3 Weirdly Successful Writing Prompts

9 Mar
A Barber Shop in Koovery

Image via Wikipedia

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.

That’s it.

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:


The Crazy Name You Gave Me
By Tashjadala Norette Anacaryica Mikell
Hubert Middle School
Is my name the frogleg of names.
First Name: Tashjadala
It sounds like four different names put together.
Tasha, Jada, Dada, and the letter “a”
That’s just crazy. You could have at least called me Tasha or Ta’sheai,
but why Tashjadala?
Is my name the frogleg of names.
Second Name: Norette
Look, I know you were trying to be nice,
But what were you thinking?
Norette sounds like a way to stop smoking.
Is my name the frogleg of names.
Third Name: Anacaryica
Wow! I thought Norette and Tashjadala was Crazy
But Anacaryica? Where in the ham sandwich
Did you get that from? It’s a shame.
Grandma can’t even say it.
Again I say:
Is my name the frogleg of names.


Find more prompts like these in The Cure for IDK!


7 Responses to “3 Weirdly Successful Writing Prompts”

  1. sara h March 9, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    YAY Tashjadala!! I so remember that. Awesome.

    • thatwritinglady March 9, 2012 at 11:07 am #

      Ha! I know–you should totally come down for a visit and help my kids come up with more genius like that…

  2. jockmackenzie March 12, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    3 great ideas. Thank you. I will pass them along – and to make sharing a bit easier, post a blog entry about your site and add a link in my blog – soon.

    • thatwritinglady March 12, 2012 at 10:37 am #

      Thanks so much! I really appreciate your help spreading the word (and I’ll be sure to keep an eye out on your blog for your ideas, too 🙂 )

  3. brainvomit40 March 13, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    Another awesome prompt is the simple “I remember….” It is absolutely amazing how much kids can write when they get this open-ended starter. I have even used this same prompt over and over again because there are SO many things to remember once you get started writing!


  1. Put Your Lesson Where Your Mouth Is | That Writing Lady - March 23, 2012

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