Guest Post by Laura Shovan
When I work with young writers in the classroom, one of the things we talk about is writing prompts. Unlike a writing assignment, prompts are akin to drills in sports, or the etudes that musicians practice in order to work on technique. When we write in response to a prompt, the focus is on trying, on playing around with ideas and language, not on the finished product.
In my middle grade novel in verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, teacher Ms. Hill keeps a jar of poetry prompts for her fifth grade students, who have free-writing time every morning. Educators have told me that they like this idea. If students don’t know what to write about, they can grab an idea out of the jar and see what bubbles up for them.
That’s exactly why I love working with prompts. As writers, we can’t always rely on inspiration to show up. Sometimes it needs a nudge – which a good writing prompt can provide. I also like the way that random writing prompts, because they are unexpected, shift young writers away from their favorite topics and help them to stretch, exploring new territory in their poems or stories.
So, let’s fire up the glue gun and make a Poetry Prompt Jar.
Jar or box (big enough to put your hand inside)
Glue gun (optional)
Writing prompts on small pieces of paper
For my prompt jar, I cleaned out an old protein powder container, then covered it with scraps of giftwrap.
I thought it would be fun to decorate the prompt jar with a poem. Since my own children are too big for our Magnetic Poetry Junior set, I pulled out some tiles, constructed a little poem, and hot-glued it to the jar.
My finished craft jar is kind of quirky. I may have gotten carried away. I'm sure Ms. Hill would have shown more restraint.
Next, I put some folded up writing prompts inside the jar. However, I also added a few odds and ends: a button with flowers on it, a hamster-shaped eraser, a small wooden turtle. If you’re making a prompt jar for your classroom, consider including a few small objects or magazine clippings for students who are kinesthetic and visual learners.
Last, it might be fun to borrow an idea from the Little Free Library movement: Stewardship. What would happen if a student or two were responsible for the prompt jar? Prompt Jar Stewards might make sure that the prompts are returned when people are done, that nothing unexpected (or inappropriate) shows up inside the jar. They might even be inspired to create some writing prompts of their own.
Let’s close with a poem. In The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, one of Ms. Hill’s students writes a poem about the classroom prompt jar.
THE POETRY PROMPT JAR
By Katie McCain
For Ms. Hill
I am stuck.
I cannot rhyme.
My words are weak
as tadpole slime.
I dip my hand
into the jar
of poem starts
from near and far.
There’s tanka poems
(I’m not a fan).
No. They’re too rude.
Why not an ode
to my favorite food?
When writer’s block
has made me pout,
the prompt jar’s here
to help me out
Laura Shovan is the author of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. She has served as a poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council’s Artist-in-Education program. Visit her at www.laurashovan.com