Why I Ditched the Writing Prompts

Teachers in my Facebook groups are always asking for suggestions for what they should have their students write about. They always get a big list of ideas, but I am the crazy one who says:

"Let them write about whatever they want to write about!"

That scares the begeebers out of some teachers!

I have to be real with you, it scared me too. It scared me real bad. I like having control. I like things to be just so. I didn't want to let go because I didn't know if my kids would come up with good topics or if I would be able to help them with their pieces when I knew nothing about the topic. 

These are all very legitimate excuses. But they are just excuses.

Once you take the leap and get out of your comfort zone, you and your writers will grow by leaps and bounds! 

You can read my top three reasons for ditching the prompts and the questions I get asked most often, or you can listen to the same information on this podcast.

1. The Quality of Student Writing Improves

When students are given the freedom to choose their own topic, they put more effort into their work. 

I have told this story before, so I apologize if you have already heard it. 

I hate snakes. I live in Phoenix and I am terrified of snakes. It might sound like a tough mix, but I have actually never seen a snake in the wild. 

If a teacher had told me that I needed to write a research report about a snake, I would have cried. Literally. Reading books and articles about snakes would have made my skin crawl. 

Y'all, that paper would be crap. 

On the other hand, I had the most beautiful Golden retriever. I am thoroughly intrigued by the many thing they can be trained to do and how much they are capable of learning. Reading books and articles about this would be so fun for me!

That paper would be the bomb!

When your students choose the topics, they are more interested. When they are more interested, they get more invested and put in more work. This leads to better writing! 

We are all willing to work harder at the things we love. 

2. Students Like Writing More

Do you have students that dislike writing? We all do.

And it's ok to have some students who don't love writing. Everyone isn't going to love every subject. That makes sense.

But does most of your class dislike writing?

That's not ok. When students don't like writing, they often don't write as well.

When we tell students what they have to write about, we often take the the joy of writing out of our writing workshop. (This is similar to the way that telling a kid what they have to read can kill their love for reading.)

Writing will always be more fun when we get to choose what we write about.

When our students love writing, we won't have to pull teeth to get them to write independently for a decent stretch of time.

3. Your Writing Instruction Will Improve

Trying something new is scary. And yet, it is in those times of discomfort that we learn and grow the most.

When you give prompts, you start to teach to that prompt. You help students to find resources for that prompt. You help them to come up with the facts or reasons for that prompt. You help them to make that prompt better.

When you let students choose their own topics, you are forced to teach your students how to find sources for any topic. You must teach them how to find facts for any topic. You help them to become better writers rather than just making that one piece better.

You will come up with strategies and lessons that help your entire class. You will have to conference with writers and this will push you. You will try new things.

You will become a better writing teacher.

When I tell teachers that I ditched the writing prompts, I get some questions...

Can they really write about anything?

So I said that my writers were allowed to write about anything. That is not exactly true. They can choose their own topic, but it has to be the same genre that we are studying in mini lessons. 

For example, if we are currently doing a unit of study on opinion writing, my students must write opinion essays. As long as they are doing an opinion essay, they can choose any topic. But, they cannot write a fictional story about a dragon falling in love with a princess during our opinion unit.

What if they don't know what to write about?

Most of your students aren't going to know what to write about. That's normal! Just plan to spend the first couple lessons of every unit teaching strategies for generating story topics. 

Want to know more about these lessons? Check out my FREE what to teach in writing guide. It includes information about every writing lesson that I teach! Click HERE to check it out.

After I teach these lessons, 90% of my students have multiple topics to write about. At that point I give the students who don't have a topic, a stack of task cards with topic suggestions. I tell them to pick one. They are still choosing, but now I have given them some ideas so they don't have to start from scratch.

How will I prepare them for standardized testing prompts?

This is a VERY good question! Many states require students to respond to a prompt.

First, coming up with your own topic and starting from scratch is much tougher than responding to a prompt. Students who receive instruction on the writing process and strategies for revising their work will do so much better on the prompt than those who have only responded to dozens of prompts. 

Secondly, many of the state test are actually asking students to respond to text for the writing test. Responding to test should be something that students practice regularly during your reading block. Remember that writing doesn't just happen during the writing workshop. Integrate! Click HERE to read about how I teach my students to respond to text.

Finally, I know that test scores are important. Admin reminds us all of the time. Still, I know that I have a responsibility to my students to teach them the standards. This includes writing. 

Writing workshop is a powerful way to teach writing and building choice into your workshop will increase the excitement and the success of your writers!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!