The #1 Writing Prompt to Get Kids to Buy Into Writing!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

You are going to want to use this in your classroom!

Do your students ever groan when you ask them to write ANYTHING?

Does their writing lack voice and enthusiasm?

Wouldn't it be great to find a writing prompt that will get kids writing?

This worked for my students, and I bet it WILL work well for yours, too!

I didn't invent it, but I use it in my classroom once a week, and suddenly my students are invested in their writing.

Best of all, they want to share it out loud, and it leads to a lively discussion.

It renews my faith that I am teaching them the rudiments of good writing as I hear the components integrated into their paragraphs.

Yet, most importantly, I hear their writing come to life. It has passion.

What is this writing prompt, you ask?  

Would you rather I tell you now, or would you rather wait until the very end of this blog?

Oh, all right! I will share the secret with you:

How did I get kids to buy in?

By Introducing Would You Rather questions into my classroom, and you can, too!

It's easier than you think!

Here's how I structure my classroom and find time once a week for the Would You Rather question, and you may want to try this out as well

As you know, I teach creative writing; however, you may not know that I also teach 3 periods of Eighth grade English Language Arts.

I open each day of the week with a specific Do Now activity.

I find this approach allows me to fit in the myriad of tasks integral to an English Language Arts classroom, but each only takes a few minutes a day!

For example:
  • On Monday, it is called Our Monday Edit, where we review a grammar skill.  
  • Shakespeare Tuesday is the direct result of a request I received from a high school colleague which is to help prepare this group of incoming freshman by introducing them to the language of Shakespeare through his words, idioms, and quotes from his most popular plays. 
  • Word Wednesday is where and when I reinforce vocabulary from the text we are reading or introduce to students a new and interesting word they should incorporate into their writing or speech. 
  • Go to the Video Tape Thursday is where I share a video related to a skill we are mastering or to the literature we are reading.
  • And finally, I end with Would You Rather Friday, which to my surprise is my students favorite Do Now day of the whole week!

Each year I spend an exorbitant amount of time teaching my students to write a well-developed, cohesive paragraph, and it seems like I never get the kind of writing from my students that I want.

Of course, like you, we go through the writing process, and I have my students review, practice and incorporate the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing into their paragraphs and essays. However, even though I use a mnemonic device to help my students learn the essential components of a paragraph, what I usually receive is boring, formulaic writing.

The paragraphs are often flat and lack a real voice.  Voice is hard to teach and even harder for students to grasp and incorporate into their writing.

Students also don't elaborate. They write a sentence or two which are usually repetitive or boring.

Except on Fridays!

My students love Would You Rather writing prompts, and if you, like I, wish to see your students' writing come alive, I urge you to try them in your classroom a.s.a.p.!

This is a link to LifeHacks, which has some really good Would You Rather questions to get your students started.  

Of course, beware: not all of them are appropriate, but the ones I have used with my students have proved provocative and have made my kids employ higher level thinking skills without struggling.  
Students elaborate and also seamlessly incorporate all the components I want in a paragraph.

Would You Rather questions are the win-win writing prompt in my classroom, for sure!

So first, here's what I do each Would You Rather Friday, and you might want to try this, too: 

1. I structure their responses to get the most bang for my buck. While they are having fun, they are also working on the components of a paragraph and their voice!

A. I pose the Would You Rather question for the day; then, I ask students to simply write a TAPES paragraph.

This is an example of a Would You Rather question from LifeHacks:

Would you rather know how you will die or when you will die? (My kids loved this one!)

B. A TAPES paragraph looks like this:
  • First, each student must choose the former or the latter as per the prompt, and this becomes a student's topic sentence.
  • Then, he/she attaches/ adds the claim to the topic sentence with the word because, and he/she explains why he/she chose as he/she did.
  • After the topic sentence and the claim, he/she practices elaborating on his/her claim. 
  • During elaboration, he/she must also bring in the counter choice/claim--the other choice he/she didn't choose--and explain why he/she did not choose it.  This is great practice in persuasive/argumentative writing, for he/she acknowledges the other argument to lend further credibility to his/her own.
  • Then, he/she sums up his/her paragraph. 

C. Another plus is that most students LOVE to read their paragraphs aloud!

As students share, they read with so much confidence and authority.

And, as they do, I listen intently.

I listen to hear if they are using all the components of a TAPES paragraph, and invariably, they do.  If they forget one, I gently critique what I hear, but they usually realize it when they are reading aloud and fix it without my prompting.

I have encouraged students to always read their paragraphs aloud as a great revision skill.

