One of the challenges as an English teacher is to find time to do all of the things that we know work best for our students. We’re constantly juggling reading and writing, skill building and enjoyment, research and critical thinking. We do this with one eye on the clock and the the other on the calendar, knowing too well that there’s never enough time to do it all.
I knew that I was not giving my kids enough time to write — other than the assignments I gave them — so I created a series of writing prompts to change that. Now, writing prompts are nothing new for me; it’s what I added to them that made them a more effective tool for increasing skill AND stamina.
My kids always start with some pre-writing and then they do a quick-write. For example, I might ask them to brainstorm a list of things they fear. Then, they choose one of them and write about it for three-five minutes. After this quick-write, when they have explored their initial ideas, they look back at what they wrote and reflect on ways to improve it. They are asked to consider ways to push their ideas further and to play with their diction and sentence structure. Some prompts have them experiment with different ways for leading into a piece of writing or using dialogue. I mix up the instructions so it’s not repetitive, but each one challenges them to find ways to reflect and revise.
The process does not have to take that long. If I don’t have a lot of time to devote to revision during the class, the students just look for places where they could revise if they had the time. They will underline or highlight words and phrases; sometimes they will write suggestions in the margin. Later, they might choose one of these quick-writes to develop into a longer piece. Even if they don’t, the process of taking a few minutes to reflect on their writing is a hugely valuable one: it gets them in the habit of considering their words and whether or not they have used the best ones.
The prompts are pretty versatile. You can use them as bell ringers in this way: on Monday have them do the initial response. Then, on following days, have them do one revision at a time. Or, use them all at once for skill building activities, or as inspiration for your writing workshop.
Regardless of how you make use of them in your classroom, your kids will have the opportunity to write more and improve their writing. Seems like a winning combination!