Writing Prompts for English Language Learners
and Literacy Students
by Bill Zimmerman
Creator, Somethingtowriteabout.com
and MakeBeliefsComix.com
Art by Tom Bloom
Something To Write About 123123 Something To Write About
An Interactive Digital Journal
from MakeBeliefsComix.com
This Book Belongs To
(TYPE YOUR NAME HERE)
Writing Prompts for English Language Learners
and Literacy Students
by Bill Zimmerman
Creator, Somethingtowriteabout.com and MakeBeliefsComix.com
Art by Tom Bloom
Something To Write About 123123 Something To Write About
Copyright © 2015 by William Zimmerman
Drawings Copyright © 2015 by Tom Bloom
All rights reserved under international
and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
No part of this book may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise,
without express written permission of the publisher,
except for brief quotations or critical reviews.
Book design: Barbara Berasi
The author welcomes comments and suggestions
about what you would like to see included
in future editions.
Please write to: William Zimmerman,
Guarionex Press Ltd.
201 West 77 Street, New York, NY 10024.
Thank you.
For other books by Bill Zimmerman,
visit http://www.billztreasurechest.com
or http://www.makebeliefscomix.com
The comic characters used throughout this book
were drawn by Tom Bloom
and created for MakeBeliefsComix.com.
DEDICATION
In memory of my grandparents
who immigrated to the United States from Europe
and who struggled to learn the English language.
I also dedicate this book to my students
who used many of the writing prompts in this book
and who always wrote wonderful things
from their hearts.
And special thanks
for their support and encouragement
to Donna Kelsh, Executive Director,
and Mark Brik, Education Director,
Institute for Immigrant Concerns, New York City,
and to Ken English, Literacy Program Director
at New York Public Library.
All three people widened my world and gave me
an opportunity to try new ideas.
BZ
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Write from your heart!
It speaks your special truth.
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Dear Reader,
This book is about nothing other than things to write about…your family,
your friends, your old life and your new life, feelings, dreams and goals.
I created this book of writing prompts over the years teaching English lan-
guage learners and literacy students. Its intent is to help students discover
their writers’ voices and express the rich thoughts within them as they master
the English language.
These writing prompts encourage students of all ages to write about the things
in their lives that are meaningful to them—their childhood memories and
family stories, the people they love and admire, their hopes for the future, their
deepest beliefs. I have always believed that everyone has a story to tell—if
only someone would ask, if only someone would listen. This book gives teach-
ers a way to draw out students’ stories and help them communicate their
thoughts through writing.
Encouraging immigrant students to write is so important because it helps
them better weather the enormous stress they experience as they learn
their hard-won English language and adjust to life in a new land far away
from their original homes. Students have told me that they often feel
overwhelmed by the pressures of adjusting to a new country and hide their
feelings, keeping them locked inside. Writing can change this, writing has
the power to help us nd self-understanding and hope and take pride in
our lives. As someone who was very shy and verbally inarticulate as a child,
as someone who had difculty speaking up, I remember the power I felt
when I began to express my ideas on paper and have those ideas read by
others. Even today, I’d rather write than talk.
Much of my work in encouraging students to write is to help them tap into
the memories which feed and nurture them. By asking students to recall
their past, teachers help them reveal the great richness of their lives. From
the stories they write about their lives and then read in class, we learn from
these writers that they are more than just struggling students who are try-
ing to improve their English skills. We recognize them as full human beings
with a history behind them and a future ahead. They are worthy of our
respect and deserve to be heard.
In using the writing prompts in the classroom, I usually also provide some
reading material that will relate to the prompt we will use that day. For
example, if we are to write about a favorite relative or friend, I might provide
as handouts a short essay, newspaper clipping or book excerpt in which
the writer talks about such a person. Students take turns reading this aloud.
Then we discuss the content. All this prepares students to think about the
day’s subject. (A rich resource for such handouts is the excellent annual
Literacy Review of immigrants’ writings published by New York University’s
Gallatin School of Individualized Study—http://gallatin.nyu.edu/academics/
undergraduate/writing/literacyproject.html.)
As my students write, I play a CD with some quiet, meditative music to help
them relax and get in touch with their memories and thoughts. The music
helps transform the classroom into a sacred writing space where the most
wonderful writing is done.
