What are some good creative writing prompts I can give my high school students when we do writers' workshop?


Scarlet Michaelson, English and Writing Teacher

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There are so many great suggestions here. As an advocate of arts education and a fiction writer, I want to add my two cents. I highly recommend having your students listen to music, and then responding in writing to the feeling it evokes in them. Also, writing as a response to a photograph or painting, or writing in response to a poem. Cross-pollination in the arts is a real phenomenon that can lead to some excellent writing. I'd love to know which of these suggestions you have tried so far and which have had the most success!

Carrie Hagen, Nonfiction Writer and Researcher, Teacher

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Building on Maryann's answer... 1) I love photo prompts. You can do a lot with them, and students often enjoy hearing how they and their classmates interpret photos so differently. 2) Here is a play on her "random first lines" idea: Read students a first (short) paragraph from a book, then have them write the second. After they share, read them the author's actual second paragraph. 3) You can also give them the first and last sentence of a story, and have them "fill in the blank" in between.

Here are some more ideas from Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild.

Maryann Aita, Writer, expert tutor, and creative writing MFA candidate

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Writing prompts for high school students can be tricky because it's often hard to motivate them to write. I have always found that prompts with some constraints helped me focus and forced me to think creatively to fit the parameters. Another thing to keep in mind with high school students is that they likely already have preferred genres and styles of writing so keeping prompts flexible is ideal. Here a few prompts I've enjoyed as a writer and have used to yield some great work from my students:

1) Random first line. One of my favorite writing prompts as a student -- because I found it so helpful -- was to open a book or take out a poem and choose a random line to use as a first line. After I'd finished a story or poem, I'd go back and change the first line to be my own.

2) Alphabet story. Write a story or nonfiction piece in which the first sentence starts with an A, the next with a B, and so on. The challenge is to have it come to an end in exactly 26 sentences.

3) Inanimate object. Write from the point of view of something inanimate, like a toaster, a tree, or a book. I use this with children a lot, but think high school students would enjoy it, too.

4) A picture's worth a thousand words. Use a photograph or painting and have students write about it. They can describe the painting, the feeling it evokes, make up a story based on it etc.

Hope these come in handy for you, along with all the other great prompt ideas experts have listed here.

Amanda Morris, College Professor, Writer, Advisor, Writing Coach

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As a writing professor, writing coach, and writing workshop facilitator, I use writing prompts in many different situations with different age groups. Most of the people and students I work with are either in college or are adults trying to break into publishing, but I do have a few that would work well with high school students.

Three Things You Know To Be True is one of my students' and workshop participants' favorites! What's Your Thing? Also a particularly productive prompt.

Family Interview is a little more involved, but could be a terrific unit assignment in your writing class - starting with the prompt and moving into the interview and writing the essay or creative nonfiction story!

I will leave you with a really fun prompt - most people are skeptical when I start with this, but then they all end up laughing and having such a good time writing and sharing the results. Good for an ice breaker prompt: Letter to an Inanimate Object.

Enjoy! :)

Lisa Hiton, Poet, Professor, Filmmaker, Writer, Arts Educator

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I think it depends on what genre you're most after. If it's sort of a catch-all creative writing class, here are a few places that you might begin:

  • Write a poem/monologue from the point of view of a significant object. (This can be the seed for fiction, etc.)
  • Write an ode/passage to celebrate an historic moment in time or figure.
  • Write a piece about the moment of being given your name.
  • Write about a time when you changed your mind about something. Why did you change? How did that change impact you?
  • Write a piece in which you seek revenge.
  • Write a piece that takes entirely in a bathroom.

I would also add this great new resource, Lightbox Poetry, to your list of resources. At the end of each conversation, there are a bunch of succinct classroom plans that real writers use in writing workshops. Though these come from poets, they are broad enough to use across genres.


Kathryn deBros, Special Educator, English Teacher

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I love writing with teens! It's such a great way for them to sort out the jumble in their heads at such a crazy stage of life, as well as for them to try on different personalities as they develop independence. I can highly recommend a book called "Toxic Feedback" by Joni Cole, that teaches how to lead a creative writing group and helps writers critique and support their own and others work. Some people think it sounds crazy, but I've had good luck using it with even the most challenging kids, especially when they get to take turns leading the discussion on what makes good writing good. Just make sure you teach them how to respond positively and constructively before the group starts. I like to give out a list of comments that are helpful, even if the student disagrees or doesn't like the story itself. It also gives them a place to start when they are thinking about the construction of the story (character development, wording, use of dialogue, descriptive language) and helps them find SOMETHING to appreciate.

For prompts, I like to go with opinion pieces first (teens are very opinionated, if you haven't noticed). For example - what is better? Rap or Rock music? Blissful ignorance or miserable wisdom? Dessert or dinner? Would you rather climb a mountain or swim across the ocean? Would you rather be the princess or the knight? Would you rather be invisible or have the power to fly?

Another versatile prompt is to put a favorite quote on the board and let them find a personal example or write a response to it. You can let the kids take turns choosing a favorite quote to put on the board. Or even better - find a fascinating photograph from the internet and allow the kids to write a story about it, or describe what's really happening, give the people personalities and show the movement, the before-and-after of the photo. I knew one teacher who would post different photos of different kinds of doors, and allow the kids to describe what was behind each one.

Finally, there's the strategy of twisting around the classics - think Fractured Fairy Tales, from Rocky and Bullwinkle. Ask the kids to tell a story from the villain's perspective, or set in space (or contemporary time), or with the genders all reversed. Throw in an added element, like Cinderella now aspiring to be a scientist, or 3 Little Pigs with an extra monster in the mix. This is great, because it draws on what the kids already know and cherish, but allows them to creatively improvise from that foundation.

Grace Snarr, Teen Leader and Freelance Writer

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Teens are cool, but can also be very hard to prompt to write. Thankfully, we are visual people who are looking for a creative outlook on life!

Some things I would like to write about, as a teen: If you were ruler of a large planet, what would your kingdom be like? How would you rule?

If you could have a Fortune 500 company, what would it be?

If you had only $300 to use for your whole life, how would you use it?

What does your ideal girlfriend/boyfriend look like?

Hope this helps! Childish prompts are good, too! We haven't lost our imaginations just yet.

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