Common Sense Review
Updated May 2015

Writing Prompts

Handy, flexible story starters engage kids but require supervision
Common Sense Rating 3
  • Scenes mode gives a place, character, object, and a fourth setting-related word like time, weather, or mood. Individual phrases can be tapped to advance to a new word.
  • Texts mode provides a traditional prose-style prompt that usually provides a character, setting, and the beginnings of a plot.
  • Sketches mode offers up a genre and a form or type of writing.
  • Words mode displays three to seven (or a random number of) words that can also be advanced individually; students can enlarge or shrink words by pinching.
  • News mode is hit-or-miss with lots of broken links.
Pros
Clean design, varied and interesting topics, lots of content, and website-based contests.
Cons
Borderline adult content, awkward design, and buggy news section mar the experience.
Bottom Line
A flexible, unique prompting tool with both breadth and depth for advanced young writers -- best used with teacher supervision.
Amanda Bindel
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 3

Simple, primarily black-and-white design is clean, helping the prompts shine through, and for the most part they're varied and interesting.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

Kids can learn flexibly with four different modes. The unique genres can empower kids to use their imaginations, and there's a great focus on student choice, letting kids tinker with a prompt to make it work for them.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

The Favorites feature helps organize ideas into preferred genres, and the sister site Writing.com has free writing contests with registration rated for age (E, +13, +18), but there's no in-app link.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

The ability to craft individualized prompts and then save them to favorites could allow kids to track their prompts and map them to finished products. However, there are no user profiles for students under a teacher umbrella, so you may have to limit this kind of use to 1-to-1 programs (where students all have their own device and copy of the app), or students could simply share and remember which prompts they used.

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What's It Like?

Writing Prompts is a handy creative resource with prompts in a unique variety of genres (like news, fantasy, folklore, military, or nature) and forms (like flash fiction, editorial, narrative, haiku, or sonnet). Students can choose from four different modes with varying levels of content, and from sketches with only two words –- one for genre and another for form –- to texts that provide a full sentence usually establishing a character and a scene or beginning plot. With more than a thousand prompts, the app includes 400 words that can be easily mixed up, sized, or reordered. The version called A+ Writing Prompts has even more prompts for a few additional dollars.

Six tabs at the bottom allow free access to selected favorites, news stories, and four different prompt formats: 60 "sketches" that include a genre and a form of writing; 762 "texts" providing traditional prose prompts; 450 "words" providing three to seven words (or random) from various parts of speech; and 384 "scenes" that give one word each for setting, character, random object, and mood. The final two modes allow users to change individual components of the prompt by swiping or tapping.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Playing off the language provided, students will develop standard skills such as acquiring grade-appropriate vocabulary, choosing language that expresses ideas precisely, and using technology to produce writing. By combining the inspiration in the prompts with their imaginations, kids can craft creative and nonfiction content for a writer's workshop, to process emotions, or to develop some real-life learning opportunities via a writing topic.

While most of the prompts will appeal to a broad range of grades and interests ("Villagers awake to find that a strange well has appeared in the center of town."), some are more sophisticated in nature ("You are the only survivor of a suicide pact. Tell your story."). The app also contains adult concepts such as "spiking coffee" and sometimes suggests adult genres (though it contains no actual erotica or occult content). Despite these issues, if prompts are chosen ahead of time and added to favorites, you could use a personal copy of the app to inspire writers as young as fourth-graders. Swipe response time can be slow, and both swiping and tapping require more pressure than usual, depending on your device. Landscape mode doesn't all migrate so the screen looks awkward, and the news section stories aren't necessarily high-interest or relevant to students and are often dead links. Surprising for a writing app, there are a few embarrassing mistakes such as "Your [sic] cleaning out you [sic] closet ..." and what might appear to be misspellings (hollared?). Spelling also appears inconsistently in British English style (colors yet memorise), which detail-conscious students could pick up on.

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