Several months ago, I found I was missing out on some prime writing practice time when kids had Independent Writing. I was working with them in Teacher Time on a specific idea, skill, strategy, or project, but once they went off on their own, there was always a struggle to get them to write effectively and purposefully. Now, many kids were writing, but it often involved acrostic poems, and while I am all for poetry in the classroom, I wanted to raise the bar a bit.
Since we talk so much about how "Practice Makes Progress" I thought, why not encourage this in Independent Writing Time, too? I came up with some varied prompts in several formats to encourage kids to practice writing throughout the week for a variety of purposes to address this need.
This practice has been invaluable! I have seen kids' responses jump not only in length, but in quality. Their introductions are more solid, they have the chance to practice conventions on their own pieces over and over, and the level of detail and description has really taken off. Plus, I know that they are legitimately writing for at least a part of their Independent Writing Time on something that is focused and requires the development of their writing craft.
Writing Prompt SetupI always begin my cherry-picking about 6-8 prompts from the pack to use in their Prompt Packet. These are then copied and stapled and kept inside of their Writing Folder. I'll throw on a cover (it's a freebie in my TpT Store) and they can decorate it the first day they get it.
The other 20ish prompts I print off to add to our Prompt Basket. I label it with the included graphic since they change each season, and sometimes I will have two baskets out at once (for example, Springtime and Earth Day). These prompt cards are laminated and cut out so I can reuse them over and over each year.
I'll also keep one copy of each page of the prompt cutouts with me. More on how we use those in a bit. The nice part is that there are 10 copies of the prompt on one page, so I rarely need more than one copy for our needs.
Utilizing the Writing PromptsWe typically go through two to three prompts a week, so I like the prompt packet to last about a month. I will always go over what the prompt is that day and the kids will have two days to work on it during Independent Writing before we move on to another one. If they don't finish in two days, no problem! They can go back and finish it later. That's the advantage I have found to having these prompts in a designated packet. To read more about when I introduce them, look at my schedule posts HERE and HERE for info.
If they finish the prompt early, they can engage in free-writing. This is where they may go back to a creative writing piece in their Writer's Notebooks, they can look at their cover or list of favorites, or they can choose a prompt from the Writing Ideas Bin. In this bin is where I keep the laminated prompt cards in the basket. All of this writing happens in their Writer's Notebooks, so I will see these pieces sometime during an independent conference.
The pages of prompt cutouts have been used in a variety of ways. With some of my strugglers, I will have them choose a prompt card if they are on free-writing and then I will glue the corresponding prompt cutout to the top of their Writer's Notebook to help them remember and dissect the prompt and what it's asking for. I will also use these as a choice if there's a sub-- sometimes to pick up and manage Writing Groups can be a challenge, so I will have three stacks ready to go and kids can make a choice of the three to write about during Teacher Time that day with the sub helping out.
Grading the Prompt PacketAs we wrap up the packet, I have students choose *one* prompt they want me to grade top to bottom. Obviously, I skim the packet to make sure it's complete and they have been doing the necessary work, but I allow them the choice so they can dedicate 100% of their revising and editing efforts to one piece at the end. After all, I have a separate writing project we do during Teacher Time that goes through the Writing Process, so this is more of a self-directed, independent activity.
I love that I can then send home the packet to parents that shows their child's writing work in a variety of ways! In the past, parents would only get the published pieces throughout the year and their child's Writer's Notebook at the very end. Now, I am sending these home about once a month (or so) and it's been a great way for parents to consistently see their child's writing.
As this year has progressed, writing prompts have really helped strengthen the writing in my class and our commitment to it every day. I struggled to find a good balance and I feel this system fits the bill. I have seen my kids rise to the challenge of writing more, raise their own standards of writing, become clear about the expectations, and, in the end, be able to respond to a variety of prompts in meaningful ways.
I have these prompts in my TpT Store HERE and am adding to them all of the time. Of course, you can use these in so many ways (homework, assessment, etc.), and if you do something different, please share below! I am always looking for more ideas!