Technical Literacy
Lesson Plan

 

Lesson 1: What is a technical writer?

Lesson 2: What is procedural writing?

Lesson 3: How do you write for an audience?

Lesson 4: Visual Clues in Technical Writing: How do you organize text?

Lesson 5: How do you build a table?

Lesson 6: What is your QRC (Quick Reference Card) assignment? Who is the team that you are working with?

Lesson 7: How do you write a QRC?

Lesson 8:What are the different approaches to developing a QRC?

The following materials are based on the 9th, 10th, 11, & 12th grades Content Standards for the OUSD regarding Technology and English Language Development. Specifically we have focussed on the following:

TECHNOLOGY

Students should know and be able to:

  • Know how changes in technology affect life
  • How to use applications as they relate to specific careers
  • Determine responsible uses of technology
  • Leave high school knowing how to evaluate, select, and learn new technology

ENGLISH LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT

Writing Process

Students treat writing as a process in which they organize thoughts and information, develop drafts, analyze, revise, and edit texts as appropriate for audience, context, and purpose.

Variety

Students write to communicate for different audiences and purposes in a variety of formats.

Functional Documents

Students create a range of functional documents such as manuals, contracts, applications, handbooks, letters,notes, resumes, and instructions.

Reports and Research

Students conduct research and use a wide variety of resources to gather, evaluate, and synthesize information to create and communicate knowledge.

PRIMARY GOALS

The primary goals of our curriculum are to:

  • Educate high school classes about technical writing as a career choice
  • Offer students direct contact with technical writers in a classroom mentoring situation
  • Introduce students to the basics of technical writing
  • Expose students to certain practices of the software development industry
  • Direct students to work in teams to create several pages of written instructions, a Quick Reference Card (QRC)
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Lesson 1: What is a Technical Writer?

Main Idea-Objective

To familiarize students with technical writers and writing

Concrete materials-Manipulatives

Actual writers in the classroom with several different examples of manuals. STC magazines. STC chapter newsletter

Vocabulary

  • technical writer
  • RFP (request for proposal)
  • end-user
  • Procedures
  • Quick Reference Guide (QRC)

Directed Lesson

Introduction / Preview

Ask students their questions about technical writing. Discussion about technical writing, its origins, and some of the organizations like STC (Society for Technical Communication) for technical writers. Explain how the starting point for technical writing is to find out how a particular thing works and then describe that thing to a particular audience. For the purposes of this lesson, each one of the students will describe who they are to the class.

Input Modeling

Read the rant for high school students below.

Guided Practice

Challenge students to write their own "rant," tell their own truth to the class.

Evaluation

Ask for at least three volunteers to read rants. Develop simple evaluation criteria with the class to gauge an effective "rant."

Extension Activity

Continue working on the rant.

Activities (field trip)

Attend poetry rants at La Pena on Wednesday night. Write down the names of autobiographies that contain a strong testimony about a personal "truth."

So What is a Technical Writer? 

(a rant for high school students)

A technical writer is a translator of technology because someone needs to do something right now, before they go totally ballistic and call customer service with a few choice words of their own. A technical writer is formed by many tributaries all rushing to make a deadline, a dancer around a meeting table who knows how to follow procedure. A technical writer is a lover of language who uses words to shape understanding. A technical writer is a curious person who wants to know how things work. Are you?
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Lesson 2: What is procedural writing?

Follow up from the previous lesson and ask if students have additional information about their rant and / or autobiographical writing. Summarize what the class did during the previous session.

Main Idea-Objective

To help students think procedurally, one step at a time.

Concrete materials-Manipulatives

Examples of different kinds of procedures: Cookbooks, video instructions, VCR instructions, other examples.

Vocabulary

  • Logical flow
  • Procedure
  • Sequence
  • Quick Reference Card

Directed Lesson

Introduction / Preview

Ask students to write a procedure for their own personal growth and development, such as how to get a job, how to make their community a safer place, how to raise mice, etc. Ask students for more ideas and write them on the board.

Input Modeling

Choose one topic and develop a procedure on the blackboard with the input of the students. Discuss logical flow and sequence. Following the completion of the procedure, draw a diagram to visually represent the logical flow.

Guided Practice

Challenge students to select one of the topics from the board and to write their own.

Evaluation

Write the following questions (evaluation criteria) on the board: Does the procedure make sense? Does each step follow from the previous one? Does the procedure provide useful information? Is anything missing? How can it be improved?

