The Trouble with Writing Prompts

When I started student teaching, one of the first things my cooperating teacher said to me was, “I don’t do writing prompts. I hate writing prompts.” And then she got on her Anti-Writing Prompt Soapbox and proceeded to denounce the supposed virtues of writing prompts.

At first I thought, “Whoa… crazy lady… simmer down. It’s just a writing prompt. Wacko.”

Now? I’m totally like, “Preach it, sister!”

From what I’ve seen, teachers LOOOOOOVE their writing prompts. They’re easy to correct, easy to read, and they help to teach basic writing skills.

I still hate them.

I remember hating them back when I was in school. If I had to spend one more year explaining what I did over the summer in September, describing what I hoped to do over the summer in May, and writing about my holiday plans in December, I was going to shoot myself in the foot. It was SO BORING. And it was the EXACT. SAME. THING. EVERY. FLIPPIN’. YEAR.

Where is the creativity in that? And how does that instill in students a love of writing when it becomes complete drudgery?

Put yourself in your students’ shoes. How would you feel if you were forced to follow a formula when it came to writing? How would you like it if someone else dictated to you what you were going to write that day?

“Let’s see, Annie. Today, you’re going to tell me what you’re looking forward to about spring. Give me at least 5 complete sentences, and then draw me a picture illustrating your ideas.”

I have actually seen kids do exactly that when being given a writing prompt. Why? Because it’s ANNOYING. I’ve actually had kids bang their heads against their desks, crawl underneath their desks, and spend 20 minutes in the bathroom just to get out of writing. It’s not that they hate the writing… they hate what they’re expected to write. The kids who avoid writing are the same kids who will come up with the most inventive and creative stories when not limited by restrictive guidelines. So, why do we keep shoving writing prompts down their throats? God forbid we allow our students some creative expression.

Whether the student is crafting a fairy tale, writing a letter to his or her imaginary friend, or giving a play by play of the weekend’s events, they’re still gaining writing experience. You can give your students parameters as far as word count, integrating certain vocabulary and making use of certain strategies… but  you don’t have to tell them what to write. They’re perfectly capable of coming up with something on their own. And for the students who are sticklers for rules and absolutely have to be told what to write and how to write it… at least give them a choice of what to write. Let them pick their own writing prompt out of a hat, or give them 3 to 5 prompts to choose from. But don’t squelch their creativity by dictating to them what to write about. That’s a sure-fire way to kill their love of writing. And if you do that, you might as well tell them Santa Claus isn’t real while you’re at it too.

*Gif from


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