March 21, 2019
by Ann Gadzikowski

Lesson plan

The Mystery of the Missing Instructions

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Grade Subject

Students will collaborate to create a list of instructions for putting together a tent.

(5 minutes)
  • To introduce the lesson, present the students with the challenge. Show them the disassembled tent and explain, "Class, I have a problem. I bought this tent and I want to learn how to put it together, but the instructions are missing. What should I do?"
  • Invite students to work together to figure out how to put the tent together.
  • Remind the students that they will need them to recreate the instructions by writing down what they do, step by step.
(10 minutes)
  • Invite students to first create an inventory of all the pieces and parts. Have them take turns pulling each part out of the bag or box and setting them out on the floor or table.
  • Demonstrate how to create a list of items. Write the name and quantity of each part on the board.
  • Explain that organizing the parts and writing a list is an important first step in creating instructions.
(5 minutes)
  • Next, ask students: "Who has a suggestion for the next step?"
  • Once a student has offered a suggestion, such as attaching two pieces of frame together, demonstrate how to try out the suggestion and evaluate how well it worked.
  • Ask the class, "Do you think we're on the right track? Was that a good suggestion? How do you know?"
  • If most students agree that the suggested step was productive, model how to write it down. For example, write "Attach poles together to make a frame."
(20 minutes)
  • Have students take turns making suggestions for steps in putting together the tent and then trying out each suggestion.
  • Facilitate the process so that students pause after each step to write down the instructions.
  • Students should be encouraged to edit and revise the instructions if they run into challenges or problems.
  • The amount of time spent assembling the tent will depend on a variety of factors. If students are able to assemble the tent quickly, ask them to test their instructions by taking the tent apart and starting over, this time following their own written instructions step by step. You can also have students exchange instructions and assemble the tent using their partner's instructions.


  • Students who are strong writers could be assigned as note takers who document the assembly process while other students experiment with the parts and pieces.


  • For students who have difficulty writing down instructions, allow them to draw a diagram showing a visual representation of the assembly process.
(5 minutes)
  • Circulate around the room and observe how well the students are keeping up with creating the written instructions.
  • Measure student success both by the quality of the written instructions as well as by participation in the assembly process.
(5 minutes)
  • Invite students to test out the stability of the tent by applying light pressure to the frame, as well as by taking turns going inside the tent.
  • If there is enough space, allow student to leave the tent up and use it for a quiet reading area.
  • Discuss how creating instructions to put up a tent is similar to creating an algorithm in computer programming. Show students a video of a programmer creating a 3D model using Blender software. Discuss with students, "How is building a real tent similar to creating a model in Blender? How is it different?"

Ann Gadzikowski is an author and educator with a passion for challenging children to think creatively and critically. Her recent book Robotics for Young Children won the 2018 Midwest Book Award for best educational book. Ann developed her expertise in robotics, computer science, and engineering through her work as early childhood coordinator for Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development. She has over 25 years of experience as a teacher and director of early childhood programs, and currently serves as the Executive Director of Preschool of the Arts, a Reggio-Emilia inspired school in Madison, Wisconsin.

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