When the students complete their pieces, they are encouraged to read
aloud what they have written. Doing so helps validate the importance of the
thoughts they have expressed in their written words and broadens the think-
ing of the other students. We quickly learn that each of us has something
valuable to impart to others. Students also are welcome to rst experiment
with their essay ideas by creating a comic strip at MakeBeliefsComix.com,
another useful resource for the classroom.
A Word to Teachers and Students...
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I hope that this book of writing prompts will spark your imagination
as you develop your own writing ideas. I hope, too, that by using these
prompts you will discover many special things about your students’ lives.
They want someone to read and listen to their special stories. This book
pays honor to them.
Sincerely,
Bill Zimmerman
Creator, Somethingtowriteabout.com and MakeBeliefsComix.com
P.S. This book is formatted as an interactive digital journal. When down-
loaded, it will allow your students to type directly on their computer
screens into the areas with lines on the blank pages that face the writ-
ing prompts. When a student is done typing, simply save the document
until the next time she or he is inspired to make new entries. Students
also can print out any pages that they want.
You can nd additional writing ideas in the other MakeBeliefsComix
e-books:
Hummingbird Joy: A Book of All the Things That Make You Happy
Laptop Letters: Sending Wise & Loving Messages to Young People in
Your Life
Make Beliefs to Spark Your Writing: Words I Wish Someone Had Told
Me As a Kid
MakeBeliefsComix FILL-ins
And please try out the many writing ideas at my writing blog,
Somethingtowriteabout.com.
Writing Prompts to Spark
Your Imagination...
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Write About Your Dreams
In her poem, “In Praise of Dreams,’’ Polish
poet Wislawa Szymborska, who received
the Nobel Prize in Literature, talks about
all the wonderful things she can do in her
dreams. She can write great poems, play
the piano, breathe underwater and even
see two suns. In other words, there are no
limits to the amazing things she can accom-
plish or experience in her dreams.
Her poem begins:
In my dreams
I paint like Vermeer van Delft.
I speak uent Greek
And not only with the living.
I drive a car
Which obeys me.
Why don’t you read her full poem—at http://in-praise-of-dreams.blogspot.
com/2008/12/in-praise-of-dreams-wislawa-szymborska.html—and add
some of your own lines to what she wrote? You can write about all your
fantasies. In your poem, if you wish, you can start with these words:
In my dreams, I…
Or, if you prefer, write about a dream that you once had or which often
comes back to you when you sleep.
Or, write about the dreams which you have for your own future or for
someone you care about deeply. You can even write about a dream that
did come true.
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Make Up A Story
From A Picture Or Photo
Turn the pages of a magazine or newspaper to
nd an illustration which captures your interest.
Look carefully at this picture and try to imagine
or make up a story about what is going on.
For example, who are the people in the picture? What
is going on in their lives? Imagine you knew them and
could tell about their lives, about their problems, their
loves, their hates, their hopes and dreams. What are the
lives of the people in the photograph like? Are the people happy, sad, angry
or what? Make up a story.
You can also try to imagine that you are one of the people in the picture?
What is going on in your mind? What do you feel?
If you like you can write about this person in the rst person narrative. By
that I mean you can use the word “I’’, such as:
• I am ----
• I feel ----
• I want ----
• I am going to tell you the story of my life ----
• My name is ----
Don’t be afraid of trying to become someone in the picture you are exam-
ining. That is why your imagination is so wonderful. It can take you to new
places where you have never been before. By trying to put yourself in the
shoes or lives of another person, you will grow and develop a broader pic-
ture of humanity.
Or, if you prefer, instead, you can also write a description or story about
something or someone you saw on the streets, or on the subway or in class
or at a party. Use your imagination to describe what is going on.
Or, perhaps you choose an illustration of a place or scene that you nd
interesting. What would it be like to step into that scene?
Enjoy!
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Write Their Diaries
For The Day
Three people in three different
parts of the world wake up one
morning, each expecting the day to
be like all the others. But for one, in
Mexico, this will turn into the most
important day of her life. For an-
other, in China, the day will be the
happiest she will ever experience.
And for the third, in Chicago, this
will become his saddest day.
Write each of these people’s diaries
for the day.
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Help This Girl Write
A Personal Essay
For A Scholarship
A 15 year-old girl is forced to leave her
homeland because of ethnic hatred and she
arrives in New York. Her family has lost
everything and must start from scratch.
Three years later she graduates from high
school with high marks. She has a chance
for a college scholarship which will educate
her and allow her to earn a good living that
will help her parents (her father works as a
janitor).
