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Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later: Planning, Preparing, and Implementing Writing Prompts

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Dear Dr. D',

I wanted to get your comments on a  prompt that I will use on Friday with my Honors students.  They read a creation myth about good vs. evil and the need for both in order to create balance in the world.  Below is the prompt I plan to use. Prompt: Based on the Iroquois creation myth “The World on the Turtle’s Back” write a one chunk (2+:1) paragraph that discusses the need for good and evil in the world. For the CD (2+) list events from the story that support the need of both good and evil in the world and for the CM(1) explain the importance.

We completed guided practice and they are currently working on writing a paragraph as a group.  Later this week I will be having them write individually.  Any feedback on the prompt or process is greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

Monica 

Dear Monica,

Thank you for reaching out to me. I love to collaborate with teachers on prompts, and yours is a good one. It's fun to work as colleagues. Sometimes, being a teacher can be a lonely profession.

Prompts are important to our students; if we don't make ourselves clear about our expectations, students cannot succeed. Also, we're so busy and deadline-oriented that sometimes we hurry through a prompt, and the results are disastrous. I've done it -- written a prompt during passing period or in a matter of minutes, and the results were quite ugly! So, I especially appreciate your asking your question many days before you give the students the prompt. That's a master teacher move!

So, here is my mini-lesson on prompts: Decoding prompts is a skill that all students should learn. I am always concerned when students say, "I don't know how to start." The definition of "prompt" is

1) to move or induce to action;

2) to occasion or incite; inspire; or

3) to assist (a person speaking) by suggesting something to be said.

To that end, I instruct teachers to write prompts with three distinctive parts: background sentences (1-3), a trigger sentence, and the task. What you have written is the task. So, I'd like to see you give one or two background sentences about why the heck they have to read this story in the first place. How will their lives benefit or be more enriched by knowing this creation myth? Or, give them some insight into how creation myths tend to have some recurring patterns. In other words, start your prompt with a sentence or two that either 1) sparks their interest; 2) shocks their daily routine; 3) provides them with a mini-lesson on an element of literature; 4) begins with a thematic statement; or 5) sets the literary period that helps them to decipher characteristics of that literary period as they read the passage.

Example of background sentences for your prompt: Creation myths are found in cultures around the world. They are stories that we agree to tell about ourselves or another culture but frame them in different ways.  That’s what myth does; it tells us about ourselves or who we choose to say we are. What is fascinating about myths is that even cultures that live across the world from each other seem to have stories that bind us all together as human beings, concepts such as good and evil. Then, write the trigger sentence. I always wondered why the AP prompts had sentences such as "Read the passage carefully." I thought to myself, "What else would they say -- "Read the passage haphazardly?" Then, I realized that this type of sentence was a trigger sentence. When students learn how to decode prompts, they understand that the purpose of a trigger sentence is to point out that everything above this trigger sentence is designed to engage their thinking; everything below the trigger sentence is designed to guide their task for writing. Example of a trigger sentence for your prompt: Read carefully the Iroquois creation myth titled “The World on the Turtle’s Back."

Finally, the task. I like yours. Let me play with it a little. Because you are dealing with both good and evil, both of which are important concepts, I recommend that your task divides the two concepts into one body paragraph with two chunks or, because the concepts are deep ones, two one- to two-chunk paragraphs. Since you are asking them to discuss the need for both good and evil in the world, you want to give both ideas their just deserts. Your call. You know your students.

Example of a task for your prompt: Then, in a well-developed paragraph (two chunks; 1:2+), discuss the need for good and evil in the world. For the CDs (2+) list events from the story that support the need for both good and evil in the world. For the CM (1) in each chunk, provide your insight into the importance of good as well as the importance of evil. For your concluding sentence, reflect on the paradox of the need for both.

If you go with a two-chunk paragraph, it might look something like this: TS - Who or what am I writing about? Include "good" and "evil" in this sentence.CD - good - from the storyCD - good - from the storyCD - good - from the story, etc. (2+ sentences)CM - importance of good Transition to CD - evilCD - evilCD - evilCM - why we need evil in the worldCS - importance of both and maybe the paradox of that phenomenonMonica - One other Question: are you having them embed quotations from the text? If so, make sure you teach them the TLCD (Transition/Lead-in/Concrete Detail).

Keep reading and writing!

Best regards,

Dr. D'

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