How to Be Flexible and Creative with Super Classroom Writing Prompts

Writing prompts can be a great way to support student creativity and teacher lesson planning.  They are convenient and help students start writing about their topics.  Sometimes writing prompts seem boring, or it can be hard to use them in a variety of ways in a busy classroom.  Really, it all depends on how you think about writing prompts.  If you are prepared with a variety of ways to use them then they can be a great resource in every classroom.

How I Used to Use Writing Prompts as a Teacher

When I was teaching in the classroom and learning from seasoned teachers, it seemed that writing prompts came in two forms.  The first was a huge writing project that the kids spent weeks on and counted for a large portion of their grades.  These kinds of prompts stressed kids out because they were full of pressure.

The second kind of prompt is busy work.  Especially around holidays, teachers tend to give out writing prompts related to the holidays.  Sometimes they were optional and sometimes they were required.  The teacher tended to give them a quick read and a checkmark.  They didn’t really give the students feedback.  It was busy work right before the holidays.

Don’t Use Writing Prompts as Busy Work

I don’t think writing prompts should be busy work or super stressful.  Students need to learn to enjoy writing as much as possible.  We need to show them we value their writing every time they write.  Their work can be meaningful without being a stress trigger.  It can also be meaningful without creating a giant stack of papers to grade.

What are Writing Prompts?

Writing prompts are ideas that trigger writing.   They help writers get started by giving them a topic, idea, or question to focus on.  The purpose of a writing prompt is to help a writer get their thoughts down without struggling to find a topic to start with.  

Writing prompts are not just for schools.  Many adult and professional writers use writing prompts to help them start their writing projects, get fresh ideas, or as an exercise that is different from their normal writing.  Writing prompts are meant to support writers.

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I think many teachers use writing prompts as an easy out to fill time and make lesson planning easy.  Writing prompts should make lesson planning easier, but we also need to use them purposely to help our students become better writers.

  1. Writing Prompts as Warm Ups

Writing prompts have been a classic warm-up in the writing classroom.  They are a great way to get students in writing mode.  They are a quick and easy way to start off the writing day.  After your students have completed their warm-up writing prompt it’s important that it’s not just put away in a notebook and forgotten.  Students can share their work so others can recognize it.  Your students should share all their writing, sharing ideas is the point of writing.  They can even look back at their paper and find their favorite sentence or paragraph and just share that much.

Of course, there is limited time so another option would be to grade it.  Grading can let your students know you value their writing enough to grade it.  But let’s keep grading simple because time is always a factor when grading writing.  I would suggest that you have students leave their work on their desks.  Once they start their next project go around and read through their work.  If they answered the question and it makes sense then they get full credit.

  1. Untimed Writing Prompts Activity

I find that writing prompts tend to be short assignments, but writing prompts can take up the whole class.  There is nothing wrong with taking a break from their current writing project so that students can get fresh ideas.  It can also be a good activity in between big writing projects.  Not every writing project needs to be huge, but you also want to let your students’ creativity flow, which means sometimes there shouldn’t be a time limit.  

  1. Give Students a Choice About Their Writing Prompts

How often do we fail to give our students choices?  Often choices come when there aren’t any grading implications.  Then there are the times we ask the students to write about anything and they get so overwhelmed that they write nothing.  Writing prompts can help solve these problems.  You can offer students a choice of several writing prompts.  They can choose their favorite to work on.  Using the prompt can help provide guidance about how to write about a topic, but the choices they have let them have control and hopefully find something they’re passionate about. 

  1. Writing Prompts That are Relevant

Giving students writing prompts that are irrelevant is a surefire way to see your students fail.  We need to give our students writing prompts that inspire them or they can relate to.   That’s probably why there are so many personal narratives out there.   But I don’t find writing a personal narrative to be all that inspiring.  If we can find the right writing prompts that inspire our students and are relevant to what they see and imagine in their lives without having to write about their day last Friday I think we would see their creativity explode.   We have to know our students to give them writing prompts that are relevant and inspiring.

  1. Writing Prompts That Provide Practice Leading Up to Bigger Assignment

I love the idea of giving students 5 or so writing prompts over the course of a week and at the end of the week asking them which one they did the best on.  Then you can grade that one assignment or have your students take that one piece of writing and expand on it.  Have them grow the piece of writing they did best into a full story or essay.  It will be more fun to grade the work your students thought they did best gives you a variety of topics to read about.

  1. Writing Prompts With Simple Grading 

I think one of the reasons teachers avoid lots of writing prompts is that they don’t want to grade a ton of papers.  I don’t either.  But you are the teacher so you can decide how in-depth their grading should be.  Part of my writing prompt series is that students are graded on three simple things for each writing prompt.  You don’t have to grade everything, just three things.  If the students do those three things they get a good grade.   Changing those things over the course of the year can help students focus on the areas they need to work on.

  1. Writing Prompts That Skip Grading 

Not every writing prompt needs to be graded, however, we do need to show students that we always value their work.  Instead of grading everything you can have your students share their work with a classmate.   While they share you can simply walk around and check off that each student did a reasonable amount of work for their ability.  They get a grade for their work and they get to share their work without a huge fuss about perfection.

You can also have students hand in one writing prompt out of a series for a grade.  They get to choose which one they did the best work on and that’s the one that counts for their grade.  It takes a lot of reading off your plate and asks students to honestly judge their own work.

Possibilities for Writing Prompts 

My hope is that you found some new possibilities for writing prompts in your classroom.   It’s easy to build the habit and routine of doing the same things all the time, even with writing prompts.  No matter what you do make sure your students know that their work is valued and try to add some variety for everyone’s sanity.

Here is Your FREE Prompt for Writing Poetry

I know that you needed a prompt to help kickstart your students’ writing.  Here is an entire lesson for FREE.  My Our School Poem guides students on how to use sensory language to describe their school. The step-by-step directions guide your class through the writing process with all the necessary worksheets making this the perfect lesson for your classroom.

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