By the time students walk in the door of our secondary ELA classrooms, they’re not exactly new to writing assignments. They’ve done autobiographies. Short stories. Love stories. Scary stories. They’ve journaled and summarized and analyzed. So how do we bring the spark back into writing for them? What can we secondary teachers offer in terms of fresh and exciting writing prompts and assignments? Here are 10 writing prompts for high school students to get them excited about writing in the new year.
1. The TED Talk
There are a lot of amazing TED Talks out there that students love. Launch a TED Talk unit by showing this one, from Tim Urban, called “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator.” Talk about what makes it powerful. Have students create TED Talks of their own, sharing a startling story, a piece of wisdom, or an idea from their own lives. Wrap it all up with a mock TED conference at your school, inviting parents, other classes, and administrators, if you wish.
2. Video Writing Prompts
If you’re looking for some unusual, short and sweet writing options, check out John Spencer’s Creative Writing Prompts for Students playlist. It features short videos meant to inspire students to think in creative ways. With clips like “What Are Five Things You Want Your Teacher to Know About You?” and “Invent a New Class,” these short pieces can also help you learn more about your writers.
3. Love Poems
What teenager doesn’t harbor some (not so) secret crush? Creating a unit around great love poems, both canonical and modern (e.g. spoken word poetry like this), will help students get excited about writing their own love poems. Explore various forms, from haiku to sonnet to totally free expression, then create a class anthology of love poems, including both the greats and selections from your own writers.
4. Graduation Speeches
We’ve all sat in the audience of a graduation and wondered what we would talk about if we were on stage speaking. Give students the chance to find out. As the year comes to a close, invite them to write their own charge to the graduating class. What would they say to inspire the seniors? Something to make them laugh? Something to make them cry? Consider having your class vote on the top three pieces and printing them to give to the graduates.
5. Choice Blogging
Students always perk up for an authentic audience and a connection to the real world. Introduce them to one of the many free blogging platforms and let them blog about a topic that truly interests them. Choice blogging makes a great genius-hour option. You can devote one day a week (or every other week) to letting students write about their passions on their own blogs, simply by assigning a different topic each week. Start with list posts, review posts, news posts, video posts, and top-ten posts. Eventually, you can let them choose their own format, as long as they produce a post each week. You can find a full walk-through for setting up this type of project in my own blog post, “A Beginner’s Guide to Student Blogging.”
6. Fold and Pass
When you try the fold and pass, you’re guaranteed to end up with some very surprising stories. Ask each student to begin a story on a blank piece of paper, introducing a main character. After a while, have them stop and fold their paper then trade with another student. You want the next person to only be able to see the last couple of lines of the beginning. In this next round, everyone will write the middle of the story, taking the character into some kind of conflict before moving the story toward resolution. Finally, have those students fold their papers so only a few lines are visible and trade with another student. When the next writers begin, let them know that they should bring the stories to an end. Then they should return the story to the original writer. The results will no doubt make everyone laugh. This is a great activity for when students need a bit of a break but you still want to keep them writing and building community in your classroom.
This writing assignment is not for the faint of heart! The NANOWRIMO challenge invites anyone interested in writing a novel to do so in one month (November). If you’re interested in exploring this ambitious mission with your students, their site is full of helpful information. You could also do a spin-off, asking students to write a novella in a month or perhaps a short story a day for seven days. Take the idea of a big and exciting challenge and make it work for your classroom.
8. “This I Believe” Essays
If you’ve never heard NPR’s old radio series “This I Believe,” it’s a great listen. People from around the country sent in short essays expressing a core belief, which could be as funny and simple as: I believe in the pizza delivery guy. Along with sharing a belief, writers gave specific, vibrant examples of why they held that belief and how they came to have it. It’s an easy format that helps students develop their ability to support claims and write with specific and powerful descriptions. NPR has already created a complete curriculum that is ready and waiting for you to use.
9. Letters to Students Far, Far Away
Several years ago, I taught in Bulgaria, and I loved connecting my students there to students in the United States. We did several projects involving writing back and forth about our views and ourselves.
