Writing Prompts

Writing prompts are a great way to learn more about students, build better relationships through the insights into a student’s life they provide, and give students practice with one of the most important life skills to have – the ability to communicate through writing.

Here is a list of 50 writing prompts for students in elementary, middle, and high school. It is a great resource to have in your teacher toolkit.

Trauma-Informed Teaching

During this unprecedented time, it is important to remember our more vulnerable students. This is a traumatic time for many adults and students. That is why continuing to teach with trauma-informed practices is just as important as ever.

Here’s an article which looks at ways to better support vulnerable students with trauma-informed practices during coronavirus school closures. Some of the students to keep an eye on during this challenging time:

  • students who have had anxiety; 
  • students who have depression or suicidal ideation;
  • students who have learning and attention disorders;
  • students whose families may have lost jobs or income; 
  • students who have loved ones particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus;
  • students who have a caregiver who is a healthcare worker or in another occupation where they are exposed to the virus or are being asked to respond in an intense way;
  • students who may be less supervised because of caregivers’ work.

Resource for Home

Many teachers, parents, and students are looking for ways to continue learning at home during school closings. There are many resources available online. I’m going to try and share an at-home resource at least once a week.

Here’s a great resource from Scholastic that teachers, parents, and students can use during Coronavirus shutdowns. Hope it helps.

50 Books in 2020… #4

Over the weekend I finished my fourth book in my 50-book challenge for 2020. The book was The Fallen by David Baldacci. If you’re not familiar with Baldacci, he’s one of my favorite thriller writers. He’s best known for his book Absolute Power, which was made into a movie staring Clint Eastwood.

This book is the fourth in the Amos Decker (Memory Man) series. Decker is an ex-football player. In his only game in the NFL, he suffered a violent hit which ended his career but gave him a perfect memory. That is great for his work as a detective because he remembers virtually everything about a case. Decker’s flawless memory does have its downsides as well.

The Fallen, like so many of Baldacci’s books, is wonderfully written and keeps you on the edge of your seat from cover-to-cover.

This book has absolutely nothing to do with education, and that is just what I needed last weekend. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the world related to Coronavirus, I needed a bit of an escape from reality. It is so important to read non-fiction and consistently grow as a person and educator. There are, however, times when you simply need to read a book to escape.

I think we all need a little bit of an escape right now. It’s the perfect time to pick up a book by your favorite author and simply read to enjoy a good story.

Kids Miss School

Okay, maybe kids don’t miss every aspect of school, but it has become abundantly clear after a week of closing that students do miss school. My class uses a Google Classroom throughout the school year. I’ve been using that as a way to communicate with families during the Coronavirus shutdown.

What I love seeing is students starting their own threads in Google Classroom to ask each other questions. Questions like: What did everybody do today?

One of my young scholars wrote something that really made me smile.

One student asked: Who misses Cougar Bowls? Just me?

This student wanted to know who missed one of our regular elementary lunch options: Cougar Bowls – mashed potatoes, chicken, corn, and gravy in a bowl. Who wouldn’t miss that deliciousness? He posted this at almost 7:00 on a Monday night.

All of the conversations happening in our Google Classroom shows how much students miss school. They crave the structure, the social aspect that school brings, and the normalcy that school brings. Hopefully we can get back to normal soon. In the meantime, who misses Cougar Bowls? ME!

Three for the Week

Saturdays are my time to reflect on what I read, heard, and discussed throughout the week. It is my “exit ticket” for the last seven days. With everything that’s happened around the country this week related to Coronavirus, I’ve decided to keep all three lighthearted and inspirational this week. We all probably need to take a deep breath, relax, and smile this week. So here are three ideas that made me think this week. (They are not in any particular order.)

1 – Amen, Shonda Rhimes!

2 – This dad is the master of homeschooling.

3 – I first saw this video with the caption: Day 6 of Quarantine. I watched it many times more than I’d like to admit. In all honestly, long after Coronavirus, this will probably still be one of my go-to pick me up videos.

