Clarity Is Essential, Except When It Isn't
Modeling, while one of the most important techniques for working with kids, also has a potential negative effect that you must avoid—conformity. Kids often feel that they have to please adults, and if you're too strict in your models and directions, you run the risk of blunting their creativity and spirit of exploration. That's why it's important for you to simply introduce concepts without restricting them and, especially when teaching technology topics, to give kids just enough guidance for them to feel confident while leaving plenty of time for individual discovery.
When you model carefully, kids will tend to copy what you do, so you must think through what is important for them to do exactly a certain way and what they have freedom to experiment with. Your modeling and directions should reflect this difference. Here are some tips for giving directions:
Be clear in your intentions, and think through your instructions. Make sure that you're clear about what must be followed precisely and where there's room for experimentation. It's a fine line you have to walk; otherwise, over time, you risk chaos on the one hand and conformity on the other.
Use precise words when you want precise responses or actions. Telling someone to "hand" the camera to you can have more defined meaning than "give" or "pass," especially if you've consistently used the word "hand" when demonstrating the proper procedure.
Be intentionally unclear when it serves your purpose or when there's a larger lesson involved. For example, if you ask kids to write the names of people in their community, don't tell them what a community is, even if they ask. Part of the activity may be to learn what we each think community is. The key is knowing your goal.
Especially when you have kids working on an activity that offers them creative leeway, always keep walking around the room offering help and guidance, and hold up examples of their work in progress so others can see. In a journal activity, for example, look for someone who is doing the work strictly as you described it and hold it up. Now find someone who is doing it in a very different way that is still correct, and hold it up as well.
Perhaps you've asked the kids to "show how we hear things" in support of an audio project you're about to undertake. One child draws a picture of himself with oversized ears. Show it to everyone and say, "We hear with our ears." Now you see another who writes a list of phrases like "from TV" or "friends tell us." Make sure everyone sees that that's correct, too. Show the most literal interpretation first, because that's what most kids will have done. You're trying to open doors of creativity, not bust them down, so your modeling should make them feel secure in what they're doing.
By the way, another reason to walk around is that you may see several or even many kids doing things in a way that's simply incorrect. They're not wrong—it means that they didn't understand your directions or that your instructions were not clear enough. Get everyone back on track as a group, and don't single anyone out with individual negative input.
Sometimes you'll want to be a bit more restrictive early in a project, then more open once kids have demonstrated an understanding of basic concepts. When introducing photography over the course of several days, for example, you may want to restrict them at first to taking a certain kind of picture (say, close-ups or angled shots), but then give them the freedom to use all the techniques creatively for the final project.
If you have been encouraging experimentation in all things, kids will not feel restricted when you give them specific directions. In many ways, modeling is all about setting expectations. If, over the course of the session, you have been modeling experimentation, curiosity and creativity, kids will hardly notice occasional limits. If, however, you model conformity, that's what you'll get, even when you throw open the doors.
Keep your words and actions consistent. If you tell kids to draw pictures or write words for a mapping activity, but all you ever do is write words, they'll get the message.