Sample Writing-to-Learn Prompts

Admit Slips: Upon entering the classroom, students write on an assigned topic: Examples: “Who was Gandhi and why should we care?” “Pick one word to describe the TONE of your evening last night and explain.” “Did you agree with Ellen’s actions in the chapters last night. Why or why not?”

Crystal Ball: Students describe what they think class might be about, what direction a discussion might take, or what might happen next in the novel.

Found Poems: Students reread a piece of text, either something they have written or something published, and find key phrases. They arrange these into poem structure without adding any new words.

Awards: Students recommend someone or something for an award the teacher has created, such as “Most helpful molecule” or “Most insidious leader.”

Yesterday’s News: Students summarize the information presented the day before in a film, lecture, discussion or reading

Exit Slips: As a closing activity, students write on an assigned prompt. Example: “The three best things I learned today were…” “Three aspects of my essay that I need to look at are…”

Adapted from Improving Adolescent Literacy by Fisher and Frey, p. 142-148


Shades of Gray: Choosing Better Words

Shades of Gray: Choosing Better Words

An idea from Pinterest on using paint color samples to get students to think about word choice. Start with a boring word (“nice,” “big,” “fast”) on the lightest color and have them write better, more descriptive words going up the card

Creative Writing: Poem Prompts

1. Write a poem  using the headlines cut out of a newspaper or fragments of poems from a notebook. Cut up the words and rearrange them to create new meaning.

2. Choose a poem that you like. Cut it up and mix up all the individual words or phrases. Get rid of some and recompose the poem into something that is your own

3. Try writing a poem of only negative statements: “I don’t…I no longer…I won’t…I would not…I cannot..I don’t even..I never…

4. Write a “contradictory poem.” Example (from Peter Handke, from “The Wrong Way Around”): I do not look at things, and things look at me. I do not move, and the floor under my feet moves me.”

5. Take a story out of a magazine or newspaper. Transform it into a poem by using the words and phrases but deleting and recomposing it.

6. Write a poem from the perspective of any inanimate everyday object, like a coffeepot, your car, your pencil, or the doors to your school. Use first-person and try to imagine the world through the object’s eyes as if it were alive.

7. Write a poem made up only of questions.

8. Write a list of questions. Then write the answers. Delete the answers and make up a poem from the answers you have left.

9. Take a favorite poem. Run all of the words together without punctuation. Then create a new poem by adding new line breaks and puncuation.

10. Write an “This I Believe” poem.

{Many of these ideas came from The Aspiring Poet’s Journal, by Bernard Friot, Abrams Books 2008)

Creative Writing: Writing a Collaborative Story

Each person begins with a piece of paper with a random prompt or first line written on it. They write one sentence to continue the story and pass it to their left. The story continues until time runs out or the teacher announces that they should conclude the plot. Teacher can discuss parts of a plot: introduction, conflict, character, tension, resolution, conclusion.

Some ideas for first lines:

I knew what I’d done as soon as the door closed.

 It wasn’t as if anyone got hurt.

 It started that day when Elizabeth went to the bus stop and no one was there.

 Looking back, Tom could pinpoint the minute that things started getting creepy.

 Two thousand ten was a good year to be a twelve year old, as long as you weren’t Buddy McGee.

If our team had , my life might have turned out very differently.

 No one likes a bully Charly thought, but everyone seemed to like Rachel Adams, queen of the 7th grade.

 All the trouble started that day when the school bus crashed.

 The gossip at school that day was that Grant Mullins, the new kid, lived in a leaking houseboat propped up on stilts in the swamps off of Highway 10.

I had my bags packed for weeks but Monday was the day I had decided to run away for good.

 Looking back, no one quite knows who started the rumor that Mr. Jones, the science teacher, was one a CIA spy.

 On Monday morning, Sara picks me up in the automated flying car and we travel over to the Floating Island to pick out new soccer clothes.

Creative Writing: Creating an Exquisite Corpse Poem

Writing an Exquisite Corpse Poem

Everyone needs to write their word under the fold, so that all the responses end up on the same side of the paper and, of course, no one unfolds it until the end.

The Prompts

1. Write down an article, definite or indefinite (A(N) or THE)

2. Write any adjective (i.e. describing word e.g. yellow, funny, huge)

3. Write down a single concrete noun (i.e. one that names one of something concrete – dog, elephant, apple, trombone, child, waiter, spiderweb)

4. Write down an adverb (i.e. a word that describes how something happened – e.g. he ran slowly)

5. Write down one of the following verbs: carries, remembers, chases, sees

6. Write down a number larger than 1

7. Write down any adjective (as in step 2)

8. Write down any plural concrete noun (e.g. dogs, elephants, apples, trombones, children).

Next Step

Pass the paper around one last time then open and read the full sentence.

The Outcome

You should end up with a collection of very strange but grammatically accurate sentences, such as:

The shadowy pickup Truck triumphantly chases fourteen enthusiastic elephants.

A frightened fence-post hurriedly carries two reluctant doors.

The glorious sheep quickly remembers four happy windows.

Don’t Stop There

Each person uses the sentence they have ended up with as the first line of a short poem and chooses one of the others as their last line.

I Poem

Template for an I-Poem:

First name

Four words that describe you

Family relationship (sister, son, daughter of…)

Loves… (three things)

Who feels that…

Who needs (three things)…

Who gives…

Who fears…(three things)

Who would like to…

Where you live/Place you identify with (Citizen of USA, Resident of Minneapolis)

Last Name