Even if you are not a writer or a teacher, you have probably heard of them before. But what are writing prompts, exactly? Should you be using them if you want to write more creatively? Are they any good in teaching creative writing to elementary students? Or are writing prompts just for fun? Let’s take a closer look into the world of writing prompts. We’ll start with a definition then go through pros and cons, examples and I’ll end by giving you some places to find them online.
So, what are writing prompts?
A writing prompt is something that gives you an idea or a place to begin when writing. They can be in the form of a single word, phrase or paragraph, a question or even a photograph. Writing prompts give you a starting point to get your creative thinking going. Writers may stick close to the theme of the prompt, or they can end up on a tangent. Neither way is more correct if the intention was to get writers physically writing and practicing their craft. Basically, the goal of a writing prompt is to get writers writing.
Not sure what creative writing is? Read this blog post first.
The pros of writing prompts
Writing prompts may just be the biggest creative writing tip when it comes to sparking new ideas. Here’s why:
- Getting Started – when faced with a blank page it can be difficult to come up with a story line or something to write about. Having a writing prompt or story starter can give you a focus for your writing time.
- Keeping Going – got writer’s block? Sometimes having a writing prompt can give you a topic to explore and this act can generate new ideas for your project.
- Developing Muscle – writing is one of those things that you are better at if you practice frequently. Writing prompts can help form the habit of writing for 10mins a day. They also have the added benefit of stretching that muscle if you often write around a similar theme or style of writing.
- Community – Particularly in a school setting, it can be inspiring to hear all the various pieces that come from the same initial writing prompt. Teachers can share and display students responses to prompts to facilitate this community feel and celebrate creativity. Adult writers can also find online communities that share writing prompts frequently.
The cons of writing prompts
They really are a great tool for developing creative writing. However, when used too often or if they are the only tool or teaching presented they can distract from a larger more in-depth project such as writing a short story, polished poem, or full length novel.
So, yes, you can use them daily – but only if the focus is on a short time of “free-writing” and you have dedicated time to working on full length projects as well. It is possible that a prompt may give you ideas for a larger project or what you write may one day be included in a longer from of writing.
Examples of writing prompts
The single word prompts. Very broad and great for classrooms where students are likely to come up with very different responses. But also great for writers who are using these type of prompts as writing practice. You could give a specific genre such as “write a poem about/that includes the word…” or leave it completely up to the writer. Examples of single word prompts include: “draw”, “warmth”, “love”, “tiny”, “giant” or even themes such as “christmas” or “travel”
Simple phrases and sentence starters. Think along the lines of “I opened my eyes to see…”, “There was a box on my doorstop. I …”, “It sounded like music, but it really was…” and so on. Very basic sentence starters are ideal for beginner writers such as those in kindergarten (see image below).
Paragraphs/Short response prompts. These types of prompts are good for more confident writers (such as those in middle to upper elementary all the way through to adulthood). Again, set limits based on the ability of the writers. For example they could respond with a paragraph or a fully developed short story. E.g, “Imagine you found a family of snails in your bedroom. Describe what you would do next?” or read aloud the beginning/setting of a short story and allow writers to finish the story.
Questions. Great for sparking discussion, questions also help writers explain why they would make a specific choice. The sillier the question the more likely reluctant writers will join in. Examples of questions include: “Would you rather be a cat or a dog for a day? Explain why.” or “Do you think we still need rubbish bins? Why or why not?” and so on.
Photographs (visual prompts). Give students a visual prompt such as a photograph. Set a time limit and/or a length (e.g 10 mins or 1 page) and let them write freely without stopping to edit or re-read work.
Roll-a-story. Creative writing games often offer up silly and wacky ideas for young writers. Character/setting/problem generators or hands on “roll-a-story” type activities are popular among elementary students. A new roll-a-story pack is coming to the Cultivating Creative Writers store very soon. If this is something you’d be interested in, make sure to follow Two Little Amigos Publications (hit the green star) to be notified when it is uploaded.
Where to find online
If you are after printable writing prompts for elementary students check out these:
- 100 Character Ideas for Short Stories
- Free Elementary Writing Prompts
- 120 printable writing prompts for K-2
- The Ultimate List of Short Story Prompts (3rd grade and above)
- 240 Narrative Writing Prompts (3rd to 7th Grade)
Or check out these online writing prompts:
- creativewritingprompts.com (teachers should check suitability of some of these prompts if giving to younger students)
- unsplash.com (good for finding visual prompts to use)
If you are interested in free creative writing resources, then become an email friend and I’ll send you the password for the free resource library.
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Till next time,