When students come into a classroom it’s often hard to get them to settle down and get ready for a lesson. Between intense discussions with each other, being distracted with other responsibilities, or just non-interest in the subject, their attention is often focused elsewhere as they shuffle into the classroom. Setting up a beginning-of-class routine for them is one way to curb this distraction.
I like having students keep a journal that they write in with a daily writing prompt. It’s often a good idea to have the students’ keep their journals in your classroom so you don’t run the risk of someone forgetting it or losing it completely, though this will take up valuable real estate especially with large class sizes. Keep them by the door in boxes labeled by class so that they may pick them up when they walk in. Talking can be kept to a minimum and once the routine is established it becomes second nature for the students (ideally, though they may still gripe about it). Keep the writing prompts interesting enough for the students to be able to form an opinion that they can write on for at least one to five minutes. These may also serve as an excellent way to help determine if the students are doing their homework reading assignments! The idea is to keep the students writing and thinking.
Of course, these do not have to be limited to historical concepts. If there has been an issue in your classroom, you could creatively ask the students to come up with a solution or ways that they could make the situation different by reacting differently or standing up for a friend. Bullying is always a hot topic, but be careful and try not to single out students. Make these types of prompts as broad as possible. Writing prompts could also be a segue into teaching students empathy about a subject you will be teaching about, like the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 or Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
I like to check the writing assignments once a quarter, spot checking them (not reading every single entry). Students have the option of folding back a page once a week, letting me know that this is personal to them (though I check to make sure there is writing on the page without reading it).
Some writing prompt ideas can be:
- If you were a farmer living in one of the original 13 colonies, what livestock would you raise and why? What crops would you be farming and why? Which colony would you prefer to live in?
- What Constitutional amendment would you like to see added in the next 20 years to the United States Constitution? Who would it benefit and why? Who would it hurt and why?
- Consider the technological advances in the last 100 years that have become so important in our every day lives (electricity, telephones, cell phones, computers, internet). What do you think will come out of technology in the next 100 years? How will it shape our daily lives?
- If you were the President of the United States, what could you do to change the country for the better? What laws would you create or change?
- During an (earthquake, hurricane, tornado), most of us do not have the time or presence of mind to do more than duck beneath a table or into a doorway. Afterwards, we may wish we had been able to save an object of sentimental value like a photograph or childhood toy. Pick one thing you would want to save from destruction and write about it. Describe this thing and why it is special to you. (Adapted from http://staff.esuhsd.org/danielle/english%20department%20lvillage/CAHSEE%20English/Sample%20Writing%20Prompts.pdf)
- If you had to live as a Spartan, a Viking, an English Knight, or a Roman warrior, which would you choose and why? What would a day in your life look like? What would be the fun parts and the not so fun parts?
- Imagine that the Roman Emperor has just sentenced you to fight in the Colliseum for a crime you have committed. What is the crime and what would your argument be to him to help save your life?