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Prompt-ober: Short Stories as Writing Prompts

Nearing the end of October, when the leaves shift hues, the temperature dips, and Halloween dances in the near future, the students of room 294 venture into the haunting short story, “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl. This is the perfect story to revitalize our energy, coming fresh off our memoir unit, and to continue the practice of sensory details and imagery in writing.  

Throughout Roald Dahl’s famous piece, images and details such as “paint was peeling from the woodwork,” and “She had a round pink face and very gentle blue eyes” cover the pages. One of Dahl’s most detailed descriptions occurs when the main character, Billy, peers into the window of the Bed and Breakfast:

“Billy caught sight of a printed notice propped up against the glass in one of the upper panes. It said BED AND BREAKFAST. There was a vase of yellow chrysanthemums, tall and beautiful, standing just underneath the notice . . . Green curtains (some sort of velvety material) were hanging down on either side of the window. The chrysanthemums looked wonderful beside them. He went right up and peered through the glass into the room, and the first thing he saw was a bright fire burning in the hearth. On the carpet in front of the fire, a pretty little dachshund was curled up asleep with its nose tucked into its belly” (Dahl).

During class, a discussion on the use of details and imagery that Dahl utilizes in creating this passage ensues. After some time, the students sketch and color their depiction of this room. From here, we use Dahl’s passage as a model to create our own descriptions of a window we are “peeking in.” In the student’s Google Classrooms, I post about fourteen different photos of unique and colorful rooms (as seen below).

After the students have taken some time viewing the various images, they choose their favorite photo and write a passage to describe the room, just as Roald Dahl in “The Landlady.” The key to this prompt is adding details and imagery. The end result is wonderfully descriptive passages that further emphasize and practice the use of sensory details and imagery in writing.

A Giraffe stood in the middle of a tiny room, too tall for his own good. His neck bent at a 90 degree angle with his front feet. The giraffe stood on a worn out turquoise rug, that covered the whole ground. The walls glowed a beautiful tan, with pictures framed with gold along the back side. A green silky chair lay aloft the ground in the back left corner. The chair has an intricate design, with x’s stitched across the whole surface. In the bottom right corner, adjacent to the chair, stood a brittle old table, with four drawers that curved like a wave. An old time radio stands tall on top of the table. The giraffe has blobs of brown, that lay upon the white fur of the giraffe. Although the giraffe doesn’t stand tall, the hair on the back of its neck stands tall. Imprints of feet align the floor, turning the worn out turquoise rug into a white one. The phrase Getty images is what it said in the top left corner, in a white color and big font.” Period 7 Student

Creativity in the Classroom

This is a question that has influenced my teaching for as long as I can remember. Even before I saw the iconic TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson, I was always trying to think outside of the box with my young, 9th grade students. I’ve waffled back and forth over showing this since it was originally posted in 2006, but it remains the most popular TED Talk, and I see its message as (still) relevant today.

Before Viewing…

I start my students with a “Four Corners” activity. I give them a series of statements all found here and they have to pick a corner representing Agree, Strongly Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree. I’ve witnessed some interesting discussions and I’ve even had to allow students to pick the ‘neutral zone’ of the classroom’s center.

After we do this activity, I tell them we are going to do a little experiment. We are going to take an IQ test. I use one that’s been used by Mensa but I am sure you can find others online. I give them 7 minutes, then I ask them to journal their response to taking this ‘test’. Once we go over the answers, we also engage in a discussion about the inherent biases they observe in the questions themselves. Then, we talk about how this particular tool did/didn’t measure their intelligence.

As a follow up, we then do a Multiple Intelligences Assessment created by Howard Gardner at Harvard’s Project Zero. We follow the same protocol: timed, reflection/writing, discussion. And the students quickly realize that this particular assessment didn’t undermine their intelligence, it just illustrated their strengths and weaknesses.

Communal Viewing

I think there is value in watching this video together. I provide this note sheet for my students but tell them they can also just use their Writer’s Notebook. Then, we watch. Maybe you’ve seen it before, maybe not…I’d love to know.


This video inevitably leads to fantastic and passionate conversations in the class. I reveal – at last – the point for my students. They are just heading into their multi-genre research and I want them to feel empowered to pick a topic that inspires them! Of course I give suggestions and show them the wide variety of topics that former students have selected…the point is, write about something you care about. I am not going to kill that creative urge that may be lingering inside of my students.

So, ask yourself, how do YOU cultivate creativity in your classroom?