Finding a collaborative classroom partner gives your students a real reason to write, new friends, and the chance to break down some boundaries. Try connecting your classroom to one in another country or even just in another part of the US. Join a Facebook group for teachers (like one of these) and make a post to find a partner.
Seriously. I’m not kidding. During their lives, your students will probably write a gazillion emails. Why not teach them how to write a good one? Take back electronic communication from the clutches of sentence fragments, emoticons, and confusing demands. I love this post from teachwriting.org, which features ideas for how to get started with an email etiquette unit.
What are your favorite writing prompts for high school? Share them in the comments below!
Writing Lessons and
Activities for Every Grade
* W.R.I.T.E. =
Write, Revise, Inform, Think, and Edit
How do you help your students overcome their fear of the blank page? How can you make writing an exercise in personal expression, not drudgery? One key to better writing is better writing assignments -- and the Internet has them. Let's tour a few of the finest writing activities that the Web has to offer.
Ray Saitz, a teacher/librarian and facilitator of information technology at Clarke High School in Newcastle, Ontario, put his 15 years of English teaching experience to work in creating a haven of resources for educators like himself.
He is becoming a "wired librarian," and his Web site, Outta Ray's Head, is his niche and offering to the educational community at large.
"Essentially, I became frustrated at finding endless ideas on the Internet but no lessons with tips on evaluation and with original handouts for the class," Saitz told Education World. "Most of the sites that I came across were mainly elementary, and I wanted secondary school lessons."
Several terrific tried-and-true Writing Lessons are featured on the site. Saitz explained that two of his favorite and most successful activities are The Biography Assignment and Review of Anything.
In the biography activity, students work in groups of four to create six good interview questions. Each student conducts an interview with a partner and then the two exchange roles. Their grade is determined by their performance in creating interview questions, writing the biography of their partner, and designing a cover for a book or a magazine article based on the interview.
The review writing lesson involves studying and creating a review of any object, person, or thing other than a book or a film. Students combine the characteristics of the informal essay and the review to write and share an oral presentation that has a thesis and incorporates techniques presented during class.
Another activity that hasn't yet made it to the pages of Saitz's site has students writing the end to a short story. "The gist of the lesson is to take a murder/mystery/suspense short story of about two or three pages and copy it," he explained, "but omit the final important last paragraph. You can make up some story about how the story was discovered in an old trunk and the end was rotted off. Read the story with the lights out and make a big deal of acting it up to build suspense. Just when it nearly ends, stop and ask the students to complete the ending using the same style as the writer.
"The students all write pages and pages," added Saitz, "and then a few days later, you can come into the class with the original ending. I say it was found just that day and was in the newspaper. Then they compare their endings to the author's."
Saitz hopes that his site and its lessons provide a resource of ideas that will help teachers extend their repertoire. "I think that I learned the most when I was a student teacher and I saw other teachers teaching," he said. "When we graduate and start teaching, we can stop growing and learning. I hope that the lessons on the site help other teachers realize new possibilities or open new avenues of discovery."
These writing lessons and activities will allow the young authors in your classroom to shine!
Paragraph Writing. Many elementary teachers lose heart as they read short, choppy paragraphs from their students that contain little variation in sentence structure. Successful Paragraphs is a lesson plan with a unique approach to improving student writing. Students list three material things they wish for, three happenings that would make them happy, and three places they would like to visit. They follow a specific pattern to create a paragraph that tells what it would be like for them to enjoy all those things. Using the template helps them see how variation in structure makes for more interesting reading!
Terrific Topics. Often the most difficult part of writing is getting started, and this problem is frequently related to the quest for the perfect topic. A good topic is the well from which ideas flow, so it needs to be plenty deep! If you too are having difficulty coming up with assignments that will bring forth the wonderful stories your students have to tell, visit Writing Topics. This page, from the Write Source, suggests several topics for papers your students will love to write, and all grade levels are addressed. Be sure to bookmark or print this resource from The Write Source, a development house of educational materials.
Story Boxes. Creativity and language flourish in Story Boxes, an activity included on the Pizzaz Web site. You can collect objects for the story boxes, or you can have your students fill the boxes with objects and words written on pieces of paper or sticks. As the students draw objects from the box, a story unfolds. Use the plan as an oral storytelling activity or a written composition. This is not the only excellent lesson in the collection, so visit the homepage for more gems. Best of all, permission to print and copy the handouts is granted for classroom use!
