Hands-on Activity Pingus Penguins:
Writing Good Instructions

Quick Look

Grade Level: 4 (3-4)

Time Required: 1 hours 15 minutes

(If 70 minutes is not available in one session, divide the activity into multiple sessions. Any technical difficulties with the computers may make the activity take longer.)

Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00

Group Size: 1

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Problem Solving

NGSS Performance Expectations:

NGSS Three Dimensional Triangle


Students use the free computer game Pingus to learn how engineers, specifically environmental engineers, use their technical writing skills to give instructions and follow the instructions of others. Students learn to write instructions to express their ideas in clear, organized ways using descriptive, un-ambiguous sentences, as an example of one type of technical writing that important for engineers. The students write instructions enumerating how to beat a game level, which represents surveying that level for environmental problems. As a test of their instructions, students review each others' instructions and offer suggestions for improvement, and then revise their instructions to make them better. Students also see some examples of environmental problems.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Screenshot shows a level of the Pingus game.
An example Pingus game screenshot.
Copyright © 2010 Ingo Ruhnke grumbel@gmx.de http://pingus.seul.org/screenshots.html

Engineering Connection

Because poorly written, unclear instructions can be at least frustrating and at worst dangerous, it is important for engineers to cultivate the technical writing skills to write clear, descriptive, and concise instructions. For example, software engineers must read or write instructions that show how to correctly use all the features of advanced computer software such as the computer system that controls a dam for a river. An environmental engineer might write instructions on how to locate and mitigate sources of water contamination to help keep a town's drinking water safe for use.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Explain why engineers need to give and receive clear instructions.
  • Write clear instructions that another person can follow.
  • Test written instructions; give critical and constructive feedback to the author.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

3-5-ETS1-3. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved. (Grades 3 - 5)

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Plan and conduct an investigation collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence, using fair tests in which variables are controlled and the number of trials considered.

Alignment agreement:

Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved.

Alignment agreement:

Different solutions need to be tested in order to determine which of them best solves the problem, given the criteria and the constraints.

Alignment agreement:

  • Use various approaches to communicate processes and procedures for using, maintaining, and assessing technological products and systems. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment. (Grade 5) More Details

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Materials List

Each student needs:

To share with the entire class:

  • computer and projector to show students the Pingus Presentation
  • (optional) a projector connected to a computer to explain Pingus to students is helpful

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/ksu_pingus_activity1] to print or download.

Pre-Req Knowledge

Familiarity with simple computer interfaces, such as using a keyboard and mouse.


What is an engineer? Can anyone think of some important jobs that engineers do? (Listen to student responses.) The many different types of engineers in our world do many different things. One thing that all engineers have in common is that they must be able to read instructions, and even more importantly, write clear instructions that are easy for others to understand.

Why do you think writing clear instructions or giving directions is important for engineers? (Listen to student responses.) For engineers, writing good instructions is an important part of sharing their designs and inventions with each other. Architectural and civil engineers need to write clear instructions so that buildings and structures created from their design plans are accurately built so they will not fall down. Mechanical engineers need to write clear instructions on how to maintain and operate the complex machinery they design so that no one gets injured when using the equipment.

What is an environmental engineer? (Listen to student answers.) Environmental engineers use their understanding of science (soil science, biology, chemistry) and engineering principles to make sure our air, water and land resources are safe and clean for humans and other organisms (wildlife, bacteria, plants) to live. This might include figuring out how to clean up (and prevent) human-made industrial pollution or studying the environmental impact of proposed construction projects (buildings, structures, highways, dams). Their work might also include efforts to improve waste disposal, recycling and public health. They develop solutions to environmental problems so that the natural environment is a healthy place for everyone to live.

Today all of you will get to experience what it is like to be an environmental engineer by playing the game Pingus. As an environmental engineer, you have a team of penguins whose job is to look for environmental problems as you guide them from the start to the end of the level. Once your penguins finish looking for environmental problems in the level by reaching the exit and reporting their findings to you, you will write instructions on how you guided them through the level so that other environmental engineers can also guide their penguins through a level.


Before the Activity

With the Students

  1. Have students log into and prepare to use their computers. (Slide 1)
  2. Show the students some of the different types of human-caused environmental damage (air and water pollution, littering on beaches and in oceans) that exist in the world. (Slides 3-5)
  3. Explain to the students that Pingus is a computer game in which you give directions to the penguins you oversee to safely get them from the start of a level to the end of a level as they look for environmental problems. (Slide 5)
  4. Give an overview of the activity steps. (Slide 6)
  5. Hand out (or have students open) the example instructions and explain to them some tips for how to write good Pingus instructions. (Slide 7)
  6. Have students get to work. Leave the projector showing Slide 6 in case students need a reminder of what to do next.
  7. Once students feel their instructions are good, have them trade with another student to test the instructions exactly as written, and provide suggestions for improvement.
  8. Have students revise their instructions, incorporating feedback.
  9. Have students show their revised instructions to the teacher to get more feedback.
  10. Have students make final versions of their instructions to hand in for grading.
  11. Collect the final instructions versions and grade using the attached rubric.


Pingus: A free lemmings-like computer puzzle game covered under the GNU general public license. It features 77 (as of May 2012) playable levels and runs under a wide variety of operating systems (Linux, Winodws, MacOSX, etc.). In the game, a player takes command of many small animals and guides them through levels. Since the animals walk on their own, the player can only influence them by giving them commands such as: build a bridge, dig a hold, redirect all animals in the other direction. The goal of each level is to reach the exit, which requires multiple combinations of commands.


Pre-Activity Assessment

In-Class Questions: Ask students the questions included in the Introduction/Motivation section. Listen to their answers to gain a sense of their familiarity with the topics of this activity.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Checking Instructions: During the activity, circulate through the classroom to observe what students are writing. Check that review partners are being both critical and constructive in their suggestions for improvement.

Post-Activity Assessment

How Good Are Your Instructions? Use the attached Technical Writing Grading Rubric to evaluate each student's final instructions versions.


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Ruhnke, Ingo. "Pingus." Pingus. Ingo Ruhnke, n.d. Web. Accessed 17 January 2012. http://pingus.seul.org/


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2012 Kansas State University


Paul Cain; Lori Rice

Supporting Program

GK-12 INSIGHT Program, Kansas State University


This activity was developed under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. DGE 0948019. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: July 24, 2021

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