On her scholarship application she writes about how she transformed
personal bitterness into determination. She begins this way: “A man’s soul
is harder than a rock.’’
Now, your job is to help her nish her application. What does the rest of
her essay say? What does she write about the challenges and hardships
of her life? How did she overcome them? How did she nd hope and the
strength to keep her spirit strong?
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Write About
A Good Friend
Who would you say is your best
friend? Maybe he or she is a child-
hood friend whom you knew when
you were very young, living in your
homeland. Maybe that person is a
relative, such as a brother or sis-
ter, or mother or father, or cousin.
Maybe your best friend is a grand-
parent. Maybe your best friend is
your spouse or partner. Or maybe
your best friend is someone whom
you just met in this country.
For some people, their best friend may be a cat or dog or some animal
they can talk to and who loves them unconditionally. I remember that my
own dog, Nena, always was there to help me when I felt sad and alone. She
would come to lick my face and cheer me up.
Why is this person or creature your best friend? What makes them so
special? What is their name? What kinds of things do you do together or
talk about? Did you have adventures with this good friend? Did you have
happy or sad times together? Why do you feel so comfortable with this
person?
If you don’t have a best friend, then write about a person whom you ad-
mire or like. Or write about what it means to be a good friend to some-
one.
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Let’s Write
About Courage
Write about a time you when you
acted with courage in dealing with a
problem in your life. Each of us has
had to overcome some fears we had
by taking action. This might be as
simple as taking a test again after you
failed an earlier one, or ying on an
airplane when you’re afraid of planes,
or overcoming your fear of leaving
your country to come to a foreign
land to start a new life.
Some people have severe health problems, but they still nd the courage
and strength within to live successful and happy lives. If you know such a
person, you can write about her or him.
You can also write about an act of courage that you or someone you
know performed and how they must have felt.
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Describe Something or
SomeoneYou Observed
Your assignment is to look carefully at the
world around you and write something
special that you observed. I am encouraging
you to be a private detective and use your
powers of observation.
As you ride the bus, or take the train, or walk down
the streets to school or your home, look very carefully around you and focus
your attention on someone or something. Try to notice something you have
never seen before, something that you are glad you saw, such as a ower bulb
starting to open or a laughing child. Maybe something strange or mysterious, or
something that surprises you.
Maybe you observe an interesting looking person wearing a beautiful or shabby
outt. Maybe you see a special color that cheers you up. Maybe you see an
adorable or frightening animal. Or, maybe you overhear an interesting conversa-
tion between two people. What do they say to each other?
Maybe you wish to describe someone you already know. Help us see what this
person looks like, how tall or short they are, the color of their skin and hair,
whether they look sad or happy, whether they are fat or thin, whether they
speak loudly or softly. How are they dressed? Describe as much as you can.
Try to use adjectives when you describe an object or person. For example, don’t
just write, “I saw an apple.’’ Tell me more. Tell me the color of the apple—was
it green or red or yellow, was it juicy looking? Was it a Chinese apple (a pome-
granate) or was it a Delicious apple. What does it say on the label attached to
the apple’s skin? Where did you see the apple? Was it at home on the table?
Was it on the shelf in the store with other fruit? Was someone eating that apple,
and if so, how did the person look? Did the person look like she enjoyed the
taste of the apple? What did the apple make you think of? Did it make you re-
member a time when you were a child, in another country, and tasted an apple
or some other fruit for the rst time? If so, what was it like?
In writing your description, try to use some of your ve senses—what did the
object smell like, or feel like, or sound like, or taste like, or look like?
Make your descriptions so complete and clear that readers will feel that they
saw what you saw, too. Remember, you are our reporter; we rely on your words.
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Describe The Home
Where You Lived
As A Child
Write a detailed description of your
home so that we can see where you
lived as a child.
Where was your rst home? (Name the city or province and country)
• Did you live in a house or an apartment?
Was your home big or small?
Was it crowded or spacious?
Where did you sleep?
• Can you remember the smells?
• Can you remember the sounds you heard in your home and the sounds
outside your door or window?
What did you see from your window or door?
• Can you remember the food you ate as a child? What was your favorite?
Who lived in your home?
Was it quiet or noisy?
Were you happy or sad in that home?
Were there pictures on the walls? Of what?
What colors were the walls?
Were there plants or animals in your home?
What was the oor or rugs like?
What was your favorite space or room?
What were your favorite possessions as a child?
• Did you sleep in your own bed or with someone else?
