I first heard about the "Write About This" app while listening to the uneven Techlandia podcast by the self-deprecating iPad Sammy. I checked it out and then dismissed it for a few months. Being a disciple of Writing Workshop, I wasn't a big fan of prompt writing. But one of the things I both love and hate about Writing Workshop is the length of time that's needed to spend on a single piece of writing. This year in particular reminded me of the "hate" side of that equation, and in October I was thinking about how I could have my class writing both ways; to be able to develop a piece of writing over a period of time, but also to encourage a love of writing with shorter, more imaginative assignments. I remembered "Write About This" and decided I might actually like prompt-based writing after all. I decided to try an optional "Writers' Club" with my class to see how it would go. My idea was to use the prompts from "Write About This" to get the kids to write almost every day.
There are several good things about this app, but the sheer number of interesting photo prompts is the big reason I decided to use it.
Each photo has 3 different text prompts associated with it. I go through the photos, save the prompts I like to the camera roll, and then print them out 6 to a page. It's an easy process that lets me generate prompts quickly for the children. Each morning I spend 3 minutes cutting up a new batch for the kids to grab when they first come into the class.
I introduced the club near the end of October to my class with the following criteria:
- I'd give a new prompt each day, Monday through Thursday.
- I didn't care how much or how little the kids wrote, as long as they wrote something from each prompt.
- The kids could follow the prompt exactly or just use the picture to help them write whatever they wanted.
- If they decided to join the club, I'd give them their own notebook with the agreement that they couldn't exit the club until the notebook was filled. If they wanted to stay in it though, I'd give them another notebook.
Out of the 20 children in my class, 17 decided to join, and I'm astounded by the number of different ways the kids decided to do this given such a small sample size.
Several kids decided to do the prompts without any change. The children that decided to do it this way also tend generate less writing than the children who change the prompts to what they think is more interesting.
Some kids type or write outside their notebooks and put it in later.
Most kids choose to put the prompts in as they are writing, but one student chooses not to put the prompts in at all, but to use the prompts as a launching point for his stories. Another student chooses to put the prompts at the back of her writing notebook, along with the dates for each prompt.
I have another student who has decided to tell a single story that runs through every prompt. She has a family tree at the beginning of her notebook that keeps track of all the different characters she introduces.
I also like this app because it's easy to generate your own photo-prompts. I can use my own photos, but for now I've decided that every Thursday I'll use a photo from "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick".
I give the Harris Burdick prompts on Thursday, to allow the kids to write a little more with them.
The hardest thing about this is finding time for the kids to share their writing. To help with this, I have a book basket in our class library where the kids can put their writing notebooks so that others can read their stories during our reading time. It's not a perfect solution, but it's a start.