Publication Type: Web Article
Year of Publication: 2008
Juli Kendall, a California literacy teacher, introduces this twelve-volume series which offers writing prompts in different disciplines and grades in response to research that shows that nonfiction writing is an element of success in schools that have high achievement despite high rates of free lunch, etc. (90-90-90 schools). They are challenging but well-explained, says Kendall.
Citation: Nonfiction writing prompts (Write to know series). Englewood, CO: Advanced Learning Press.
Reviewed by: Juli Kendall
Long Beach (CA) Unified School District
Several years ago I was introduced to the ideas of the Center for
Performance Assessment and the work of Douglas Reeves. One
of the Center's projects was titled The 90-90-90 Schools:
A Case Study. The 90/90/90 Schools are described as having the following characteristics:
• More than 90 percent of the students are eligible
for free and reduced lunch
• More than 90 percent of the students are from ethnic
• More than 90 percent of the students met or achieved
high academic standards, according to independently conducted
tests of academic achievement.
Since all of us want 90 percent of our students to meet or achieve
high academic standards, many in education read this paper
with great interest. As a part of their work, the Center also
identified common characteristics of high achievement schools.
They found five characteristics that were common to all 90/90/90
Schools. These characteristics were:
• A focus on academic achievement
• Clear curriculum choices
• Frequent assessment of student progress and multiple
opportunities for improvement
• An emphasis on nonfiction writing
• Collaborative scoring of student work
Recently, the Advanced Learning Press, a part of the Center for Performance
Assessment, has published a series of booklets containing
nonfiction writing prompts, addressing one of the characteristics
of the high achievement schools — a focus on nonfiction
The Write to Know Series booklets contain writing prompts
for math, science, social studies, music and art. They begin
as early as kindergarten and focus on nonfiction writing.
For example, in the kindergarten booklet, Nonfiction Writing
Prompts for Math, Science, and Social Studies, they introduce
the prompts by answering a series of questions.
–Why nonfiction prompts?
– How do I use writing prompts with children who
aren't reading or writing yet?
– What should I consider when writing my own prompts
or when modifying existing prompts?
– What are the four domains of writing students need
to practice, and why is it important for teachers to know
what they are?
– What kind of scoring guide should I use to evaluate
To facilitate scoring and encourage collaborative scoring of
student work (another characteristic of high achieving schools),
the authors include Analytic Scoring Guides for the first,
second, and third trimesters of kindergarten, as well as a
Holistic Scoring Guide.
Math, they include prompts for number sense, algebra and functions,
measurement and geometry, and statistics, data analysis, and
probability. For example:
– Statistics, Data Analysis, and Probability
Write a story for Fishy starting with eight fishes and
ending with six. Be sure to draw a picture that helps
Fishy understand as well.
Science prompts include the strands of life science, physical science,
earth science, and investigation. This prompt shows the kind
of thinking required of students:
– Physical Science
You know that water left in an open container evaporates
(goes into the air) and water left in a closed container
Your friend keeps forgetting to put the top back on his water
bottle, and on hot days his water evaporates very quickly.
He doesn't understand where the water goes. Help your
friend understand by telling him about evaporation. Then
tell him what he should do to stop the water evaporating
out of his bottle.
On my first pass through the book, I was concerned about the
level of difficulty of the prompts. But as I went back and
read more carefully, I found that the authors explained
how to scaffold the writing and how to support students
who are just beginning to learn about responding to prompts.
They include suggestions for a variety of responses. Students
might be using journals and science notebooks or helping
the teacher write on a piece of chart paper during a shared
or interactive writing activity. They also discuss the different
ways kindergarten students may respond through writing such
as drawing, scribbles, isolated letters, strings of letters,
and, ultimately, phonetic and conventional spelling.
While this is a very challenging series, it may be just the thing
to get teachers started thinking and collaborating on how
to help students with nonfiction writing. And if that results
in higher achievement, then all the better.