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How to use writing prompts to teach homeschool writing & essays

by | Sep 2, 2019 | High school, Teaching Homeschool Writing, Writing & Journal Prompts

Have you ever wondered how to use writing prompts to teach homeschool writing?

Writing Prompts vs. Free Choice

Prompts encourage daily journaling.

Writing prompts and StoryBuilders offer story starters or topics to stimulate writing. They encourage kids to have fun playing with ideas and express themselves creatively. And they’re a great way to keep ’em writing every day.

Even better, writing with prompts lets them explore different topics without judgment or correction—and without any expectation that their responses have to be shaped into a polished piece.

Prompts provide direction.

Why use writing prompts at all? Isn’t it better to tell your child: “Write about whatever you want“?

Though this works well with confident children who are spilling over with ideas, kids more often complain that they can’t think of anything to write about

When you ask them to pick their own topics, it’s like dropping them by helicopter into the middle of the ocean and telling them to swim for shore. They don’t know how far away land is, or even which direction to head! By the time they make up their minds and start moving, they’re already worn out and discouraged. 

A writing prompt makes a better option for timid writers. Instead of struggling to come up with their own ideas, they can rely on a prompt for a topic that points them “towards shore.”

TIP: If you let them, your young homeschoolers can fritter away the whole morning just picking a topic! So giving 2-4 prompts to choose from will more quickly set them on the road to writing.

Writing Prompts vs. Writing Curriculum

Homeschool writing programs are more intentional than prompts.

Unlike a writing prompt, a homeschool writing curriculum teaches the hows and whys of writing:

Your writing program is a tool for teaching writing skills, so each assignment should include different steps and take several days or weeks. The goal is to plan, write, polish—and eventually publish a final draft.

On the other hand, a writing prompt is just for fun. Usually, there’s no editing or revising involved; it’s simply freewriting, and it keeps those creative juices flowing.

That said, many moms use both! They may teach from a writing curriculum such as WriteShop, but from time to time they’ll give their kids fun writing prompts too.

WriteShop • Best easy to teach writing program for your homeschool

Consider your level of confidence.

Many homeschooling moms feel insecure about teaching and grading writing. If this is you, you’ll probably want to use a writing program so you feel better equipped.

Even if writing comes naturally to you, you may not know how to teach those skills to your kids. That’s why even strong writers depend on a writing curriculum to help you direct and guide your children.

Maybe you’re the confident mom who’s comfortable tying writing to different areas of study—whether or not you use a formal curriculum. And if you feel at ease with teaching the writing process, you can turn anything into a lesson.

  • Instead of letting children jump in and “just write,” purposefully guide them to brainstorm, write, and make corrections—no matter what the topic.
  • A biography about George Washington, a book report, a report about photosynthesis, or even a silly writing prompt about a monkey on a cruise ship can all be used to teach writing in your homeschool.

If this fits your teaching style, writing across the curriculum is a great option.

Whatever your level of confidence, consider settling on a combination of informal writing prompts and structured curriculum. If you’re still not sure what’s best for you, check out Do I really need a writing curriculum? 

How to Use Writing Prompts to Teach Homeschool Writing and Essays

Whether you depend on a writing curriculum or do your own thing, you can still appreciate these ideas for using writing prompts to teach important skills.

1. Plug writing prompts into a current writing assignment.

A solid homeschool writing program will teach different kinds of writing. But even with a good curriculum, kids may need help coming up with topics. No matter what subject they’re writing about, you can guide them toward prompts that fit with their lesson.

Are you teaching any of these subjects in your homeschool right now? There’s a prompt for that!

2. Use writing prompts as essay topics.

When teaching homeschoolers how to write essays, offer out-of-the-box writing topics so those middle or high schooler students can practice different kinds of essays, including:

WriteShop II Student Workbook - Advanced descriptive narration, persuasive writing, and 5-paragraph essays

If you need extra help getting started with teaching 5-paragraph essays and persuasive writing, WriteShop II offers a solid introduction to opinion writing, definition essays, compare and contrast essays, and timed essays.

3. Use writing prompts as a vehicle to teach writing skills.

Though it’s important to let kids freewrite or journal without worrying about spelling or grammar, it’s also necessary to teach them how to write.  

If you’re not using a writing curriculum, it’s easy to forget writing is a process that must go through many steps. To ensure your kids are learning and applying these steps (and improving their written use of grammar), use any writing prompt to walk them through this process.

4. Build a homeschool high school essay course around writing prompts.

Even without a curriculum, it’s possible to use interesting, thought-provoking, controversial, or creative prompts as the basis for an actual homeschool essay course for high school credit. This requires some planning and prep on your part in order to fulfill the requirements of 65 hours for ½ credit. Additionally, it must be challenging enough to qualify as a high-school-level course.

How to beef up a series of prompts into a full-blown writing course

  • Teach your student how to write different kinds of essays.
  • Ensure each essay goes through the writing process.
  • Have prewriting discussions to help teens consider different facets of a subject. If developing a particular topic into an essay is your goal for students, discussions help stimulate ideas and give them more to write about.
  • Provide graphic organizers to plan out their essays.
  • Lay out requirements for each assignment, such as how many points to develop, additional ideas to include, or a set number of sentences or paragraphs to write.
  • Decide how to handle evaluating each essay. For the editing stage, options include self-editing checklists for students and teacher rubrics for providing feedback. If you’re teaching writing in a homeschool co-op or class setting, consider peer editing. To evaluate the final draft, use a rubric to help you grade the essay.

So many ideas … so little time! If you’re organized and confident, you’ll love using writing prompts to teach writing! But if the idea of creating your own writing course feels overwhelming, by all means invest in a homeschool writing curriculum that’s easy to teach.

Now that you know how to use writing prompts to teach homeschool writing, you need a great resource! Our printable Journal All Year Teen Writing Prompt Calendar provides you with a full academic year of argumentative, persuasive, creative, expository, and reflective essay prompts at a bargain price! 

Learn how to use writing prompts to teach homeschool writing, either as an independent tool or alongside your homeschool writing curriculum.