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On writing prompts (video and otherwise)

If your language arts (media/social studies/science/health) colleagues are growing tired of their usual bag of writing prompt tricks, share these ideas with them.

TeachHUB offers a wide variety of provocative prompts that are designed to inspire critical thinking and either written or verbal response.

Among the goodies on the pages of prompts, with differentiated questions labeled by grade range, are the following:

In consideration of filtered school environments, video prompts are shared on YouTube alternatives as well as YouTube.

Prompts range from simple creative expressions to personal interpretations and analysis of media, society, and issues.

In response to the Dove Evolution commercial, students are asked to respond to these prompts:

  • K-2: Defining Beauty–What do you think makes someone beautiful?
  • 3-5: Recognizing Your Reflection–Would you recognize the girl in the beginning from the final billboard photo? Would you ever want to change so much people didn’t recognize you? Why or why not?
  • 6-8: Body Image Issues–Is your image of your body and your looks affected by how models and stars look? Is that a good or bad thing?
  • 9-12: Beauty & the Media–Do you think the media should represent beauty more realistically or should they stick to these airbrushed models? What is their responsibility to the impressionable people (young or old) whom these images affect?

In response to the Access Hollywood clip of the unveiling of Justin Bieber’s wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s, students are asked to  respond to these prompts:

    Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

  • K-2: Your Favorite Song–What is your favorite song? Write out the words in the song. Remember to sound it out!
  • 3-5: Your Wax Self–Wax figures are made to look identical to the real person, from their hair and clothes to the way they are standing. Imagine you had an opportunity to have a wax figure made of you. What outfit would you wear? How would you pose? Describe your wax look and what your look would reveal about you.
  • 6-8: Travel Like a Star–Being a celebrity can provide you with amazing opportunities. Pretend you are a celebrity and have your own private jet that can take you anywhere in the world. Where would you go? List 5 dream destinations. Then, explain why you would want to go to each place.
  • 9-12: Young Celebrity Pros & Cons–At 17, Justin Bieber has sold out concert arenas, made a movie, and won several awards. He has become successful at a very young age. Do you think it is a positive or negative thing to become a celebrity at a young age? Why or why not? In 2-3 paragraphs, create a persuasive argument with reasons to support your position in the debate.

These clever, media-savvy prompts are likely to get learners to want to write and inspire those already hooked on writing to more creative thought.

I made another little writing discovery this week.  Author and college writing teacher Andy Selsberg describes his departure from the five-paragraph essay in  Teaching to the Text Message.

Selsberg now inspires concise and eloquent, shorter writing products with his college freshmen:

Once, I asked them, “Come up with two lines of copy to sell something you’re wearing now on eBay.” The mix of commerce and fashion stirred interest, and despite having 30 students in each class, I could give everyone serious individual attention. For another project, I asked them to describe the essence of the chalkboard in one or two sentences. One student wrote, “A chalkboard is a lot like memory: often jumbled, unorganized and sloppy. Even after it’s erased, there are traces of everything that’s been written on it.”

This was great, but I want to go shorter. Like many who teach, I keep thinking the perfect syllabus is a semester away — with just a few tweaks, and maybe a total pedagogical overhaul. My ideal composition class would include assignments like “Write coherent and original comments for five YouTube videos, quickly telling us why surprised kittens or unconventional wedding dances resonate with millions,” and “Write Amazon reviews, including a bit of summary, insight and analysis, for three canonical works we read this semester (points off for gratuitous modern argot and emoticons).”

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Media themselves are written–let’s not forget that. That website; news story on TV; music video; videogame; popular film or reality TV show–all started out as writing. I think THAT’s another great way to engage our media-savvy students. Frank Baker, media educator (Media Literacy Clearinghouse)

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