Before doing these types of paragraphs, they never would do it.  Now, they see it's value.

Viola! So many missions accomplished.

D. Here are the best reasons to try this writing prompt in your classroom

When I asked students why they love writing these types of paragraphs, here are the responses I received:

  • "I love that I have a choice."
  • "The topics are really interesting and intriguing."
  • "I find I have so much to write about because the question relates directly to my own experience. It's not boring like the other stuff we usually are forced to write about."
  • "I feel I really have to think in order to choose, and I have to think about how my choice will affect me."
  • "I find I have so much to say, so I don't repeat myself over and over."
  • "I have gotten better at writing a TAPES paragraph because we practice this every Friday."
  • "I can write a TAPES paragraph faster, and I even use this in my other classes."
  • "I look so forward to Friday. I can't wait to hear the choice!"
  • "It's so fun."
  • "I love to hear what other kids think about the choice.  I love to share, too."
  • "Sometimes by listening to the other kids, I get a new perspective I didn't have until we did this kinda writing."
  • "Writing a TALES paragraph isn't so hard when we sorta get to choose the topic with this kind of question."

As a teacher, there is nothing better than positive student testimonials that reinforce that something they actually enjoy is an effective means to an end!  For me, this is huge because it's sometimes hard to get eighth graders to deem anything fun or worthwhile.

Well, I'm here to tell you that Would You Rather questions bring them alive!

Now, for those of you who might be skeptically thinking:

Well, of course, it's easy for students to write a TAPES paragraph because they are only giving their opinion and not providing textual evidence from a nonfiction/fictional narrative. 

Yes, while that is largely true, on any given Friday, I could easily have my students write a paragraph that requires text evidence:

In just 2 easy steps, you can convert a TAPES paragraph into a TALES paragraph:

1. From time to time, you can simply provide a Would You Rather question which requires students to either:

  •  revisit the literature they are currently working in, and ask students to find a line of textual evidence to support his/her choice.
  •  you can provide one article, or two separate articles, that presents a Pro and Con argument, and ask students to find a line of textual evidence to support his/her choice.

2. Here's the easy way to have students "lift a lineof textual evidence from a nonfiction/fictional narrative
  • He/she should find a line of textual evidence that supports his/her claim. Less is more. The line should be short as if it's not immediately evident why/how it supports the claim, the student will have more on which to elaborate!
  • He/she should introduce it with these words: According to the text, it states, or In the text, it states,
  • He/she MUST copy the line from the text exactly as it is written. 
  • He/she should use double quotes if it is not a direct quote or dialogue. 
  • If it is, he/she should use single quotes around the line he/she is lifting. 
  • He/she should provide a parenthetical citation with the author's name and page number. Example: (Traver,1).
  • The period is placed after the final parenthesis. 
Example of a lifted line

According to the text, "Would You Rather questions are the #1 way to get students to buy into writing"(Traver, 1).

Students may moan a little and not find the TALES paragraph as fun as the TAPES paragraph, but it's a creative way to work on incorporating textual evidence.  Kids love choice which is really the appeal. 

And finally, for those of you wondering if a Would You Rather question will work in the creative writing classroom, too?

It sure does!  My students always write for the first 10 minutes of class.  Would You Rather questions are a great way to engage them especially when they moan they have nothing to write about.  

So, that's it for my creative tip this week:)  

I hope it is a game-changer, and I encourage you to try this technique in your classroom!

When my blog is finished being renovated, if you have never knew about a TALES or TAPES paragraph before this blog, I will add an easy template to use with your students; you will be able to find it under the appropriate label in the sidebar section of my blog.

I would love to hear from you if/when you use this suggestion. I'd love to know how it worked for you and your students.  Also, if you put your own spin on it, I 'd love to hear that, too.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Please come back again. 

Sharing is caring! Please share and pin this post! Follow me on Facebook and Pinterest.

I'll be back in another two weeks with another writing tip.

All the best to you! I will continue writing upside down to help you and me get write side up!



Don't Let This Four Letter Word Undermine Your Writing!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Let me tell you a sad story...

It's about me, but you might see yourself in it, which is really the point of sharing this with you, isn't it?

A year ago, I was an excited writer. 

I was off to a writing conference at a beautiful mansion in Westchester, NY.  

There, I was scheduled to meet with an editor of my choice from a prestigious publishing house in New York City.  We would confer for twenty minutes, and during our time together, she would give me constructive notes about the first 40 pages of my novel that I had sent to her in advance.  Great, right?
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