The collection of prompts below asks young writers to think through real or imagined events, their emotions, and a few wacky scenarios. Try out the ones you think will resonate most with your students.
As with all prompts, inform students that their answers should be rated G and that disclosing dangerous or illegal things they’re involved in will obligate you to file a report with the administration or school counselors. Finally, give students the option of writing “PERSONAL” above some entries that they don’t want anyone to read. We all need to let scraggly emotions run free in our prose sometimes.
If your class uses daybooks (an approach recommended in Thinking Out Loud: The Student Daybook as a Tool to Foster Learning), wait for composition notebooks to go on sale at Target, the Dollar Store, or Walmart for $0.50 a piece. To organize the daybook, direct young writers to leave the first three pages blank and number and date each entry—adding these entries to a table of contents that they create as they work so they can return to specific entries later.
High School Prompts
- Should cameras on drones watch all public spaces to prevent crime, or is that a violation of privacy?
- Do Americans have it too easy? Why do you think that?
- What causes racism?
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation hires you as a consultant to determine how best to use $20 billion to save the world. What’s your plan?
- What’s the worst thing about the internet?
- Would you rather be very beautiful or very smart? Explain.
- You can save one object before your house burns down. What is it? What makes that object important to you?
- How much control over your life do you have? What makes you say that?
- Describe your ideal life 15 years from now. What is something you can do every day to reach that goal?
- What would your friends say is your most lovable quality? Describe that quality.
- What is something scary that you would like to try? What makes it scary for you? How might you overcome that fear?
- What things do you conscientiously do to feed your brain?
- What are three of your most profound learning experiences? Where and when did they occur?
- By age 18, the average American has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 40,000 murders. What is it about television violence that is so compelling to people?
- Would you rather be loved or respected? Because?
- Does social media represent individuals authentically? Explain with examples.
- Imagine that it’s the last day of high school and you’ve been asked by a teacher to say a few words that summarize the events that have occurred over the last four years that are most meaningful to you. What do you say?
Middle School Prompts
- Which classmate would be the best to lead us through a zombie apocalypse? Why?
- What real-life situations would work out better for you if you were a different gender? Why?
- How can you tell when someone your age is feeling insecure? Are most people more insecure or anxious than they let on?
- If the internet were to crash forever, what would the benefits be for you? The drawbacks?
- Write a scene that features a) a classmate, b) $100 million, and c) magical shoes.
- What three features should your future house have? Why?
- If you starred in a television show about your life, what would the show be called? What genre would it be? (Examples: comedy, drama, thriller, romance, action-adventure, fantasy, superhero, soap opera, reality, game show, space adventure, Western, tragedy, etc.) Summarize the plot of an episode.
- In the future, what extreme sports will people be talking about?
- Is your ethnicity an important part of your identity? How so?
- You get to take one book, one food item, and one famous person (living or dead) to a deserted island. What and who do you take? Why?
- Write a powerfully supportive email to yourself 10 years from now. Send that email to yourself using FutureMe.org.
- You have been selected to be king or queen of your school. What are five rules that every kid should follow at your school? What should the punishment be for rule breakers?
- What do the five friends you hang out with most have in common? How are you most like them? How are you different from them?
- What contributes to someone becoming a bully? What can help stop someone from bullying?
- Do you make friends slowly or quickly? Describe how one of your important friendships evolved.
- Should we fear failure? Explain.
- If a wizard could tell you anything about your future, what would you most like to know?
- Do you believe in luck? Are you superstitious? How so? If not, why do you think some people are?
Elementary School Prompts
- I wish my teachers knew that . . .
- What’s the most beautiful person, place, or thing you’ve ever seen? Share what makes that person, place, or thing so special.
- Which is better, giant muscles or incredible speed? Why?
- What is your most difficult subject in school? Why is it difficult? What can you do to get better at that subject?
- Rewrite “Hansel and Gretel” from the witch’s perspective.
- Describe a scary situation that you’ve experienced.
- What is your first memory? Describe it.
- You wake up tomorrow with a silly superpower that makes you famous. What is that silly power? How does it lead to your becoming an international superstar?
- Are you a good loser? Explain.
- What are examples of things you want versus things you need?
- Last Friday, you were given one wish by a magical panda. You tried so hard to make the wish positive, but after the whacked-out events that unfolded over the weekend, you regret ever meeting that tricky panda. What did you ask for, and what happened?
- I wish my friends . . .
- Describe a routine that you often or always do (in the morning, when you get home, Friday nights, before a game, etc.).
- What things do all kids know that adults do not?
- What TV or movie characters do you wish were real? Why?
After they’ve finished an entry, ask students to read their work aloud or exchange daybooks for a read-around. If you give the entries written feedback, show that their work is respected by using a sticky note or scratch paper.
You might also incorporate background writing music one day a week—say on “Music Monday.” For some examples of music you might use in class, Pitchfork has an article called “The 50 Best Ambient Albums of All Time.” My favorite album for composing is the Birdy soundtrack by Peter Gabriel—a good one for older kids. Other Edutopia staff and bloggers like writing to Coffitivity, Noisli, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Alcest’s Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde.
Don’t forget to write along with your students. Why should they have all the fun?
What are your students’ favorite writing prompts?