The writing experiment: Part One

After a semester and a half of hearing students complain about the horrible prompts I am making them write I’ve decided it’s time to do something about it. First some background. The composition program at the university that I teach at has a reader and from that reader prompts, written by our department head are used. Although TA’s are encouraged to write their own prompts and sequences, many of us use the sequence and prompts provided for us. It makes our lives easier, which I believe is the departement head’s objective.

There are some issues. The book is new and is being reworked into a national edition and not all the sequences have been attempted in the classroom. Because of this the only way to see if a sequenence or prompt works is to use in the classroom. Last semester the prompts and readings went over well with the students. There were complaints but they were expected because we were making our students think and work. This semester however the complaints are warrented. The prompts are horrible and the readings are not much better. Although the readings, I don’t think, are the problem. This semester plain and simple it’s the prompts that are creating the problem.

So what am I going to do about it? I figured something had to be done because I was about to have a mutany on my hands and was not so thrilled about my students suddenly standing in the middle of lesson screaming “Mutany! Get her!” It seems as if we are headed in that direction. So to prevent being tied or taped to desk with a sign on my forehead that says, “I’m a terrible teacher” I’ve decided to let the students write their own prompt.

Tomorrow I will begin this experient. I’m first going to show them what the prompt is that was given for this reading, then as a class we are going to write our own. We will have established goals before writing the prompt looking at how the readings connect, what we as writers hope to accomplish and learn through the prompt and then ask the question that will give us the prompt. After the prompt has been written the class will vote, their prompt or the department’s. I was actually thinking of having them chose their prompt or the department prompt which would also provide me with a bit more variety when it came time to grade these papers.

I will further update you readers on the outcome of this experient. I do have some concerns. 1) Will they treat this assignment as a joke? 2) How can I get them to think in terms of writing a prompt? 3) Do I tweak the prompt to make it better for them by giving them suggestions?

I would love any feedback you guys have on this. Have any of you done something like this? If so would you do it again? If yes why? If no, why not? Do you have any suggestions for how to go about this?



  1. As a recent grad school grad in art/sculpture with a lot of required reading, I’m curious as to the reasons for the mutiny. Are these students complaining because the structure is too demanding? I had an amazing art history prof who was forced to dummy-down her contemporary art class…and she caved. Fortunately, I took the class before the capitulation. I’d love to see your prompts, department or otherwise. Have fun, stephanie taylor

    1. Stephanie thanks for the comment. I think the students would mutany if they felt that there was no where else to go. I do also agree that teachers may feel forced to dummy down curiculum. I am big believe in holding students to high standards, although at times some battles are not worth fighting.

      The prompts are not as challeging as the students make them out to be. I think for the most part they struggle because it forces them out of their comfort zone, which I think is good for them. If it doesn’t kill you it does make you stronger.

  2. I think this is a wonderful idea, creative if not anything else. Personally, I know that there will be some that will take it as a joke (there’s always at least one who does), but I think that many of your students, especially those who are creative, will embrace the assignment.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I’m always worried about the not so creative ones. I have a hard time relating to those students who refuse to think outside of the box. I do think it doesn’t hurt to get those square-thinkers to bend a bit.

  3. Well, if these students can’t deal with a variety of topics, then why are they in university? Ship them off to Dartmouth if they don’t like it and then they can join the fine student journalistic staff of The Dartmouth Review.;)

    If the students can’t think, then they don’t deserve to finish university. They can do a diploma mill like National University.

    I trust you’ll challenge them. 🙂

    1. Heck ya I’ll challenge them. I’m a big believer in high (maybe too high but whatever) standards. It is college for crying out loud.

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