How-to Posters

Language Arts and Art Activity

Students enhance their respect for the practical know-how of early Americans by preparing an instructional poster for a skill that would have been useful during colonial times.



  1. Divide the class into discussion teams to brainstorm a list of skills that early Americans, such as colonial settlers or Native Americans, needed in order to survive. Suggest that teams consult reference and textbooks to learn how different groups provided for basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, child-rearing, and transportation. Then break down those activities into specific skills. Lists might include:

    building a canoe	making tools
    gathering food		making weapons
    growing food		preparing/cooking food
    making clothing		training animals
    making fire		mapping/navigation

  2. Bring the class together to make a master list. Then have individuals (or partners) choose one skill/activity to research. Students will then use the information they find to create a how-to poster that explains how to carry out the activity. Posters should be illustrated with drawings, photocopies of pictures, or diagrams, and include explanatory text and labels, as necessary. A poster on building a canoe, for example, might show a sequence of steps, such as finding a proper log, hollowing it out, and preparing the exterior. Students could use a cutaway diagram to show the canoe's structure. Students could also include drawings of the tools needed.

  3. Encourage students to give a brief oral presentation of the activity on their posters. They might also discuss the process they followed in their research, how they chose which steps to illustrate, or which steps were difficult to show.


Display the posters in your room or in some other public space. Group them by subject or culture. Choose volunteer student guides to learn as much as possible about each grouping. Then invite other classes or families to view the displays. Invite other classes to visit the exhibit, moving small groups around the room, asking questions of the guides. You may wish to rotate the guides so that each student takes part.

Invite a community member who practices one of the poster skills to talk discuss his or her work to the class. Possibilities include: a weaver, farmer, cook, wilderness hiker, archer, seamstress, etc.

You may be able to arrange a class visit to a living museum or craftperson's studio to watch traditional craftspeople and other workers in action.

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