Teaching Writing

Prompt Tips

The best prompts are the ones that spark a personal connection between the writer and their ideas. Provided here are some tips on how to write your own prompts. These self-written prompts will offer better starting blocks for your students than the generic prompts because they spring from the immediacy of their lives.

When you set out to create workable prompts, the following suggestions are a good thing to keep in mind:

Let the writer draw on experience

Avoid prompts that require specialized knowledge
Allow choice

Use open-ended prompts with room for divergent responses
Allow for choice of topics within a prompt or provide a choice between two similar prompts
Offer a prompt that will spark the writer's imagination

Sometimes the only way to learn whether a prompt will fly is to try it out!
Don't do the thinking for the writer

Too many suggestions within a prompt can be overwhelming
Highly creative or clever prompts sometimes backfire
Avoid built-in positives and negatives

Leave students room to go in their own directions
Don't be nosy

Some students (and parents!) may resent prompts that require sharing personal details
Thoughtful wording can spark insight–even passionate beliefs–without putting a student in the hot seat
Make the purpose clear

Good writing is good writing, but if you want student responses to fit a particular purpose, make sure that all expectations and criteria are explicit

It is 20 years from now. Your name has just been called and you are about to receive an award. Tell the story of how you came to be so successful and win this award.
Rewrite a fairy tale from a different point of view. For instance,
The Three Pigs as the wolf would tell it
Hansel & Gretel as the witch would tell it
Write a story based on one of the following:
Where is it?
Breaking loose
If I had my way ...
Suddenly, in the headlights ...
That noise!
Don't even remind me
The biggest nuisance
At last!
Think of your best or worst day in school. Tell the story of what happened.
Write a story based on ONE of the following
Little brothers (or sisters)!
Older sisters (or brothers)!
A narrow escape
My first memory
I'd like to go back
You won't believe it, but ...
Think of a friend you have, in or out of school. Tell one story that comes to mind when you think of this friend.
You won't believe it, but here's what happened ...
Think of a place that's so special to you that you just love thinking about it. It might be as big as a city, or as small as one corner of a room. Tell one story that comes to mind when you think of this place.
Think of a place that's so special to you that you just love thinking about it. It might be as big as a city, or as small as one corner of a room. Describe this place so clearly that your reader will know just what it's like to be there.
Think of something you have done that brought you satisfaction, pleasure, or a sense of accomplishment. Write about that activity or event and tell why it sticks in your mind.
Describe a place that's so special to you that you just love thinking about it.
Think of a teacher you have had that you will remember for a long, long time. Describe this teacher so clearly that your reader will know just what made you remember him or her.
Think of a person you have known who has been important to you. Describe why he or she made such an impression on you or made a difference in your life.

Think of something you made with your own hands. How did you do it? What might you do differently next time? Write an explanation so clear and complete that someone with little to no experience could follow your directions and make the same thing.
Many parents worry about helping their students be successful in school. Create a piece of writing that could become a how-to brochure for parents: How to Help Your Child Succeed in School.
Inventions are all around us. Think of an invention that has been especially helpful or harmful to people, and write a paper that explains why.
Pretend your class is putting together a time capsule. It might not be opened by anyone for 100 years or more. This time capsule will tell people in the future what life on earth was like in the 1990s. You can choose one thing to go inside. Explain what you will choose and why.
Think of the most valuable thing you own that was not bought in a store. Explain why it is important to you.
Write about your name.
Write about what you would bring for show and tell and why.


Choose one film or book review that you have recently seen or read. (It's all right to have a copy of the review in front of you as you write, if you wish) Briefly, summarize the review, giving the name of the book or film. Then, state whether you agree or disagree with the review and why. Give enough information and detail to convince a reader to agree with you. (Hint: Do NOT summarize the book or film; instead, tell whether you think it is worth reading/seeing and why.)
Write an essay in which you strongly and clearly AGREE OR DISAGREE (but NOT both!) with ONE of the following:
Fads never really go out of style
Life in the 21st Century will be better than ever
People are happier than they used to be
Americans are too concerned with material goods
You can tell a lot about people by what they eat
You can tell a lot about people by what they read
The Internet is the best thing to ever happen to education.
People worry too much about __________. Fill in the blank with any topic you like. Then, write a paper that supports your statement. Convince others to agree with you.
Write a paper in which you AGREE OR DISAGREE with this statement: It's more fun to be a child than to be an adult.
Pick something you're wearing or something in your desk or pocket. Write an advertisement for this thing that would convince someone to buy it.
Think of ONE thing about television advertising you would like to see changed. Then, write a letter to the Advertising Council explaining the change you want and the reasons you think this change is important.
"The most important quality any person can have is a sense of humor." Do you agree or disagree? Write a paper in which you take a clear stand, agreeing or disagreeing with this statement, and explain your position so the reader can understand fully why you came to feel the way you do.
Would you rather be an only child or have many brothers and sisters? Why?
Write a convincing paper in which you agree or disagree with this statement: "Life was easier for teenagers 50 years ago than it is for teenagers today."
Write an essay proposing a new national holiday. You anticipate that there might be people who don't agree with your idea, so defend your reasoning by explaining the meaning and background of the event/person and why a national holiday is justified. You could describe how the holiday should be observed or celebrated.
Many famous people, both real and fictional, have been honored by having their faces on postage stamps. Choose a real or fictional person who you feel deserves this honor. Write a paper that would persuade others your choice is good.