The timed nature of prompt writing brings an added level of test anxiety. With that pressure, students sometimes focus on identifying the prompt topic and overlook the type of writing they are directed to write. To fully accomplish the writing task, as most rubric criteria require, students must write in the appropriate mode.


Similar to identifying the important words in a math story problem, students need to notice the words that cue the writer to the type of response to generate. These references may come in a variety of forms.

  • Narrative prompts may be disguised behind words like describe, tell about a time, write a story, write an entertaining piece, etc.
  • Expository prompts may use words like inform, explain, tell, etc. Sometimes the prompt includes a certain mode that will impact the organization of the writing, too (e.g., compare/contrast, explain how to, etc.).
  • Persuasive/Argumentative prompts often use words like argue, convince, influence, persuade, give your opinion, etc.

Spend time helping your students decode prompts accurately. After decoding several examples for cue words, Bellmont Middle School (Decatur, IN) teacher Jackie Bard had her 8th graders work in small groups to write three prompts. They had to use the appropriate cue words to generate an expository, persuasive, and narrative prompt all on the same topic. Jackie’s thinking was this–“If you can write a prompt using the key words, you will take note of them when taking the state writing assessment.” Download a sample of student-created prompts.

Student Creative Prompts

FYI–After her 8th graders created photo prompts, Jackie used the prompts with her 6th graders to practice decoding them for the genres intended. Love that!


Beyond just knowing what mode they are to write in, students need to know how to craft that type of writing. And it all comes down to the traits of Ideas and Organization. Here are some of the essential ingredients to each:

  • Ideas–Create a basic plot. Something happens to someone. A story has to include a plot.
  • Organization–Hook & satisfy the reader. Include a strong beginning and a satisfying ending.
  • Organization–Ideas progress through a sequence of time & events.
  • For more skills targeting this mode of writing, check out our Narrative Essentials poster.


  • Ideas–Identify a focus/thesis that is narrow and manageable.
  • Ideas–Include important facts & interesting details and explain their significance.
  • Organization–Clump like ideas to create a logical order. (NOTE: Depending on the genre, the organization will change. Compare-contrast writing is organized differently than how-to/step-by-step writing.)
  • For more skills targeting this mode of writing, check out our Informative Essentials poster.


  • Ideas–Reveal a topic & position/stance.
  • Ideas–Develop many good reasons for your position, including facts, examples, anecdotes, quotes, etc.
  • Organization–Ordering the reasons in an intentional order provides strength for an argument.
  • For more skills targeting this mode of writing, check out our Persuasive and Argumentative Essentials posters.

Share your thoughts!x