3 Tips for Making Engaging Writing Prompts

“It’s not me…okay, maybe it is me.”

As we get older, understanding why we need to do something plays a bigger part in whether we do something well…or at all. It is the same with students. As time passes, they will begin to question why they have to do certain assignments. Your writing prompts NEED TO BE ENGAGING!

The quality of your answer will determine how much effort your reluctant writers will put into your assignments…or if they put in any work at all.

And you have to accept the fact that sometimes an answer that is good enough for you is not good enough for them.

teen caucasion girl in blue collared shirt sitting in library with hand on an open journal

Students who already love writing need little to no reason to complete an assignment. To them, having a freshly printed copy of their writing that only they will ever read is enough, especially if it is still warm. 

Reluctant writers, however, will not see “having a published piece” as enough of a reason to put a lot of effort into something they believe they are bad at. They need more motivation than that.

Problems with Finding Authentic Audiences

It’s nothing new that the most engaging writing assignments are those targeted at an authentic audience. That means students are writing to actual, real-life people. Not just to you the teacher.

(For more information about authentic audiences, check out Student Athletes Have Audiences. Why Don’t Student Writers? by edutopia.)

But there are a few things you must be careful of when dealing with authentic audiences.

two women talking over paper only hands visible

#1 – Choosing the Wrong Authentic Audience:

If you choose the wrong authentic audience, then your writing assignment could be more detrimental than engaging.

For example, some students may jump at the opportunity to write a letter to their local officials about issues in their community that need to be addressed. Some may find that idea terrifying.

Parents are a usual “go-to” authentic audience. That often works well for younger children. It is less-successful, however, with middle-level students, especially the reluctant ones who don’t care what their parents think…or the ones whose families don’t care for academics.

So the question most teachers come to ask themselves is this: how do I find authentic audiences that my reluctant writers want to write to? 

That will be answered below.

#2 – Authentic Audience Versus Authentic Purpose:

The common misconception is that an authentic audience is the silver bullet to making writing engaging. But that is only half of the formula. You can find authentic audiences everywhere, but, as we discussed in the previous point, that’s not always enough.

It is not just an authentic audience that makes writing engaging. The purpose of the writing has to be just as authentic as the audience is. An engaging writing assignment has both an authentic audience AND an authentic purpose.

So even before you go looking for authentic audiences, you should consider authentic purposes. Luckily, I’ve done some of that work for you.

3 EASY Tips for Making Engaging Writing Prompts

In my teaching experience, I have noticed certain audiences and purposes that really excited my reluctant writers.

Below are SIMPLE audience-purpose combos that have had the most success with my reluctant writers.

#1. Audience: Young children (2nd grade and under, when they’re still cute).

Purpose: Help and Entertain

    • Write “fable-like” narratives that teach them life lessons. 
    • Craft “how to” pieces that teach them “big kid” skills. 
    • Write and perform “readers theater” type stories.

#2. Audience: Faculty and staff members that they like (especially former teachers). 

Purpose: Help and Showcase

  • Create a list of things their former teachers want to learn about. Have  students write info pieces about it. 
  • Write feature and publish articles about their favorite teachers.

#3. Audience: Peers

Purpose: Popularity Boost

  • Write reviews for popular movies, eateries, hang spots, and post reviews for students to read. 
  • Create a list of things their peers want to learn about. Have students write info pieces about it.

Conclusion:

Finding an authentic audience and purpose that will motivate your students is so important…especially when it comes to engaging your reluctant writers. I’ve found lots of success, year after year, as I have developed and implemented these audience-purpose combinations.

  1. Young children | Help and Entertain
  2. Faculty and staff members | Help and Showcase
  3. Peers | Popularity Boost

As you get your students used to engaging with authentic audiences that THEY want to connect with, you will gradually be able to transition them to engaging with any authentic audience. They just need a place to start. And these three audience-purpose combos are great places to get started.

Tried it out? 

Tried something else? 

Leave me a comment and let me know how it went. I’d love to hear from you. 

← Check out the main post: “Why Your Students Hate Writing” 

On to the next post: “How to Motivate Reluctant Writers in 5 Minutes!” →

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