Writing Prompts Open Up Learning


Writing prompts help teach.

Use them across the liberal arts curriculum.

When properly crafted, expository writing prompts enable you to do the kind of teaching you've always wanted to do with teens and/or adult students and get the kinds of results you always wanted to see.

At PenPrompts you'll learn how to develop and deploy good expository prompts that enable students to develop the knowledge and skills for thinking critically and for continuing to learn after their exit from formal education.

Expository writing prompt terminology

PenPrompts' definition of expository writing prompt

an assignment that asks students to explain something in writing and which includes all the information students need to start and to finish writing, having meet all the requirements.

A short glossary of terms related to writing prompt use is on the About page.

Expository prompts come in two basic types:

  • formal writing prompts, which require respondents to go through the entire writing process in order to complete the assignment, and

At PenPrompts, I'll teach you to build and use both types. But before that, I ought to tell you how I came by my knowledge of using writing prompts.

I'm Linda Aragoni, a writer and writing teacher.

Linda Aragoni, writer and writing teacher
Linda Aragoni

All my life I've stumbled into work in fields as different as newspapers, engineering, and healthcare for two reasons:

  • I ask a lot of questions, and

  • I can teach anything I can learn.

No matter where I worked, I wound up being the person who did the writing and the teaching tasks.

Writing in such diverse settings convinced me that every occupation has writing templates its insiders use to corral information so they can concentrate on expressing their ideas clearly.

That epiphany led me to develop a discipline-agnostic, template-based teaching method that delivered nonfiction writing instruction primarily via writing prompts. I refined my method through decades of on-and-off adjunct gigs, typically teaching first year college composition, and then turned my method into a website for writing teachers.

Regardless of their discipline, teachers today must make sure their teenage and adult students have the critical thinking and learning skills they need for their first post-graduation job and to adapt to their subsequent 10, 20, or 30 jobs.

I believe expository writing prompts offer liberal arts teachers a simple, straightforward — though not always easy — way to accomplish both tasks while focusing on teaching their course content.

The PenPrompts Mission

To enable high school and college teachers to use expository writing to accomplish their course goals while achieving institutional goals.

To accomplish that mission, it's necessary to help students accomplish a few of their goals, too.

You're the ideal PenPrompts user if…

PenPrompts is designed for instructors who teach required courses to students grades 7-12  or college-level general education courses. For lack of a better term, I'll refer to us as liberal arts teachers to distinguish us faculty teaching more occupation-oriented courses. 

Although our students and subject matter may be very dissimilar, liberal arts teachers have one thing in common: A significant number of students in our classes don't want to be there. Some instructors in that situation get by on showmanship. Most of us, however, need to outwit our haters by surprising them with some content from our class that those students find is inherently interesting to them.

If you're a science teacher who can find a way to make chemistry relevant to the English major, or an English teacher who gets the math students excited about grammar, you'll be right at home at PenPrompts.

If you haven't yet found ways to hook your haters but want to, you've come to the right place, too.

You may want to sign up for the PenPrompts newsletter to help you think about what you want to achieve through using expository writing.

PenPrompts probably isn't for you if…

Learning to craft prompts that work for students will probably feel pretty uncomfortable initially. You may not be ready for the challenge now if:

  • You regularly assign homework questions from the textbook.

  • You calculate class progress in terms of how much curriculum you covered.

  • You're happy reusing the same material year after year.

  • You rely on lesson sharing websites for new instructional materials.

  • You haven't voluntarily taken a webinar or MOOC in the last 18 months.

If you're going to guide students into being serial learners, you need to be a serial learner or you need to start acting like a serial learner.

Are you ready to take on the challenge now? I hope so. But if you're not, it's OK to come back later when you're ready.

Not sure whether you're up to this whole writing thing? Shoot me a note on the contact page, and let's chat about your situation.

Writing prompts are good investments.

Although preparing a good expository prompt takes time, you may recoup your investment the first time you deploy it. And a good prompt is reusable.

I suggest you start by exploring formal writing prompts, which are not only more familiar to most teachers but also easier to prepare than informal ones. (That sounds wrong, but it's not: Informal prompts are tougher to prepare well than formal ones.)


Formal prompts can assess how well students learned.

Formal prompts on topics within your course curriculum let students demonstrate how well they mastered the content. In your prompts, you can require students to read, collaborate, do library/online research, or even to conduct original research before they write. You can also require students to prepare media components or deliver presentations that complement their written work .  READ MORE  >


Informal prompts can guide students' learning.

Informal writing prompts guide students in learning, applying or reviewing course material. Responses to informal prompts written in as little as 15 seconds, can provide you with formative assessment. You can also use sets of prompts to guide students to recognize and correct their wrong ideas. In the process, students begin to think critically about their own thought processes.   READ MORE >

Connect with me.

There's more about my experience on the about page, which is also where you'll find a glossary of terms used on this site.

The contact page gives you options for getting in touch with me online and off.