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Citation: Angelillo, Janet. (2005). Writing to the Prompt: When Students Don't Have a Choice. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Title: Writing to the Prompt: When Students Don't Have a Choice
Year: 2005
Publisher: Heinemann
City: Portsmouth, NH
Medium: Book
Author(s): Angelillo, Janet
Grades: Third Grade to Eighth Grade
Categories: Writing to a Prompt
Annotation: Janet Angelillo‘s book can help you figure out how to handle some of the challenges of on-demand writing. She notes that much of the writing students do in school is not of their own choosing. They write in response to literature, in content areas. They write essays and write about assigned topics. When we teach students how to “write to a prompt,” what we’re really doing is teaching students how to write for others, rather than just for themselves. Our starting point it to first teach students how to write well, then help students transfer those skills to new situations.

One of Janet’s recommendations is to provide lots of opportunities for conversations: “Long before asking them to write about prompts, teach them how to talk about a prompt for a long time” (p. 23). She also has intriguing suggestions about how to use mentor texts, pull topics from students’ writer’s notebooks, do quick-writes about read-alouds, or use “talk groups” to discuss quotes from a novel. For instance, on page 58, she describes how you might have students debate whether the ability to live forever in Tuck Everlasting is a blessing or a curse. This sort of conversation helps students learn to back up their opinions and think through two sides of an issue.

In Chapter Six, she discusses “the paradigm shift from students writing essays to prove that they know the information to writing essays to demonstrate their capacity for unfolding thought” (p. 93). She uses the metaphor of a journey, where the body of the essay is the journey, the conclusion is the destination, and the main points are where writers/readers stop along the way to ponder, “What do I think now?” Chapter Eight and Nine describe a four-to-six-week unit on writing to a prompt as a study about staying with a topic (she calls it kneading a topic) or living with an idea. For instance, one sixth grade teacher asked her students to use one book they’ve read and examples from their life to write about courage. Janet walks through activities for each week, providing time for discussions, demonstrating with mentor texts, and teaching revision skills. Students learn to write using internal dialogue, write with an assessment lens, and revise before and during writing. Rather than putting writing instruction on hold in order to “teach to the test,” this book clearly demonstrates that it’s possible to weave instruction about “on-demand writing” into writing workshop in authentic and even fun ways.