Students Coping with Stress

Every time I think I have my head wrapped around what is happening in our country right now, it seems things change. Every minute of every day seems to bring a new directive or set of guidelines. No matter how resilient a person you are, there’s a good chance all the uncertainty has you a little anxious.

This is also true for our students and children. So how do we know when children are stressed or anxious? The CDC has shared some signs to look for in children:

  • Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Poor school performance or avoiding school
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

They also shared a few ways to help your child if they are feeling stressed or anxious:

  • Take time to talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.
  • Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
  • Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
  • Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
  • Be a role model.  Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.

That last point is so important. Be a role model. Children are going to learn from our lead. More is caught than taught, and that is especially true during difficult times.

A Difficult Time for Everybody

Yesterday my daughter asked me, “What’s a mortgage, and why won’t people be able to pay them?” While I always enjoy discussing personal finance, this was not the kind of question I was expecting from my 11-year-old. Why was a fifth grader asking about mortgage defaults? The answer: She heard about it when the news was on last night.

We are living in an unprecedented time right now. The increase in coronavirus cases in the United States has many states and school districts across the country closing schools for an extended period of time. My state, Pennsylvania, just cancelled state testing for this school year. All of this has raised a lot of questions and has parents and educators trying to determine the best way to help students while they’re not in school.

Parents are stressed, teachers are stressed, and policy makers are stressed. Knowing how stressful the unknown is for adults, imagine what our students are facing. Adults want to keep things as normal as possible while students are not in school, but life is anything but normal right now.

There are so many great resources available online and I’ve seen wonderful ideas from both educators and parents about how to fill a child’s day from beginning to end. While all these efforts are fantastic, I wonder if some of our kids would benefit from a little less “structure” and a little more self-directed learning.

There’s been so much talk over the last few years about maker spaces, Genius Hours, and other activities where students have more control over their learning. Is this the perfect time – while “school” is so up in the air – to let students choose what their learning will look like for even an hour a day or maybe an entire day?

When my daughter asked me about mortgage defaults, I realized we needed to take a step back and let her be a curious kid for the day. I wanted her to try and forget about all the uncertainty happening outside our house. Instead of the math, ELA, and science lessons we’ve done the last few days, today we explored an interest she’s had for a couple months – stop motion animation. We found some videos online, downloaded a recommended app, and spent the entire afternoon, and some of the evening, creating stop motion animation movies.

Our family room became an instant video studio.
One of the first problems we encountered was how to keep the iPad from moving. My daughter’s solution was to put it on the mantle. Not bad problem solving.

As we worked on her project, Anna realized pretty quickly that this was challenging work. She had to learn how to use the new app, develop a storyline, create all the visual elements, and solve problems along the way. We did not talk about factors and products, compare the theme of two stories, or determine the impact humans have had on ecosystems. And for today, that was okay, and I think it was just what she needed. In fact, I think it’s what more of our kids need right now.

This is my daughter’s first stop motion animation.

Show What You Know

One of my favorite math activities is to ask students to show me why math works they way it does. There is no better way to get to conceptual understanding – and beyond procedural knowledge – than having students explain and show how math works. This is a great idea to keep in mind during school closings. Students could show what they know using a variety of online tools.

My daughter is in fifth grade. She’s been working on multiplying fractions. So I asked her today to show me why the product of two fractions is less than either of the factors. I purposefully used academic vocabulary in the prompt – product and factor.

This was the prompt I wrote on the whiteboard in my daughter’s room today: Show me why the product of 2 fractions is less than each of the 2 factors.

I let her think about the prompt first. Then I asked her if there was anything she needed clarify or if there were any questions she had. Her first question: Do I need to use any particular fractions? No. Do I have to show it a certain way? Can you tell me more about “a certain way?” Can I use fraction circles OR fraction bars? You can use any visual model that works for you.

There were other questions like this as she worked through the problem. This one activity gave me more insight into her understanding of fractions than if I had given her 10 multiple choice questions related to multiplying fractions.

It’s such a simple activity but the results are so powerful.