Ask for at least two volunteers to read their procedures and write them on the board. Go through each procedure and analyze with the class from the standpoint of logical flow and sequence. Use the evaluation criteria from the board.

Extension Activity

Ask students to begin to collect ideas for a technical subject that they will write about like setting the time on a VCR, using a certain feature of a software program, using a drip irrigation system for a garden, etc.

Activities

Look around for examples of procedures and bring them to class.

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Lesson 3: How do you write for an audience?

Follow up from the previous lesson and ask if students have any examples of procedures to share with the class. Review any material. Summarize what the class did during the previous session.

Main Idea-Objective

To have students write instructions for a particular audience.

Concrete materials-Manipulatives

Lecturer is dressed in a period-style hat (or visitor from another planet) and has a telephone (several if possible)

Vocabulary

  • Audience
  • Instruction
  • Needs analysis

Directed Lesson

Introduction / Preview

Instructor introduces herself from a certain time and place. She explains something about how she was whooshed away from dinner with her friends and suddenly arrived here. Some nice people at the a Greyhound Bus Station told her to call on a telephone for help. They said something about a Visitor's Bureau. Or maybe it was the Homeless Shelter. She doesn't remember. She could hardly understand them. She has no idea what the telephone is or how to use it. Everything is strange. She's very nervous. Tell her how to use whatever this is…a telephone… so she can get help.

Input Modeling

Who is the audience? Explain that the students will write a procedure for Visitor X so she can use the telephone.

Develop needs analysis-Ask students to list their assumptions about Visitor X: describe who she is and what kind of information she needs. This is the basis of a needs analysis. A needs analysis describes who you are writing for. Write the assumptions about Visitor X on the board.

Guided Practice

Divide students into teams of approximately 4. Ask the students to nominate a leader from each team. Ask the students to write a procedure for Visitor X about using the telephone and to make a phone call to get help.

Evaluation

Write the following questions (evaluation criteria) on the board: Does the procedure make sense? Does each step follow from the previous one? Does the procedure give Visitor X the information she needs to successfully make a call for help? Does the procedure include all the necessary assumptions about the audience (Visitor X)/ Is anything missing? How can the procedure be improved? As time permits, ask the team leaders to read their procedure(s).

Extension Activity

Ask students to continue to think about developing a procedure for a technical subject they're interested in, like VCR, tape, radio, computer, gardening, cooking, installing tile, installing a new software program, etc. .

Activities

Ask students to bring their ideas to the next class.

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Lesson 4: Visual Cues in Technical Writing: How do you organize text?

Follow up from the previous lesson and ask if students have any examples of procedures to share with the class. Review any material. Summarize what the class did during the previous session.

Main Idea-Objective

To teach students how to add visual cues to improve their procedures.

Concrete materials-Manipulatives

Need large white chart (or large paper taped to the blackboard).

Sample technical articles, manual pages, and especially quick-reference guides chosen to reveal a variety of visual cues that technical writers often use including:

  • Headings of several levels
  • Serif and sans serif fonts
  • Semi-colon
  • Indentation
  • Bullets and numbered steps
  • Fonts with special roles
  • Sequence of steps
  • White space
  • Tables

Vocabulary

  • Heading
  • Bullets
  • Numbered step
  • Serif
  • San serif

Directed Lesson

Introduction / Preview

Pass out the following information. Explain that it is from an actual User Manual. Ask students to read the material and to use several of the above techniques to reformat the material for the user.

Exercise One:

Introduction This chapter contains the following sections. Debugging and Editing Overview, Simulating an Application, Debugging an Application, Examining a Script During Simulation, Encoding an Application. Marvelous Studio lets you check the progress and success of your application-building with its simulation function.

Exercise Two:

Submitting an Application for Certification To submit an application for certification to do the following: Email (or ftp) the .app or .apc file to our Wonderful Software Company (WSC) Request a Application Information Form from your WSC manager, and fill it out. Write a functional specification that describes the application in detail. Include: Description of all forms Explanation and diagram of form-to-form flow Size limitations, if any (maximum, minimum, typical) Information about data resources used.

Input Modeling

Instructor passes out the two exercises in class and provides a context for the material. This is also a practice for reading carefully, since good technical text has plenty of LINGUISTIC signals within it that reveal where the over visual cues "should go."

