This post was written by former Gradhacker author Trent M Kays

I enjoy writing. I have always enjoyed writing, but this doesn’t mean my students always enjoy writing. Often when I enter the classroom, my goal is to make my students laugh and to make sure they have fun. My colleagues often joke that part of my teaching method is based on joke telling; they aren’t far off. I do whatever I can to ensure my students smile when they enter my class and are relaxed when they leave my class. There is no reason for them to stress and freak out about a writing class; however, I often hear groans when I ask them to write something, and, as a result, I started a practice called “Be Silly, Have Fun, and Write!”

I always have my students begin class with writing and end class with writing regardless of the amount of writing we do in between. Despite my zeal about writing in class, some of my colleagues outside of my discipline don’t always engage with their students through writing. There are many reasons why teaching assistants and instructors in disciplines other than writing studies would not regularly engage in writing activities in their classes. I think the overall issue is that some disciplines do not value writing in the same ways as other disciplines do; however, there is value to in-class writing in all disciplines. Writing helps students work through problems, encourages critical thinking, can work as a stress reliever, and lets them connect with their own thoughts in many ways.

I always encourage colleagues outside of my discipline to do at least some basic and silly writing prompts in their courses. Here are the three rules I follow for my in-class writing activities:

  1. Be silly. This is okay. It’s okay to be silly in class every once in a while.
  2. Have fun. Once again, this is okay. It’s good to have fun and relax in class. It’s good for the instructor, and it’s good for the students.
  3. Write. This is the most important part, and it’s not as hard as it sounds. Just write. Put pen or pencil to paper (or fingers to a keyboard) and write.

I have used these rules in my classes, and my students always seem to enjoy their writing prompts. I usually begin with a warm-up and silly writing prompt followed by a serious writing prompt related to the daily readings. Depending on the length of the class session, I give my students five minutes for each prompt, and I always write with them.

For example:

  • Warm-up/Silly Prompt: Write about the last time you did or did not punch a clown. (To be clear, I am in no way condoning clown punching in any way.)
  • Serious Prompt: Write about one statement that sticks out in your mind from Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

After each prompt, I have some of my students share. This helps build community, and it helps students learn about their classmates. This activity is appropriate for any type of class in any discipline: Economics, Math, English, History, etc. The point of this activity is for students to have fun while connecting their thoughts to their studies through writing. Do I expect any of my students to have punched a clown? No, not really. I know I have never punched a clown, but that’s not the point of the prompt. The point is to make my students smile or laugh and start writing.

At the end of class, I usually ask my students to write for five minutes about what we talked about during our course meeting. I have them reflect on what they liked and didn’t like during class, including my silly writing prompts, and I ask them to share their reflections. The end of class reflection prompt is especially easy to use in different classes and disciplines because it’s not about a specific topic or reading; it’s about the students reflecting on what they did or didn’t like about a certain class meeting. This is beneficial to all instructors, and most certainly teaching assistants, because often when teaching assistants enter the classroom for the first time, they are doing so with no prior teaching experience.

So, I encourage all my colleagues to do some in-class writing no matter the course subject. Instructors should engage with their students through some type of writing activity. Take two, three, four, or five minutes at the beginning or end of class and have students write. The students will benefit from it.

Do you have any writing prompts or activities that you’ve had success with in class? Please share them with us in the comments!

Photo by Flickr user English106 // Creative Commons licensed: CC-BY

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18 Responses to Be Silly, Have Fun, and Write!

  1. Alex Galarza says:

    It is useful to note that your guiding principles on how students enter and exit the class shape the sorts warmup activities you use. This sort of goal-driven teaching philosophy is so crucial in developing your own style.

    For example, my main goal is to have meaningful discussion during section. Much like your base-line requirement of writing something, I just want my students to open their mouths at the start of section, so I use my own sorts of “tell me about clown-punching” activities. I think everyone can read this post, formulate their own goals, and incorporate some fun warmup activities in their own teaching. Nice job!

    • Trent M Kays says:

      Thanks, Alex. I think you’re right. Each teacher has their own plan when they enter the classroom, and it’s important for teachers to believe in what they’re doing and for students to be engaged.

  2. EKSwitaj says:

    I really like the silly prompt idea; maybe at some point in the term, students could be asked to brainstorm their own silly prompts for the class to use.

    Another activity I’ve used with great success with nervous writers is chain writing to a prompt: each student gets 2-3 minutes to write on a subject before passing their paper on to the next student who has to continue where the previous one left off.

    • Trent M Kays says:

      Excellent idea, EK! I think I will have my students brainstorm some silly prompts at the beginning of each class, and we can use them throughout the semester. :)

  3. Julie Platt says:

    I have a great little book of writing prompts called The Writer’s Block that I’ve used with my students. They pass it around daily and choose a prompt to write about. Some are *really* silly, such as “Write about your worst bathroom experience.”

  4. Emma says:

    I started using a five minute writing prompt for the beginning of each class when teaching a 9am Professional Ethics course — I found that it helped the students to focus in on being present with the class and the material. I used prompts based on their reading assignments. That same semester, when guest lecturing in other classes (Society & Technology, Enviro Comm), I experimented with starting some classes with and others without writing prompts. I certainly perceived a difference in the class attention and engagement with the lecture that followed. Since then, I start each class I teach with a five minute writing session. I haven’t tried silly prompts, though, great idea!

  5. Fayana Richards says:

    Great article Trent! I think this is good advice for outside of the classroom as well. I love to write. Growing up, I always thought I would find some way to write no matter where I ended up. Since entering graduate school, however, I have had major writers block. I haven’t been able to find my rhythm. Hopefully, it works itself out.

  6. kat says:

    This is fantastic! I’m assuming you teach at the university level? But I’m sure this idea can translate into grade school as well – if not more so (kids love to be silly). If I ever get to teach at the university level I will definitely keep this in mind because I firmly believe that good writing skills are extremely important. This point is further emphasized by the fact that good writers get grants based of their writing skills, so why not write as well as you can? Thanks for this :)

    • Trent M Kays says:

      Thanks, Kat! Yes, I teach at the university level, and I believe that these prompt ideas are easily transferrable to K-12 education. I think writing is an important aspect of every area of study, so students can only benefit from more writing in their classes.

      Please let me know how your prompts work out for you! :)

  7. Joe says:

    Love the types of prompts you use. I’m a big fan of the silly also, but usually with a hidden intention. Like “Tell me the story of how you got a scar” as helping them focus on a single moment. Or “If you were going to commit a murder, how would you do it” when discussing horror fiction (to set the mood). Or even “Should abortion be illegal?” to set the mood for an argument class.

    Great article, Trent! I love seeing the way you teach.

  8. [...] all else fails, then I usually send this YouTube video to my students or play it in class as we do silly writing prompts (I can’t embed the video because of copyright issues). It’s okay to give students a [...]

  9. Lois says:

    Two prompts that I use during the semester…

    Write a letter to your favorite piece of clothing.

    Write an excuse letter for a famous person who made a mistake.

  10. [...] like activities that ask students to work in groups as well as individually, perhaps on an informal writing assignment. Because I teach discussion and skills-based courses, I feel it is important to emphasize that my [...]

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