Teaching technical communication to schoolchildren

We’ve been asked to participate in an event at a school in Westminster promoting writing skills and literacy to their Year 8 (13 yr old) students. The goal is to showcase job roles in different sectors that use written communication skills as a key part of the job.

So how do you explain technical writing to students, and spark their interest?

As part of their English curriculum, the students must learn report writing and writing objectively, so one approach is to put these tasks into a work context for the students. We’ll also be talking to groups of students about the job, and set them an activity related to the role. Devising an activity that interests and makes sense to the students will be the biggest challenge!

Update: Our current thought is to see if they can describe technology that’s unfamiliar to them – old technology. For example, how to use a rotary telephone, a wet film camera or a gramophone.


Larry Kunz

Great! They’re never too young to learn tech comm.

Spark their interest by showing them the instructions for something they’re familiar with, perhaps a Smart Phone or a game. Ask them what they like and disklike about the instructions.

For an activity, you could have them team up to write instructions for a process with which they’re familiar, like getting ready for school at the beginning of the day.

Hope that helps.

Mary Connor

When I presented at Career Day at my daughter’s elementary school (to 4th & 5th graders), they seemed _most_ engaged by the possibilities of telecommuting and of working with the geeky folks who write the electronic games they love. They needed very concrete examples — such as opening the Help file in the projected browser and saying “Someone like me wrote the words and built the file” — but they’re still young enough that distinguishing hardware from software proved a tall order. Having them document how to do a tricky configuration task on a cell phone might be real and relevant for them — first ya figure it out for yourself, then you figure out a good way to explain it, then you have someone try to follow your task.

Richard Smith

A possibility… show them some entertaining examples of work; both good and bad.

Last week, my daughter (12) and I were opening a new and rather fancy coffee maker. We opened the box, and on top in its own recess in the styrofoam was a stylish manual.

We have a running joke in the family that goes something like “I don’t read instructions. I write them, so I know how bad they are.” Despite this running joke, she quickly grabbed the manual and flipped it open.

The first instruction in this manual was was a graphical and textual instruction showing you how to remove the manual from the styrofoam. The irony was not lost on her. After laughing for a minute, she quickly and rightly realized that the instructions were simple regurgitations of the obvious, peppered with “don’t stand in a pool of water while chewing on electrical cords” sort of nonsense.

On the good side… show helpful documentation from cool kid-oriented products, like Mindstorm perhaps.

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