Together, the class discusses ways to insert visible cues into the text. Ask the question: How do visual cues improve text usability? Post answers on the board.

Guided Practice

Divide students into teams of approximately 4. Pass out different page samples. Ask students to restore the visual clues to the text.

Evaluation

Randomly select several of the student-edited texts. Post the results on the white board. Suggest alternatives, and invite students to suggest alternatives to the proposed visual cues. Discuss how each proposed visual cue does or does not make the plain text more useful for readers (improve its problem-solving value).

Extension Activity

Send each student (or team) home with another visual cues-removed sample of technical test. Ask them to analyze the text and "restore" the missing, usability-enhancing visual cues.

Confident students should try this several pages at a time, while less confident students should have the assignment divided into multiple half-page exercises, carefully arranged from easy to hard so they can practice in a skills-building sequence.

Students also receive a separate, ALREADY-CUED "normal" version of the assignment text so that the whole exercise can be self-paced and self-correcting. With the answers already in hand, there is no point in trying to just "guess what the teacher wants." More students will focus on how visual cues improve text usability.

Activities

Ask students to find their own examples of technical text that has been enhanced by visual cues to share with the class, either orally or to post on a bulletin board.

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Lesson 5: How do you build a table?

Follow up from the previous lesson and ask if students have examples of technical text that has been enhanced by visual cues to share with the class, either orally or to post on a bulletin board. Review any material. Summarize what the class did during the previous session. Explain that this week the class will focus on another visual tool frequently used by technical writers to summarize information in a readable format: a table.

Main Idea-Objective

Help students understand the basic building blocks of a table.

Concrete materials-Manipulatives

Blackboard and handouts

Vocabulary

  • Heading
  • Columns
  • Rows
  • Data
  • Table

Directed Lesson

Introduction / Preview

Build a table on the blackboard with the help of the students. Sample scenario: Explain that a music promoter wants to have more information about how to market music to male / female audiences. She wants to get a better idea about who's listening to certain groups. We're about to help her:

Input Modeling

Ask students for names of musical groups. Ask students where they would place columns to capture information for male / female listeners. Get responses from the class and fill in the table, similar to the one below. Explain the different parts of the table: heading, columns, and row.

Students Who Listen to Musical Groups by Gender

Lauryn Hill John Coltrane Sugarhill Gang Puff Daddy
& The Family
       
       
       
       

Guided Practice

Divide students into teams of approximately 4. Ask the students to nominate a leader from each team. Distribute handouts with material that the students can use to build a table. Ask them to work in groups to summarize the information with a heading, columns, rows, and data.

Evaluation

Write the following questions (evaluation criteria) on the board:

  • What does the table tell us?
  • What is the heading?
  • What are the columns?
  • Explain your process for summarizing the information in this format.

As time permits, ask team leaders to draw their tables on the blackboard. Discuss each one in class using the evaluation criteria. Is there some way the table could be made clearer?

Extension Activity

Explain that next week and for the rest of the session, students will use the technical writing tools learned in class to develop a Quick Reference Card (QRC) procedure.

Ask students what procedure they want to use for a technical subject they're interested in, like VCR, tape, radio, computer, gardening, cooking, installing tile, installing a new software program, etc. Distribute a handout with other possible ideas.

Activities

Come to class next time with the name of the actual project you have selected to work on for your Quick Reference Card. Next class students will begin to work on the QRC.

Bring any materials that will be helpful as a starting place, such as any instruction manual or research that you've done, including sitting down and trying to work through the procedure yourself and listing down the steps on a piece of paper. Discussion. Give examples.

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Lesson 6: What is your QRC (Quick Reference Card) assignment? Who is the team that you are working with?

Summarize what the class did during the previous session. Poll the class to see how many students have determined the topic for their Quick Reference Card (QRC) project. What other students wish to work on that same topic? (Organize teams into groups of 4.)

Main Idea-Objective

Help organize teams for the team QRC project. Define requirements and answer questions.

Concrete materials-Manipulatives

Blackboard and handouts, including sample Quick Reference Cards.

Vocabulary

  • Quick Reference Card
  • Dependencies

Directed Lesson

Review previous lessons that include the basic building blocks of technical writing:

  • Research
  • Audience analysis
  • Procedural writing
  • Visual clues

Input Modeling

Bring in and show sample Quick Reference Cards. Pass them around the class.

