Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community
A blank page: endless possibilities or bottomless pit?
For many kids from elementary school through high school, writing assignments can seem like a daunting task. With the five-paragraph essay taking center stage in so many classrooms, it’s no wonder that kids feel disconnected from the practice of writing: No one ever reads five-paragraph essays, except on standardized tests.
Yet there is something to be said for giving new writers structure: something looser than connect-the-dots but more instructive than “ready, set, write!” That’s why writing prompts are a popular tool for all grade levels. (Even professional writers, at times, take advantage of this creativity catalyst.)
At Prisma, we use writing prompts to give our learners freedom within structure, providing topics that allow them to draw on — and deepen their connection to — their real life interests, all while strengthening their communication skills.
Here are some tips for creating prompts that your middle school student will want to engage with.
Writing activities can be a great way to teach kids the fun of incorporating their interests into school — especially things that don’t seem “academic.” We’ve seen the phenomenon at Prisma: kids who never thought of themselves as a writer fall in love with writing when they are able to use their skills to talk about the things they love, video games included.
Here are some ideas to get started; feel free to let your child shape their own:
If your child has perfectionist tendencies, try short bursts of low-stakes writing that get them in touch with their silly side. Take the pressure off, keep the sessions down to a few minutes, and consider participating with them so they feel a sense of collective engagement in the task.
Fun writing prompts include:
The best story starters are all around us. Tap into your environment to help your child see connections to those around them, explore their emotional landscape, and work through areas of growth. (To make sure you never run out of ideas when you need them, create a “journal prompt” jar, and ask every family member contribute writing ideas for a rainy day.)
Real life ideas include:
In the abstract, the topic of genre can seem alien to a middle schooler, but put the tools in their hands and they’ll see the power of perspective, form and word choice. Genre exercises can be especially fruitful to teach kids one of the main principles of creativity that we foreground in our “Remix” theme: There’s no obligation to create something from scratch; remixing is one of the tools of the world’s greatest artists.
Start with a piece of writing they’ve already produced (or something by their favorite author), then challenge them to rewrite it in a completely different form.
Genre transformations can include:
Sometimes a real life competition is just the thing to light a fire in a child’s belly. There are enough competitions out there to fill a whole school year. (Here’s just one source of writing competitions for middle school kids.)
The structure and motivation of a competition can help cement a child’s writing practice and, as an added bonus, it can be a great way to build a growth mindset (after all, no one wins every contest, every time).
In addition to using writing prompts for a quick activity to get your child’s creative juices flowing, you can create more elaborate topics that become the anchor of an in-depth research project. The following examples are writing assignments from recent middle school themes that learners spent several weeks developing, with guidance from their coach and feedback from peers.
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Middle School Curriculum Designer Gabe, an expert in interdisciplinary learning with a PhD from the University of Michigan, explains how he designs themes that blend together STEM and literacy.
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