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Writing Prompts that Motivate

It's easy to get the impression that students think writing is boring. This is actually quite untrue.

If you visit any television show chat room, video game forum, social network for teens, or multiplayer online game, you will quickly discover that a whole lot of the original writing in our Web 2.0 culture is being produced by young men and women. Coupled with the history of private diaries and vast efforts at creative writing, there is evidence that today's youth are highly motivated to write for self-expression and to communicate.

Today's generation is far from being intimidated by the written word. Rather, they are usually enthralled by everything linguistic, if - - and this is a BIG if - - the subject being written about seems relevant to their daily lives.

Teachers and parents would do well to remember this caveat. If your student does not seem excited about writing, perhaps it is because he or she sees no value in the process. Asking a child to write about something that matters to him right now is a powerful motivator. This is where writing prompts come in. Writing prompts are simply ideas or subjects offered as a foundation for students to build a writing assignment on.

Tips For Creating Writing Prompts

A poorly-chosen prompt can frustrate or bore, while a well-chosen writing prompt can inspire and thrill. So how can you figure out which is which?

Pick a prompt that the writer can connect to. The best writing is writing that comes from a personal connection to the subject. Young writers will generally write more interestingly, more fluently, and more passionately if the subject is something they care about on a personal level.

Make sure prompts are open-ended. Nothing can create writer's block more quickly than boxing a student in. Students need to feel that there is no "right or wrong" response when they are writing. The more unrestricted the subject, the more likely that the student will feel comfortable writing about it. It's best not to offer suggestions or advice on how a student might want to respond to a prompt.

Have a Plan B. Although one prompt might spark creativity in every student, the chances of this happening are slim. When supplying writing prompts for students, allow more than one choice, or at least more than one direction to go with a particular subject. Having this choice will empower the student to make the writing even more personal.

Editors Note - Thanks to Time4Writing for their contribution of this article on writing prompts. Time4Writing teaches writing courses online for students who don't get adequate writing instruction from their school or whom are homeschooled and find that some outside instruction helps in this area.

Writing Prompts That Motivate Students

An important characteristic of a good writing prompt is that it motivates a writer to want to express his- or herself. School students who seem indifferent to writing assignments may simply feel uninspired by the usual "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" style of inducement. If the prompts come across as juvenile, too specific, or uninteresting, students may transfer those feelings to the writing assignment.

The solution to this problem is ensuring that writing prompts are age-appropriate, open-ended, and relevant to the student's everyday life and culture. Writing prompts that encourage opinion, or tickle the student's funny bone can be strong motivators to produce good writing. Whether it is a narrative or an expository essay, the topic needs to be one that is going to pique a student's interest. And this interest will vary by age and grade level. Topics that get elementary school age students giddy with excitement might make a hormone-surging middle schooler groan with exasperation. Motivation comes from feeling a connection with a given subject, and different age groups connect with different topics.

Examples of Targeted Writing Prompts

If you would like to create targeted writing prompts for your children or students, take a look at the following examples to see how a good writing prompt can make the difference between writer's block and writer's boon.

Early Elementary Prompts
  • What would you take with you on a trip to the moon?
  • If you have a pet, how did it get its name? If you don't have a pet, what would you name it and why?
  • Tell about your favorite vacation.
Middle School Prompts
  • If you could talk for unlimited minutes on your cell phone to anyone in the world, who would it be, and what would you talk about?
  • If a fly spent an evening on a wall at your house, what would his opinions of your family be?
  • Write a review of the last video game you played.
High School Prompts
  • Why do you think most television actors make at least five times more than the average school teacher? What does this say about our culture?
  • What do you think is your most endearing quality? How does this quality benefit you in your daily life?
  • How has the current economic crisis affected your family?

Pointing writing prompts directly toward a student's interest and frame of reference is the key to helping them find the inspiration in their writing. Millions of websites can attest to the fact that students love to write; they simply need to care about the subject matter.
 
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