Six Reasons You May Want to Use a Writing Prompt When Teaching Children Writing

1. Challenge students’ thinking and writing skills
2. Create interest in writing and inspire creativity
3. Get reluctant writers writing
4. Help students develop the habit of writing every day
5. Practice for writing assessments
6. You are giving a classroom assignment that involves writing

Kinds of Writing Prompts for Elementary and Middle School Writing

• Essay writing prompts – Students will explain something from their point of view. It will be explained as they see the world.
• Expository writing prompts – Students will produce writing in an explanatory or informative nature.
• Narrative writing prompts – Students will narrate either a personal story or a fiction story.
• Persuasive writing prompts – Students will take a stand and logically argue a position.
• Creative writing prompts – Students will use their imagination and enter the world of fantasy.
• Journal writing prompts – Students will explore their experiences, feelings, thoughts, and emotions… Students will explore who they are and the life they live.

Writing Prompts across the Curriculum

Often teachers think of writing across the curriculum simply as “giving an assignment.” When they are teaching social studies, they gave a social studies assignment, and now it’s science, so they will give a science assignment…

The truth is “A WRITING TEACHER” teaches writing:
1. So that our students may fall in love with writing.
2. So that WE get to read good writing.
3. So that our students may thank us when they receive their Pulitzer Prize in Literature.
4. So that our students will become effective communicators.
5. So that our students will write well across the curriculum, so that THEY will be HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL students!

Don’t wait for language arts to “teach writing.” Give “writing prompts” across the curriculum.

Tips and Tricks for Using Writing Prompts

1. Have a purpose or objective for giving the writing prompt. Be sure to read “How to Use Writing Prompts in Teaching Writing.”
2. Make the prompt simple, yet complex. This is what is at the heart being both engaging and compelling. Simple enough that they understand it and can write about it confidently, but complex enough that students will engage in new thoughts and new ways of thinking.
3. Vary the type and purpose of your writing prompts. Predictable is the opposite of compelling and engaging.
4. Be prepared. Do not create writing prompts on the spur of the moment.

Letting the Class Create the Writing Prompts: Pros and Cons

Pros:
• Kids will think of things that adults never would! (or at least in a way that adults never would)
• You get to learn more about what your students think about and what interests them.
• It is great fun to have students create the prompts. There is usually an air of excitement in the class and the discussion is almost always lively.
• It inspires students and engages the group. What they think about has value!

Cons:
• Can take on too strong a “voting” or “popularity contest” aspect.
• Not all the students will like the prompt, especially when the prompt is not coming from their inner circle of friends.
• Who exactly is in charge here? Students may start to wonder…
• Students may start to perceive it as busy work. “Boy, the teacher doesn’t have to do anything… and we just write and write and write…”
• The same ideas start to repeat themselves. Sometimes students change just one or two words from the last writing prompt.

My experience is that it is best to set a routine for letting students choose the writing prompts. You want to keep all the pros without any of the cons. (Kids like to know what they can expect.)
• From time-to-time
• Once a week
• Every day

Having Students Individually Choose their Own Topics to Write About: Pros and Cons

Pros:
• Gives student the freedom to develop their own writing voice and their own style of writing.
• Teaches self-reliance. Students must learn that often people are not going to tell them what to do. However, it is still their job to not only produce the work, but to also “wow them.”
• Students will likely choose a subject they are an expert in. This will give them confidence in their writing. They will likely develop certain writing skills quicker since they do not have to learn the information at the same time they are doing the writing.
• Many students enjoy the freedom. For many students, this is the way they will develop a true love for writing.

Cons:
• Some will want to write about the same thing every single time. If you don’t closely monitor their writing… many students will.
• Some students will prefer to write about rather superficial things without exploring any real “deep thoughts.” (Video game #1, video game #2, movie #1, video game #3, movie #2, TV show #1…)
• Students may perceive it as busy work. (Having students read it to at least one other person reduces this.)

When you are having students choose what they want to write about you really need to set up what you expect (and hope) the students will get from this. Students that love to write won’t need an explanation. Those that don’t love to write… yet… do need an explanation… and some inspiration…

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