I invented Paragraph POW! as a way to make writing practice more fun. We practice on special paper—lines in a box, just like on the state writing test. One difference: our paper has an awesome Paragraph POW! logo at the top.
Paragraph POW! became so successful that I developed dozens of writing prompts. Writing prompts on lined paper are hardly marketable in workbook form, so I’m giving them away for free.
Paragraph POW! works best when students know their writing will be published and assessed. Since I assign it so often, I don’t box myself in by promising to grade each paper, copyediting every single page. Instead, I choose the papers that best exemplify qualities that I know standardized test graders value. I put those papers under the document camera and read them aloud, giving many compliments. Students want to see their work spotlighted and they put in their best effort.
I always insist that students do these things:
- Write in the box (on standardized tests, only writing in the box is graded)
- Give your piece a title (test assessors love titles, apparently)
- Start with an attention-getter. This can be part of your topic sentence, or some fluff just before it.
- Give examples and description.
I don’t get too picky about Paragraph POW! because I want students to practice extemporaneous writing—the opposite of our regular lessons, where they have to make an outline or fill in a graphic organizer.
Here are some of our choice-based writing prompts. They ask for students’ opinions, but limit the options to just two choices. Yes, my prompts are fun and thought-provoking, in a superficial way. But I think the two-choice option is what really gets students to write. Here’s why:
- With two choices, there’s no overthinking. Pick a knee-jerk reaction and justify it. (Sort of like politics—my prompt presents you with a false choice, and you go from there!)
- These prompts play on strong emotion. Face it—everyone has an opinion on chocolate versus vanilla, cats versus dogs.
- It’s not often that the school actually cares about your opinion on anything. With Paragraph POW! students suddenly have a forum.
- It’s just easier to give kids a choice of two. This works on almost everything.
Here are the Paragraph POW! choice-based writing prompts. Click on each link for a printable PDF. I have also given you an all-purpose Paragraph POW! sheet so you and your students can write to your own prompts.
- Which do you like better, cats or dogs? (The hands-down favorite!)
- Do you prefer summer break or winter break?
- Which is scarier, a shark or a snake?
- Which is better, chocolate or vanilla?
- Is it better to be a teacher or a student?
- Basic Paragraph POW!