Designing Writing Assignments and Prompts

I just finished Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey’s Close Reading and Writing From Sources (IRA, 2014) and there are so many great ideas for teaching reading, writing, and discussion in the classroom. The last chapter addressed designing an effect writing assignment or prompt to foster precise writing and critical thinking. The authors state the basic components of a writing assignment or prompt are:

1. The Topic

2. The Audience

3. The Rhetorical Structure or Genre to be Produced

Students should be able to determine the following when a writing prompt is clear and simply stated:

What is my purpose for writing this pieces?

Who is my audience?

What is the task?

Fisher and Frey cite The Literacy Design Collaborative for effective prefabricated task templates for teachers to customize. For example, the following argumentation task template invites students to compare two conditions:

[Insert question] After reading _____________ (literature or informational texts), write a/an __________ (essay or substitute) that compares _______________ (content) and argues ___________ (content). Be sure to support your position with evidence from the text. 

[Insert optional question] After reading ________ (literature or informational texts), write ________ (an essay or substitute) in which you address the question and argue_______(content). Support your position with evidence from the text(s). (Argumentation/Analysis)

It is important to remember that the writing assignment or prompt should not be an afterthought, rather all reading and discussion tasks should be aligned with the culminating task so students can engage in critical inquiry and investigation throughout the unit. The Common Core Learning Standards have drawn teachers’ attention to how to read closely. At the same time, teachers need to develop strong text-dependent questions that guide students’ thinking while their reading closely and write using evidence from the text they’ve read to show their reading and writing capabilities. 

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