Monday, January 26, 2009

Writing Prompts

Those who teach writing must design writing prompts with great care and attention to detail, considering the wording, the mode of discourse, the rhetorical specifications, and the subject matter of each writing assignment. The same is equally true teaching any writing class, whether ESL, emerging NS writers (developmental) and presumable developed writers in lower division college composition and writing intensive course

A well designed writing prompt guides the writer through drafting a main idea statement and from there onto essay organization and structure as well. Despite practice of attributing "assignment description information gap" problems to cultural context of prompts and assignments, most writing prompt problems are the fault of bad design, lack of clarity, insufficient specifics. Not even native speakers with high skill level can make sense enough of a poorly designed and written writing prompt to write the assignment expected of them.

This consideration does not eliminate the cultural context: rather it add another layer of complexity to the deciphering process. It is the writing instructor's responsibility to write good prompts. Students should not have to be mind-readers in order to figure out writing assignments. When confronted with unclear, less than precise prompts, L2 writers face greater obstacles than NS writers. Unfamiliar cultural context makes the task of decoding the prompt thornier and with it interpreting "how" the prompt sets up and organizes the writing assignment.

Understanding academic writing prompts and the culture giving birth to them can be even trickier, affecting their writing abilities. Writing teachers do their students a disservice when they accept writing that does not address the requirements of a prompt. Students must be given opportunities to become aware of the constraints of Admittedly, United States academic prose is a peculiar and not always logical genre. However, those expecting to play the game must learn both the rules of and the expectations of their presumptive audience if they are to succeed.

A few links to shed light on prompts and their kinship to thesis statements:
Characteristics of good prompts:
Good prompts are authentic and contain a clearly expressed writing topic, put it in context, and provide clear directions to help students respond. "Analyze, classify, compare, contrast, define, describe, discuss, and explain" are examples of key words that tell writers what to do.

Ask the questions:
  • What are the purpose(s) of the assignment?
  • What information do I need to complete the task?
  • What problems does the topic suggest?
  • Who is my audience?
Next: decoding a collaborative writing assignment

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