Energy systems

Fantastic Elastic

11 How to Make My Wind-Up


Based on the steps actually followed, each student writes an illustrated instruction manual for making his or her favorite wind-up.

Advance Preparation

  • Photo copy “Instruction Manual for Making a Wind-up”
  • Collect instruction manuals from furniture, electronics, Legos™.


  • Wind-up that student will use for his or her “How to” book.


  1. Class meeting:
    Students may already be familiar with “How-to” books. An engineering term for a “How-to” book is an Instruction Manual. Meet with students to discuss what an instruction manual is and how it can be used:

    • Someone else might want to make what you made, and you might not be around to show them. Your Instruction Manual will tell them how to make one.
    • You might want to make one yourself at a later date, but by then you might have forgotten how to do it. Your Instruction Manual will remind you about what to do.

  2. What should an instruction manual have? Discuss how an instruction manual could provide information:

    • Where have you seen instruction manuals? What do they help you to make or do?
      Students will probably identify manuals supplied with Legos™, electronic products, unassembled furniture, etc. Provide examples of instruction manuals you have collected.
    • What do these manuals use to tell someone what to do?
      All of these are likely to use pictures at least as much as words.
    • What would somebody need to see in order to follow your instructions?
      Develop the idea that – like instruction manuals they have seen – their manuals should include drawings as well as words.

  3. Make a draw:
    Students may claim that they can’t draw. Using a lid, coffee cup or stick as an example, show how to use simple shapes to represent objects. See the Troubleshooting section for Lesson 4 for suggestions about how to get students started in making drawings.

  4. Writing instruction manuals:
    Provide time for each student to write his or her own Instruction Manual. They can do it in the Science Notebook or on the Worksheet, “Instruction Manual for Making a Wind-up”. Number the steps. Make a diagram and write a description for each step.

  5. Testing instruction manuals:
    After students have finished writing, demonstrate how to test an Instruction Manual. Select an instruction that is vague, such as “Make a hole in the cup,” and deliberately misinterpret it; for example, by making the hole on the side of the cup rather than the end. Ask students:

    • What could happen if someone tries to follow an instruction that does not give enough information?
      Then ask students to exchange manuals in their groups, and test them to see if they give all the information that’s needed.

  6. Revising instruction manuals:
    Ask students to revise their instruction manuals to provide all the information that is needed. This could be a homework assignment.

  7. Outcomes

    • Students develop ideas about why instruction manuals are useful, and why they need to include diagrams as well as text.
    • Students develop strategies for creating diagrams.
    • Students explain procedures they have invented through diagrams and text.
    • Students come to see the limitations of writing that is vague or lacking in detail.
    • Students revise their own writing to make it more specific.