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The Teacher Tip

Useful Prompts in Writing Instruction

August 31, 2018

Adapted from Embarrassment by Tom Newkirk. 

Moves are options that we can take up in the process of writing—being alert to possibilities, or a shift in thought. We make these moves in conversation all the time, and they are effortless because we have someone to prompt us (“What did you do next?”, “You must be upset?” and so on). None of us ever become fully self-sufficient at this; we always need another perspective to give us distance. But we can better at it if we have internalized (and made automatic) a set of generative prompts. Below are the prompts I use as I write, and as I respond to student writing (and my own):

What is this about?

What happens next?

What does it look like, feel like, smell like?

How can I restate that?

What’s my reaction to that?

What example or experience can I call up to illustrate that?

What parts of my prior reading can I bring to bear on that?

What comparison can I make that makes that clearer?

Why does that matter?

What do I mean by that? 

The list goes on. By using these techniques I can cut out non-essentials within my own writing and work with my students to do the same within their writing as well. 

To learn more about Embarrassment and download a sample chapter, visit 

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