Over the years, my colleagues and I have tried thousands of different writing prompts–some wildly successful, some total duds. Here are three rather surprising ones that result in exciting, specific, and creative work every time:
1. Write about the place where you get your hair done.
Beauty salons and barber shops are full of interesting smells, sounds, and conversations, and they are just strange enough to keep your students from falling back on cliches to write about them.
It is also a place that likely contains many vivid memories and strong meanings for your students. Think about it: it can take up to eight hours to get braids or a weave. Perms are a smelly and painful experience. Barber shops are an important social hub in many communities. Your kids will have a lot to say about this place.
2. Write about this orange.
Hand your kids an orange. Tell them to tear it apart, squish it, eat it, whatever. Then tell them to write about the orange.
If you really want, you can offer additional prompts: Does it trigger any memories? Can they personify it? Can they describe the taste and texture?
This assignment always leads to an incredibly variety of responses, but what they have in common in that every response is specific, vivid, and energetic. Having a tactile prompt–one with smells and tastes and heft–will inspire your students to make their writing specific and real.
3. Write about your name.
We don’t often think about breathing, but it is a vital part of our lives. The same goes for our names. When you ask your students to write about their names, they often discover feelings and ideas that they didn’t even know they had. Here’s one of my favorite examples of student writing from this prompt:
Find more prompts like these in The Cure for IDK!