)?
- Why do we or should we care about technical or any other writing?
The conclusions the students come to should revolve around things like, “making things work”, “making things easy to understand.” Proper syntax and language use helps eliminate misinterpretation. Sometimes the word choice we use in our everyday conversation can cause more confusion than clarity in meaning. The concept of “process”, meaning a series of tasks leading to a goal, is important, as is “sequence”, meaning the order of those tasks. Technical writing usually describes a “process” in “sequential” order.
Finally writing gives us the opportunity to make it better. How many times have you had to say to some one, ‘that was not what I meant’ or ‘this is what I meant to say’, but it’s too late, the damage is done. When we write, we get the chance to do it over again and perfect it, something that isn’t always easy with conversation!
Another goal for this activity is to start the students using the blog as a tool for everyday classroom activity. The blog is a convenient way to go right from online research to writing, but you will need to be careful about plagiarism and copyright issues. If you feel your students need to review these subjects, check the online resources for some suggestions of good websites to review as part of this activity.
Communication is not an exact science but we can take steps to improve our chances for understanding. Word choice, proper syntax, and revision help improve our chances. As the old saying states; ‘practice, practice, practice’.
HOUR 1: Students, working in groups of three, will use the Internet to research the definition of technical writing and find three examples of good technical writing. Each individual student will write their own definition of technical writing as well as the three examples, properly cited, in their blog.
HOUR 2: Each individual student will compose detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The teacher will read the instructions and execute the instructions literally. For example, if the instructions state to “spread peanut butter” but the instructions do not stipulate on the bread, the teacher may spread it anywhere. Students will publish their instructions to their blog.
HOUR 3: The teacher will attempt to execute the student scripts. Some revision will be needed by most. If time allows students can rework their scripts and the teacher can try again.
Students should participate in each day’s activity, completing the related material.
Closure and Lesson Extension
Technical writing is the first step to excellent tech support. Not only that, share that computer programming is a demanding process that involves writing accurate steps. Computers will only do what they are instructed to do, so we need to give them proper instructions in order to get them to produce what we want. Good technical writing is just that.
- WEBSITE Copyright and Fair Use in the Classroom, on the Internet, and the World Wide Web This site has simple explanations of student use of resources found on the Internet.
- WEBSITE The Educator’s Guide to Copyright and Fair UseThis is a helpful article about copyright in schools. Also has a quiz and classroom chart.
- WEBSITE Online! Citation StylesThis is a compilation of different citation styles that can be used when referencing online resources.
- Technical Writing