Guided Practice

Identify those students who have already selected a topic. For students who have not yet decided, distribute the handout with other suggested QRC topics. Explain the topics and organize teams. Pass around a sign-up sheet and leave it with the classroom teacher. Make sure that all students are on a team.

Evaluation

Define the requirements of the project by using the blackboard:

Requirements for the QRC Project

Length Technical Topic Define your audience Use Visual clues
Minimum of three pages Select a topic yourself or one from the handout

Who is the procedure for?

What is the desired end result?

Must use headings, procedural steps, bullets, and a table if required.

Other items to consider: graphics, cover, use of color

 

Note: Work out logistics of computer generated vs. handwritten copy with classroom teacher.

Extension Activity

Explain that next week and for the rest of the session, students will use the technical writing tools learned in class to develop a QRC procedure. Answer any questions.

Activities

Ask teams to meet and begin to discuss their strategy. Ask each team to make peer assignments for any needed research. Explain dependencies, where each member of the team is relying on the other to produce certain information by a given date. This is a way of life in the software development industry. By working this way, teams are mirroring how software development groups (and technical writers) work.

Ask students to bring any materials that will be helpful as a starting place, such as any instruction manual or research that they've done, including sitting down and trying to work through the procedure and / or listing down the steps on a piece of paper. Students may need to consult a dictionary, or do research on the Internet between this and next class.

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Lesson 7: How you write a QRC?

Ask QRC teams to:

  • Assemble into groups
  • Define strategy
  • Begin writing

Explain that the instructor is available to consult with teams.

Main Idea-Objective

Help teams get started for the team QRC project.

Concrete materials-Manipulatives

Distribute sample Quick Reference Cards available for student reference.

Vocabulary

  • Research
  • Strategy
  • Portfolio

Directed Lesson

Input Modeling

Show sample Quick Reference Cards. Pass them around the class.

Guided Practice

Ask teams to assemble into groups to begin writing. Ask all students to take notes and to keep their own copy of the single team procedure. Explain that this procedure can become a part of their work portfolio. Explain why a portfolio is important to a prospective employer.

Evaluation

Define the requirements of the project by writing on the blackboard:

Requirements for the QRC Project

Length Technical Topic Define your audience Use Visual clues
Minimum of three pages Select one yourself or select a topic from the handout.

Who is the procedure for?

What is the desired end result?

Must use headings, procedural steps, bullets, and a table if required

 

Extension Activity

Keep working on the project. Instructor answers team questions, as required.

Activities

Do any necessary research to complete the project. Be prepared to complete and then share the procedure in class for the next and final session.

Note: Make arrangements with the classroom teacher to duplicate all procedures for the next class. This way, students can effectively review each other's work.

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Lesson 8: What are the different approaches to developing a QRC?

Ask QRC team leaders to present their material.

Main Idea-Objective

Share different methods for developing the QRC project. Practice taking notes.

Concrete materials-Manipulatives

Student QRC projects. Students have copies of each other team's QRC project.

Vocabulary

  • Presentation
  • Note-taking

Directed Lesson

Introduction / Preview

Ask students to sit in teams. Ask each team to nominate two speakers who will present the material. Ask for volunteers to go first. Write the order of speakers and team projects on the blackboard.

Explain that each team will read their procedure and give a presentation. Students will follow the material at their desks with the written samples.

Input Modeling

Write on the blackboard:

  • Describe project (what did the team choose?)
  • How did you do your research? · How did you define your audience?
  • Read your procedure. (Students have a copy of the procedure to follow at their desks.)

Guided Practice

Ask students to listen carefully and to take notes. Explain that accurate note-taking is an indispensable tool for technical writing.

Evaluation

Write the following evaluation criteria on the board:

  • Similarities and differences between the projects
  • Did the team successfully use heading? Procedural steps? Bullets? Tables? Other?
  • How did each team approach their material?
  • Was the procedure clear?
  • Did you understanding everything?
  • Where did you have trouble?
  • How could you improve the procedure?

Answer any final questions.

Extension Activity

Continue to look for examples of Quick Reference Cards to see how your procedure can be improved.

Activities

Complete oral reports at another scheduled class. Distribute evaluation form to the classroom teacher to get feedback about the curriculum and suggestions for future development.

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Note:
Possible award to the best team effort given by the East Bay Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication.

 

Please send comments to Web weaver: Joseph Humbert

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