Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Writing is an important skill to students’ academic and employment success, but some lament that it often has been overlooked in classroom literacy instruction (Mo et al., 2014).

In order to improve their writing abilities, children and teens need to be taught the mechanical skills and elements of the writing craft as well as given the time and ongoing guidance to hone their writing skills. In addition, students are held accountable for their writing performance in their classes and on state and national assessments. For example, state assessments at a minimum tend to include composing a written response to a prompt in grades 4 or 5, 7 or 8, and high school. The National Assessment of Education Progress assesses the writing performance of students in Grades 4, 8, and 12. To ensure students are able to demonstrate their abilities, they need to be familiar with the elements of different writing prompts and what those elements indicate a writer is expected to do to plan and write an appropriate response. Our Understanding and Responding to Writing Prompts Guide (see Supplemental Materials for Teachers and Families) can help educators, caregivers, and students understand and use writing prompts.

Understanding and Responding to Writing Prompts Guide Features

According to our guide, a well-constructed writing prompt has five components:

  1. Topic: on what the response should focus
  2. Audience: to whom the response should be addressed
  3. Task: how information on the topic should be organized (e.g., description, sequence, compare-contrast, analysis, synthesis, cause-effect, explanation)
  4. Format: the style of writing for the response (e.g., essay, argument, speech, letter, narrative)
  5. Special requirements: additional expectations for the prompt (e.g., length, textual evidence, number of supports, kinds of details)

After establishing what a writing prompt needs to contain, the guide goes more in depth about each of the following genres of writing prompt:

  • Creative writing prompts (a type of narrative writing)
  • Historical writing prompts (a type of informational writing)
  • Argumentative essay prompts (related to but distinguished from opinion and persuasive writing)
  • Literary analysis writing prompts

For each genre, the guide provides an example writing prompt. Then, there is a breakdown of the five components and how this example addresses each component. After a description of the type of writing that will result from the writing prompt, the guide describes skills that students must be taught in order to write a quality response to the type of prompt.

The goal of this resource is to help students, educators, and caregivers in a variety of ways. For example, the guide can help students better understand the kinds of writing they may be asked to do in a class or on a test and how they should approach the writing task. Educators can use the guide both to plan instruction on skills students need to develop as well as to improve the prompts they create for their assignments. In addition, the guide can offer caregivers information they can use in helping their students as they work on writing assignments or practice their writing skills. Some caregivers even may want to try creating their own prompts for their students to use for additional practice at home. The ultimate goal of this guide is to encourage students, educators, and caregivers to include writing in their daily practice. Working more often and intentionally on those sometimes overlooked but very important writing skills will serve students now, as they progress through school, and into adulthood.

Supplemental Materials for Teachers and Families

Understanding and Responding to Writing Prompts Guide

Learn about different writing prompts, the five components of a writing prompt, and the writing skills to be taught in order for students to respond to prompts of different genres.


Mo, Y., Kopke, R., Hawkins, L., Troia, G. and Olinghouse, N. (2014). The neglected “R” in a time of Common Core. The Reading Teacher, 67, 445- 453. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1227