How Writing ChatGPT Prompts Reminds Me Of A Fifth Grade Writing Assignment

Sam Edelstein
4 min readMar 5, 2023

When I was in fifth grade, I had a writing assignment that asked for each student to create a step-by-step guide to do any task we liked. I remember one student wrote a guide to putting a golf ball, another wrote a guide to typing your shoes. I wrote a guide to making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

These kinds of assignments seem easy. For mine, maybe you’d think the guide would include something like:

  • Get 2 pieces of bread
  • Get jelly
  • Get peanut butter
  • Get a knife
  • Get a plate
  • Put peanut butter and jelly on the bread

While the steps to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich are definitely encompassed in the bullet points above, if you tried to use those directions to teach someone who had never made a sandwich before, you would fail. Where do you find the bread? How does the person know to open the jelly container?

This brings me to ChatGPT. Much has been made about large language models replacing analysts and researchers because the program can so seemingly accurately answer questions and provide responses. For PB&J directions, ChatGPT does this very well — see below:

But there are a number of assumptions about the output that it has made that you may not agree with. Pretend that you didn’t want bullet points but wanted a five paragraph essay. And instead of there being an unlimited amount of steps, you could only provide four steps. And you want it to have each sentence rhyme.

This is pretty good, but you’ll notice that the response includes too many steps. So I have to redirect.

On this next attempt, it responds with a more concise version of the steps, and they still rhyme. But there are still too many steps and it is no longer in the format of a five paragraph essay.

Next, I remind it that the response should only have four steps, and it complies (still rhyming), but it has lost track of the need to be a five paragraph essay.

Finally, we get what we’ve wanted — a 4 step guide for making peanut butter and jelly in the format of a five paragraph essay where each sentence rhymes.

As we think about how to leverage these kinds of tools going forward, there is great potential for streamlining work and producing new types of content. But, it is clear that while the production of content might be easier, the need to give good and clear directions will be that much more critical. An eye for detail will also be important. At any step above, I might have been satisfied with the output, but I was not getting exactly what I wanted.

Additionally, I know how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and those directions look accurate to me. There are some questions we’ll want to ask ChatGPT and other similar programs in the future that we don’t know the answer to off hand. Ensuring there are ways to assess accuracy and quality of the answer will be important to ensure good, safe answers are being delivered.

Perhaps in fifth grade classrooms today, the assignment I did years ago would still be useful, only with a separate audience for testing — ChatGPT.

By the way, ChatGPT does seem good at improving my directions — still rhyming away: