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Seven Deadly Words

By Ruth Culham


“I don’t know what to write about.”  Sigh.  The air goes out of the writer’s world when this is how he or she feels.  Helping a student through this writing barrier is critical to the writer’s esteem…after all, if you think you have nothing to write about, then you must not realize how much the world is interested in you, your experiences, and your unique way of expressing what you think and feel. The logic of turning to a prompt is one solution to this issue.  If you give students the idea, then they don’t have to think of one.  But, if you give them the idea, they don’t have to think of one. See the problem?  Prompts can be both the cure and the disease itself.  To prompt, or not to prompt; that is the question.  Here’s the thinking behind the answer I’ve come up after struggling with this issue for years and years.

To Prompt:

  • Helps students know where to begin
  • Provides a method to dial-in on specific, topical information
  • Gives all students a chance to reveal what they have learned about something in particular

Not to Prompt:

  • Allows students to choose a topic of interest
  • Encourages motivation to write about things that matter
  • Ensures opportunity for deeper thinking, stretching, and understanding because students are engaged in their topic of choice

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