10 Questions for Jeff: To prompt or not to prompt?

December 13th, 2012

Question 4: My question is as follows:   Should early elementary students be allowed to write about anything they’d like in their daily journals, or should the teacher supply them with various prompts?

Gloria Wilson
Eldred, PA

Jeff’s response: That’s a quandary, isn’t it? Do we supply a prompt or let them simply write about their own interests or thinking? And when we do let them write whatever they would like, sometimes they say, “I can’t think of anything.” If we always give them a prompt, we take away their belief that they can come up with writing ideas on their own. They can, so they need the opportunity to do so.

It isn’t an either or question. Give a prompt along with the choice that they may choose another topic instead if they prefer. And how do they come up with topics? That’s something writers do.

To collect ideas, teachers go to great lengths making lists: things I can’t wait to write about; the people and places they spend their lives in; their favorite activities and not so favorite activities. Heart maps, Writer’s Eye (Mechanically Inclined, p. 35-39), you name it. But often I notice kids don’t keep using that list when they can’t think of anything to write about. Make sure you keep modeling that we return to the list for ideas. And of course, keep adding ideas to the list. It’s a process.

In my books, I talk about the power of reading aloud as something that stirs the kids’ thinking, and then allows them to write about any thought that came to them. Perhaps it reminded them of something or made them think of something in a new way.  When we read aloud, we are showing the kinds of things people might write about (modeling), plus we are filling their syntactic stores. Brian Cambourne reminds us that whatever we listen to and reads “spills over” into our writing. I find that to be so. So we can prompt writing without a prompt.

The important thing is students are writing—daily.

Revisit Question 1
Revisit Question 2
Revisit Question 3

Entry Filed under: Writing

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