Free Activities. Each month, Zaner-Bloser: Writing offers new, free activities on-line for use with students in grades 3 and up. The activities may be printed and shared with students to exercise their writing skills. A recent issue of activities addressed descriptive writing. Don't miss this opportunity to glean a few excellent handouts and ideas from these experts in the field.
More Free Activities.Scholastic.com: Writing also provides free activities to download and print. (To access these documents, you will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.) Some activities take a few minutes to load, but they are worth the wait. Sample activities include two types of stationery for student letters and a handout that encourages students to contemplate and write about their plans for the future.
Pop-Up Cards. There is an art to writing a good greeting card and an art to making it pleasing to the eye and unusual. Pop-up cards are definitely unique! Your students will be amazed when they follow the card-making directions at How to Make a Pop-Up from Joan Irvine: the Pop-Up Lady. When the work is complete, your students will have a lovely pop-up animal card that is ready for their own special sentimental touch -- the right verse!
Heroic Efforts. Have you noticed that in all epic tales -- Great Expectations, The Odyssey, Star Wars -- there seems to be a prevailing pattern in the story? This site explores the progression of the hero throughout these tales based on observations contained in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. Visitors to The Hero's Journey can examine the steps in a hero's story and read examples from ancient stories or present-day movies that illustrate the concepts. As a final project, students can follow the guidelines of the site to create their own hero stories in this pattern.
Essay Writing. What could be easier than writing a simple essay? Writing one with assistance from the Guide to Writing a Basic Essay! This site takes students through choosing a topic, organizing ideas, composing a thesis, writing the body of the paper, creating an introduction and a conclusion, and adding the finishing touches. With this on-line guide, there is no excuse for a poorly constructed essay.
Writing Worksheets. High-school English teachers have been waiting for a source like this! At OWL Handouts, the Purdue University Online Writing Lab has collected and published handouts for students that address everything from writing research papers to spelling and punctuation. Choose from an extensive group of straightforward guides to complement writing assignments in your classroom. Your students will thank you!
Teach your students to create great friendly letters and give them a reason to learn how! First, introduce the topic of the friendly letter and compare it to the business letter with the examples at Letter Formats. Next, have your students make their own stationery or print one of the cute selections at Friendly Stationery from Jan Brett.
You might have your students write to famous authors, political figures, or even celebrities. You'll find addresses for many well-known actors, actresses, and musical performers online. (Do a Google search for "celebrity addresses." You'll want to supervise student selections if you allow them to use this site.) Add an element of fun by calling the assignment "Dear John Letters" and having the students write to famous people who have John as a part of their names. Don't forget Elton John, Olivia Newton-John, and Pope John Paul II!
Is a business letter more what you had in mind? Then Parts of a Business Letter will help you prepare your students for the business world. Give your students some pointers in writing business communications, and then have them write letters to organizations. They could write to support the efforts of a charity or to complain about a problem with a product or a service. You might even have them write to an address in the book Free Stuff for Kids (published by Meadowbrook Press) and request free materials.
Anyone who writes knows how daunting the empty page can be! Graphic organizers help students overcome the blank sheet and help them put their thoughts in a logical order.
Kathy Baxter and David Leahy of Greenway Elementary School in Beaverton, Oregon, created graphic organizers and placed them on the school Web site for all to see. Setting and Events are designed to be used in writing personal narratives, and Persuasive helps students create persuasive pieces by forcing them to state an opinion, support it with three points, give examples, and summarize their belief in a conclusion.
Writing Plans from The Teacher's Desk
Put one of these great writing activities to good use in your classroom. Choices include a list of assignments for fifth- and sixth-grade students to write a paragraph a week for two years!
A+ Research and Writing for High School and College Students
Designed for upper-level students, this guide helps kids write research papers without going nuts! The site explains how to write a research paper, tells how to locate information on the Internet, and advises students about what material is best found in the library, not on the Web.
Article by Cara Bafile
Copyright © 2010 Education World
Last updated 08/04/2011