Writing… a topic that is loved by some, but dreaded by others. Writing prompts for students seem like a pretty simple concept, right? In our mind, a child is given a writing prompt and they just have to write. It seems pretty simple!
However, it is not always as easy as it looks. There probably has been a time where your child just sat and stared off into space. Or maybe your child simply copied an example that you provided or someone else’s idea.
Learning how to respond to a writing prompt is an important skill, but this may be challenging for younger students. It also can be hard for us because we want to give support, but not too much support.
A writing prompt is when students are given a topic to write about. For example, a writing topic may be, “Write about a time you were scared” or “Write about your best friend.” This is a skill that we use as adults as well. Many times, adults are asked to respond to job-specific questions when filling out an application or providing feedback about a vacation we went on.
Writing prompts are one-day exercises that typically last about 15 minutes or less for younger students. Writing pieces (opinion writing, informational writing, etc.) are often over a period of time. Let’s take a look at some strategies that may help our younger learners.
1.) Make sure the prompt isn’t too specific. Let’s take a look at two prompts: “Write about a special event,” and “Write about your favorite holiday.” The second prompt is a little more specific and targeted.
With this, it is important that your prompt is not too specific either. If a writing prompt is too specific, there may be occasions where the child doesn’t have prior knowledge or experience to pull from.
2.) Model a response to your prompt. Children and adults benefit from examples. It also helps to talk aloud for your child to hear your thought process as you write. For example, you may think aloud, “Well, I have many favorite holidays. There is, however, one holiday that I love the most. If you guessed Christmas…. Nope…. That isn’t it! My favorite holiday is a time when there is a lot of green, shamrocks, and leprechauns. Yep! St. Patrick’s Day is my favorite holiday!”
When you are thinking aloud, this shows your child what to do as ideas begin to come into their mind. After thinking aloud, show your child how you put your ideas into writing on paper.
3.) Show your child how to use a graphic organizer. Graphic organizers can help students as young as kindergarteners. A simple graphic organizer may be something that shows the beginning, middle, and end of a writing prompt. After collecting ideas in a graphic organizer, help your child transfer his or her ideas on to paper. You also can introduce transitional words such as first, next, then, finally, etc.
Responding to writing prompts is something that needs to be practiced a few times a week. With each response, students will practice organizational structure, sentence fluency, and finding their “writer’s voice”.