Out with the Prompts, in with the Sparks!

Over the past few years of teaching, I have noticed that students want choice, choice in what they read and what they write. I completely agree with them. As adults, we don’t like being told what to read. If we start reading a book and don’t like it, we put it down. I encourage my students to do the same thing- if you don’t like a book, choose something else. There are too many good books out there to read one you don’t like. I also believe that there is a book for everyone, if people don’t like to read, they haven’t found a book genre they enjoy yet.

To get back to my original point of this post, I found that having students write to a prompt, doesn’t work. They create pieces that are manufactured to fit what we want to read, not necessarily what they care about. Instead of giving my student’s prompts, I ry to give them sparks- or ideas to get them started writing about what they know and care.

I also have found that students sometimes need a spark to ignite their fire when writing. When I do my warm it up at the beginning of class. I usually show the students an object, quote, or picture. Sometimes we listen to a song and write and I even show some video clips to spark ideas. I have found or thought of  too many ideas to actually use them all in one year. I thought I would share some of the places that I get my inspiration for writing “sparks”

When I show them these sparks, I tell them they can always write about what comes to mind, what the picture, song, object, video clip is about or anything else they want.

Writing Spark ideas:

Time Picture of the Week: http://www.time.com/time/potw/

MSNBC  Week in Pictures: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3842331/

You Tube Video La Chance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nD19Os5oUTg – I had my students write about being lucky, or a time when they had luck etc.. Some of my students wrote about one of the events they saw on this video.

You Tube video :  it is a story of two Cleveland high schoolers featured one sunday on ESPN a few months ago- get the tissues.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O04L0XboS8c

The Beatles Song- We Can Work It Out– I told my students they could write about a time when they had a disagreement,or how they worked out differences.



  1. I completely agree with you. As an undergraduate student disenchanted with the teaching of English in secondary college, I learnt to dislike books. And for all the wrong reasons.

    The curriculum set a small range of books that we had to study, and I had no choice about it.

    Since graduating from secondary education, I’ve learnt that I love reading… pop-economics and pop-science books. Instead, I was shoved with novel after novel of different genres that I wasn’t interested in.

    We need more teachers that understand that every student has a different mode of engagement, especially with books.

    Keep up the good work!

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