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How to Write Prompts for Middle School English

by Catherine Kohn, studioD

Writing well is an important skill for middle school students. State exams generally feature a writing component, and students need to be able to express themselves effectively as they move on to high school, college and, eventually, the world of work. Writing prompts help students focus their writing, practice specific skills and learn to write based on a specific purpose. The basic types of writing students need to be familiar with are narrative and imaginative, expository and persuasive.

What Every Prompt Should Have

A good writing prompt allows students to write from their own perspective, using their own knowledge and in their own voices. The Oregon Department of Education designs its writing prompts for state tests so that they address "experiences and interests relevant to the student’s age level." The prompts encourage students to write using their personal experiences without invading their privacy. Education Northwest, an educational research organization, offers this advice: "The best prompts are the ones that spark a personal connection between the writer and his or her ideas." Additionally, prompts should be open-ended and offer the ability to express different ideas. They should be simple and easy to understand.

Narrative and Imaginative Writing Prompts

Narrative writing involves telling a story or recounting a series of events. Although narrative writing is often associated with fiction, the elements of narrative writing are important to nonfiction as well. Narrative writing prompts can ask students to do such things as retell fairy tales from a different point of view. Or you can give students an opening line such as "Suddenly, the door flew open . . ." or "Where did it come from? I wondered," and ask them to make up a story. If the emphasis is on nonfiction essay writing, ask them something like, "Tell a true story about a time when you learned to do something."

Expository Writing Prompts

The purpose of exposition is to clarify, explain and inform. Good writing prompts might include using "how to" writing that explains how to do something like training for a sport or winning a video game. Ask your students to write about such things as inventions or products. For example, "Explain how using a computer can help you with your homework," or "What inventions would you include in your dream home and why?" Good writing prompts ask students to do such things as compare and contrast or use cause and effect.

Persuasive Writing Prompts

Persuasive writing is an attempt to convince readers to agree with a point of view or to make a decision or follow a course of action. Persuasive writing prompts ask students to develop their opinion logically but appeal to the reader emotionally. Persuasive writing prompts can involve asking students to review a book or movie. Make sure they know to express why it is worth reading or seeing rather than simply summarizing the story. Another good method is to provide them with a statement and ask them to agree or disagree. For example, "People who are rich are always happier than people who are poor." One of the prompts used by the Oregon Department of Education was "Create a new Olympic event. Write a paper to convince the Olympics Committee to accept this new event." This type of prompt allows students to be creative as well as persuasive.

About the Author

Catherine Kohn is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience. She holds a BA in writing from the University of South Florida and is a certified elementary and secondary teacher. She has taught preschool, elementary, middle and high school. At Morris Communications she was special sections editor, education reporter, news editor and features editor. She is also an award-winning newspaper layout designer.

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