The Importance of Detailed Procedures in Science


Amy Bell

Collegiate School, Manhattan


Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

Summer 2006


Standards Addressed:

Teaching Standard E: Nurture collaboration among students; Model the skills, attitudes and values of scientific inquiry.

Content Standard A: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry; Understandings about scientific inquiry.

General Goal(s):

LiteracyŚwriting skills, experimentation and implementation of the scientific method; the challenge and importance of clear, repeatable directions

Specific Objectives:

Improve communication skills about protocols during experiments so their procedures are clear as well as repeatable. In this lesson students are required to write clear directions for everyday activities so that another partner can read the directions and follow them. Students will learn the importance of clear communication in scientific exploration as well as all disciplines.  They will learn not to skip steps and not to "assume" their lab partners understand what they mean.

Required Materials:

Peanut Butter/Jelly Sandwich:

bread, peanut butter, jelly, plastic knife, napkins

Paper Airplane:

Any kind of paper you have on hand

Tying Shoes/Zipping Jacket:

Any shoe with laces or jacket with a zipper, just have the kids use their own. If they are not wearing these items that day, have them do the paper airplane.

Anticipatory Set (Lead-In):

I will pretend to be a robot and the students must give me directions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (just be sure no one is allergic to peanut butter, or just make a jelly sandwich). Students may say something like; "take a piece of bread" so I would take only a small piece of bread off of one slice. Force them to be as clear as possible in their directions. You need to play dumb and take their directions very literally so they are forced to really think about how they communicate their directions. This could take several minutes before you get a clear enough direction from the students. When they do give a clear command, write it on the board. Keep writing the clearest commands on the board until the sandwich is assembled.

Step-By-Step Procedures:

Divide students up into pairs. Have the students decide who will write the directions (The Writer) and who will follow the directions (The Follower). The Followers should either leave the room, or move to one side of the room while their partners work on the directions.  The Writers must pull a piece of paper out of a hat that will have a relatively simple activity written on it. Good ones to start with are "Tie Your Shoes", "Make a Paper Airplane", or "Zip Up Your Coat."   They must then write down specific instructions for that activity without revealing what their activity is. This could take anywhere from 5-15 minutes. Once The Writers are finished and feel confident they have written clear directions for The Followers, they should take their directions to The Followers and return to their seats. The Followers must now read the directions and see how well they can follow the directions to complete the task. When they are finished they should show their partner their final product. Have the partners meet up to refine the directions together because The Followers will have input on how to improve the directions. Once the two partners have finalized their directions, they should hand in the paper to be graded by the teacher. Or, you can bring in another teacher or student who is unaware of the activity and have the kids test out their directions on the person.

Assessment Based On Objectives:

The final directions should be handed in with both participants names on it. The students should be graded on the clarity of their directions. The sequence of instructions is equally important. They can also be assessed on their ability to work with a partner, willingness to collaborate and team skills.


This activity could be taken a step further by having the students film one another doing a task. Then, they could sit together and review the film and write down clear directions based on what they see in the film. Or, have the teacher film one student completing the task and bring in the second student to watch the film and write down directions based on what he/she sees in the film.  Access to video cameras and computers with film software is required for these activities.