Tis the season for STANDARDIZED TESTS! Whether you are giving a state end-of-course exam or your students are prepping for an AP test, if you are a secondary English teacher, chances are you’ve been doing your fair share of writing prompt practice these days.
The following is a “fun” activity I’ve used and adapted with my classes at all different levels over the last several years. The students seem to enjoy it, and it is a good way to expose them to multiple prompts, keep them focused and engaged, and cut down on the sheer quantity of papers you are grading.
Here’s how it works:
Students are seated in rows and prompts are distributed. I prepare mine ahead of time with room for each step of the process provided under the prompt (see above), but you don’t have to do that. There should be a DIFFERENT prompt for every student in the vertical row. (For example, I had four students in each row and four different prompts printed and ready to hand out.) *If you set this up correctly, when everything is distributed, students in horizontal rows should all have the SAME prompt.
I give a brief introduction/explanation of what we are going to be doing (see attached handout) and then “start the timer.”
From there, it goes like this…
Round One (10 minutes) – Students READ the prompt they have been given and annotate it as needed. *In my AP classes this includes identifying SOAPS (subject-occasion-audience-purpose-speaker) when applicable, and TOFA (topic, opinion, format, audience) in all my other classes. The bottom line is – students should become VERY familiar with the first prompt they are given.* Once they have identified the task of the prompt/ what is being asked of them, they should WRITE A CLEAR THESIS STATEMENT in response. If they have immediate ideas for evidence that can be used to support their thesis, I encourage them to jot those ideas down below to help out the next guy, but they are only responsible for the thesis.
Round Two (5 minutes) – Students pass their prompt to the person behind them so that everyone gets a NEW prompt for this round. Then, they read the new prompt and thesis and PROVIDE AT LEAST ONE PIECE OF EVIDENCE for the thesis that has already been written. *Evidence is usually in the form of personal experience, observations from modern society or history, or examples from their reading.* I encourage students to write for the entire five minutes trying to include as much development/elaboration in this section as possible.
Round Three (5 minutes) – Students pass their prompt to the person behind them so that everyone gets another new prompt for this round (this should be the third prompt they have seen) and REPEAT ROUND TWO WITH A NEW PIECE OF EVIDENCE. *I also encourage students to add to the evidence that has already been written if they have extra time/ ideas to spare.
Round Four (5 minutes) – Students pass their prompt to the person behind them so that everyone gets another new prompt for this round (this is #4) and REPEAT. *I sometimes eliminate this round if my groups are smaller or we are running short on time. Including it allows for THREE strong pieces of evidence, which is ideal in most situations.*
Round Five (5 minutes) – Students pass their prompt to the person behind them so that everyone gets another new prompt for this round (#5) and WRITE A COUNTERARGUMENT STATEMENT(S). *Counterarguments have become popular/important in our district’s scoring lately, so I added this recently. Basically, I just encourage students to think about the opposition to their argument and write at least one statement that acknowledges their point of view but draws the focus back to the thesis with a strong however statement.*
Round Six (5 minutes) – *The goal is that students have their ORIGINAL prompts (from Round One) back this time.* They should read and familiarize themselves with all of the evidence that has been written for their thesis and WRITE A STRONG CONCLUSION PARAGRAPH to the essay.
At the conclusion of the activity, students will have seen and worked with around FIVE different writing prompts. Now, they should have their original prompt back and fully developed into an essay with a strong thesis statement, two or three pieces of evidence, a counterargument statement, and a conclusion. Sometimes I stop here; but, what I really like to do is then have them get together with their horizontal row (remember, they all have the same prompt) to discuss what they came up with and actually turn their notes into a COMPLETE ESSAY.
Once students have a complete essay written in response to their prompt, I usually have them print a copy for each small group, review the SCORING RUBRICS with the class, and then allow them time to read and score each other’s essays. I score each group’s essay too – I’m looking at four or five essays now instead of 20 – and, at the end of class, they have seen essays for five prompts and received feedback from at least five people on their own writing.
This seems a little complicated when I write it all out (is anyone even still reading?), but it really works well in my classes and my students report that it is VERY helpful. They stay fully engaged the whole time (they have to or else they will let down their whole group) and appreciate the chance to learn from their peers. If you have a state or national writing test coming up (or even just want to hone their writing skills a little bit) I strongly encourage you to adapt some version of this for your class. *I think it could easily be simplified for elementary level too!
If you think you might like to give it a try, here’s a link to my actual lesson to get you started: Open Prompt Speed Dating
So, what do you think? Have you ever done anything like this? How do you prepare your classes for writing prompts?