What You Can Do With Writing Prompts Part One: Idea Generating

What You Can Do With Writing Prompts Part One: Idea Generating

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 16,551 views |

Every ESL teacher wants his or her students to be strong writers in the English language.

Because of that, we give them many opportunities to write in class and for homework. We stress parts of an essay and what you need for an effective story. We give them writing prompts and journal questions to spark their creativity and get their imaginations going. With all of these opportunities for writing, though, it is easy to get stuck in a rut; we hand our students a prompt and say, “Write it.” However, writing prompts can be used in many more ways than just as an in class essay. As teachers, we can use writing prompts for countless activities that strengthen our students’ general language skills as well as their writing skills.

In this series, you will find several activities you can do with the writing prompts available on Busy Teacher paired with a couple of possible prompts you can use with each activity. By no means do these activities cover every possible action you and your students can take with a writing prompt, but hopefully they will help you start thinking outside of the box for what you can do with writing prompts. The activities are broken into several categories to help you find exactly what you are looking for the next time you want to do a writing activity with your students. So whether it is a game, the parts of an essay, or your students’ creativity that you are looking to start up, you will be able to find something you can do with writing prompts in your class today!

Idea Generating

A common problem among students is the feeling that they have nothing to write about. You can free your students from this fear by keeping a collection of writing prompts available to them in your classroom for those times you need inspiration. Before setting out a complete selection, conduct a brainstorming session with your class in which you make a list of all the things they could write about. Depending on your class, your session may end shortly after it begins, or it may go on for much longer than you planned it to. Either way, cut your students off when you feel it is appropriate, and tell them that you will make a list of these and other writing prompts available to them for inspiration when they need it. Copy their list of ideas and then add to it any that you think would help them. You may choose to include all of the prompts on Busy Teacher (spoiler alert – we have over 900!) or just some of them. Then write each of the prompts on its own index card and put the collection in a box which your students can access during their writing periods. Encourage your students that anytime they have good ideas for writing topics to share them with you. If you agree that it is a good idea, write it on a card and add it to the collection. The next time your students need inspiration for writing, tell them to copy a prompt from one of the cards, put it back in the box and write away!

Just because you give your students a writing prompt does not mean that there is only one option for them to write about. Some questions lead to many options about which a student can write, and sometimes the ideas that come later are better than the ideas that may come first. To challenge your students to think of multiple options for own writing prompt, a simple pair of dice can make the activity fun and challenging. First, have everyone in your class take a turn rolling the dice; have each person write their number on the top of a piece of paper. Then give your class a writing prompt that might have multiple options. Each person must list the number of possibilities that is written on the top of their page, so if they rolled an eight they should list eight possibilities for answering the prompt. You may then want to have your students choose one and write or simply repeat the activity with another prompt.

  • Finish this sentence and elaborate. “If cows could be milked for anything else other than milk, I would have them give…
  • Finish and expand on this sentence. “I was going to finish my homework, but…” Be as creative as possible.

In a similar way, you can use a regular pack of playing cards to challenge your students to generate ideas for writing prompts. Shuffle the cards and have each person draw between one and three cards, writing the number and the suit on a piece of paper. Again, provide a writing prompt that could have multiple answers and challenge your students to list the same number of possibilities as the number on their cards. You may want to have a different prompt for each of the different suits as well, listing four prompts and then having your students list their ideas accordingly.

  • If you could acquire any skill right at this moment, what would it be and why?
  • Finish this sentence and elaborate. “If I were president for a day, one law I would pass would be…”

Using a writing prompt for inspiration, have your students write a list of all the questions that they have about the topic. They should also write any questions that are inspired by the prompt. These can be questions that they might ask themselves, questions that they might ask another person, or questions that another person might ask them. The goal of the activity would be to list as many questions inspired by or related to the prompt as possible. You can also take the question words one at a time – who, what, where, when, why and how – and have your students list questions which begin with each of these words. If you like, you can then ask your students to use these questions for inspiration as they write about the topic. If they need a point from which to start, ask them what they might want to know about the topic, what they might ask another person about the topic or what they would need to know before writing about the topic.

  • If you are a boy, imagine that you are a girl for a day. If you are a girl, imagine that you are a boy. What would be different about that day?
  • Write a short story based on the following scenario: Two men are at a train station waiting for their train to arrive. They begin to chat and realize they have the same name, birthday and even the same dog.

Blind writing is an interesting way to help your students generate ideas from a writing prompt. To do this exercise, each student will need access to his own computer, and he will write from the writing prompt without looking at what he is writing. If your students have laptops, simply tilt the screen down so the writer cannot see what is displayed. If you are using desktop computers, tape a piece of construction tape over the screen. Your students will now be able to write unhindered by what they see on the screen. Taking away distractions of red and green underlines for errors in grammar and spelling will free your students to write about the things that that come from within them, and your students can always go back and spell and grammar check after the exercise though that is not necessary. Give your students as much time as you think they can handle for this exercise – five minutes for younger students up to twenty or thirty minutes for older, more proficient writers. After time is up, let your students go back and read what they have written and take inspiration for a more formal and organized piece of writing.

  • Write a story from the viewpoint of a puppy who has just been given to a wild and overly loving little girl.
  • If you had a million dollars to open a business, what kind would you open? Where would you open it?

Before anyone can write, he needs an idea with which to start.

By using BusyTeacher’s writing prompts to generate multiple ideas, your students will have the freedom to choose the most inspiring and interesting possibility they think of for a given question. Keeping a collection of these ideas in a notebook, too, will ensure that your students always have something about which they can write.

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