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What Is a Writing Prompt?
A writing prompt is simply a statement or question about a particular topic that is designed to elicit a writer’s thinking and writing.
Why Use Them in the Classroom?
Many standardized tests require middle school students to respond to middle school writing prompts in order to judge their writing abilities. To be successful on these standardized tests, students need to practice how to respond to them in class.
Pros of Using Writing Prompts
Like I said above, using them in class situations prepares students to use them on standardized tests.
Stops the “I Have Nothing to Write About" Argument
If your students have a writing prompt they must respond to, they it’s hard for them to tell you they have nothing to write about. (Although some will surely try!)
May Make Grading Easier
If students all write about the same topic, it may make your grading easier. I say this because you are not switching your train of thought each time you crack open a new essay. You also can’t (subconsciously) grade a student according to whether or not you like their chosen topic.
Cons of Using Writing Prompts
If kids are told what to write about every time they write, they may lose the ability to imagine and create on their own.
May Make Grading Harder
If you have ever sat down to grade ninety-five middle school essays about the pros and cons of school uniforms, you know exactly what I mean! After reading fifty essays arguing the same points, you may need toothpicks to prop open your eyelids! A little variety can really help in this department.
How to Create Your Own Middle School Writing Prompts
You certainly don’t have to create your own prompts. There is no shortage of writing prompt ideas online. However, I like to create my own. It’s really pretty easy. I find something that’s going on in our school or community that my kids feel pretty strongly about. Don’t laugh! Middle school students are hiding tons of passion behind those bored expressions.
For example, a couple of years ago, my school system tossed around the idea of a four day school week. Kids would go four days instead of five, but would spend more hours in class each day. We took that idea and wrote a persuasive essay. They chose whether they were for or against the idea. They were interested and I got some great papers because of that interest.
My prompt looked something like this:
The school board is considering changing the school week from a five day week to a four day week. You would attend classes from 7:30AM until 5:00 PM. Persuade the school board whether to change the school week or not.
(Notice, I didn’t tell them to write a persuasive essay. In my state, the standardized test my students take does not tell them what type of essay to write. They must figure that out by reading the prompt. I teach them keywords to look for so they will know what type of essay to write.)
My personal opinion is that prompts are not the greatest teaching tool to come along. I think they can seriously hinder creativity and imagination. That being said, I am required to use them since my kids are tested with them. I think the key is to use writing prompts when you have to, but also do plenty of creative writing without them. Balance is key!