Were there books or music in your home? If so, what kind?
• Did you have a television? A radio? A computer?
Think of your ve senses when you describe your childhood home—
what did things smell like, taste like, feel like, look like, sound like?
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What Would You
Write On Your Body
To Reflect Something
Very Important
About You?
Robert X. Fogarty takes pictures
of people who have written, usually
on their bodies, a note to the world.
Then he posts those pictures on his
Facebook site, https://www.face-
book.com/dearworld.
One young person writes, “Never Give Up.’’ Another says, “Fight Off the
Demons.’’ One writes, “But Still, Like Dust, I Rise.’’ And another, a Boston
Marathon amputee, writes on her knees, “Still Standing.’’
What about you? If you were posing for such a picture showing writing on
your own body, what would your message say?
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Write A Letter
To A Friend
Whom You Haven’t
Seen For A Long Time
Sit in a quiet place and think of an old
friend or relative whom you have not
seen in a long time. Share your life
with your friend by writing a letter
to this person.
Tell him or her about some of the important things that have happened
to you in your life since you last met. Before you write your letter, make
some notes about two or three of the most important changes in your
life. Perhaps one of the changes is your moving to a new country. Perhaps
another change is your adjusting to a new life which is different from the
life that you knew in your former homeland—what is different now?
Perhaps you have returned to school or have a new love or even a child
who has been born to you. Perhaps you are working in a new job. Or,
perhaps you have changed a lot from the person you once were. Maybe
you have lost a family member. There are happy and sad things you want to
tell that person. Have you had some funny or strange experiences that you
wish to share? What are the important things you want to tell your friend?
In writing your letter, imagine that your friend is in the room with you and
that you are having a conversation together. Perhaps you have a photo-
graph of your friend that you can look at while you are writing your letter
to him or her. What would you say to that friend or relative?
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Write About
Your Name
What is your name?
Does your name have a special
meaning in another language?
If so, what does it mean?
Who gave you your name?
Were you named after someone special?
• Do you like or hate your name?
• If you could choose another name for yourself what would it be? Why
would you call yourself that name?
What names of other people do you like? Why?
• Do you think you were given the right name, or should you have been
named something different?
What is your favorite name?
• How do you feel when people speak your name?
• Do you know your name in other languages?
• Have you ever given someone a name? How did you choose it?
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Do You Remember
A Story That
Someone Told You
When You Were
A Child?
When I was a child I would sit
under the kitchen table when my
relatives came to my home and
I’d listen to the stories that they
told one another when they were
eating at the table. I remember,
too, my uncle coming home from
the war, his holding me in his lap
and together we’d look at a paint-
ing on the wall. He’d then make
up a story for me about the scene
shown in the painting. I loved
hearing his stories.
What about you? When you were growing up, did you have a favorite story
that your parents or relatives would tell you or read to you? Was there a
story or legend that was passed down from generation to generation that
was also told to you? Share it now. It can be a funny story, or a happy story,
or a sad story or a very scary story. Perhaps you are telling this same story
to your own child today. Did you have a favorite story book with pictures,
and was there one particular story or illustration that you loved? If so, try to
remember it by writing about it.
Or, if you like, make up your own story or fairy tale and tell it to us.
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What Did This Man
Tell Himself To Help
Him Survive?
A man is buried to his neck at the bot-
tom of a 15-foot hole as a result of a
construction accident. Every time his
lungs expand, then contract, more dirt
lls in around him, tightening around
his stocky frame “like a slowly coiling
boa constrictor,” reports a newspaper.
It is a race against time, but after eight
hours the rescuers lift him to safety
although he is nearly buried alive three
times during this emotionally-wrench-
ing rescue effort.
Afterward, you interview the man and ask him what was going on in his
mind all the while. You want to know what he was thinking. You want to
know what kept him going and not give up. This is what he answers:
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Tell The Story
Of An Immigrant
Imagine that you know this immi-
grant (perhaps it is you). Write the
story of this person’s life.
Why did he or she come to the United
States?
Where did they come from?
What are their hopes and dreams in
coming to this new country?
• Did they leave their families behind in
their former country?
Are they happy, or afraid, or hopeful, or
worried?
What do they think about?
What do they hope to accomplish in life?
Will they have a hard or easy life in this country?
What will be their future?
What kind of work will they do? Will they get married and have a family?
Try to tell the story of this immigrant. You can start your essay in the rst
person with these words:
My name is ____________________________. I come from
___________________________.
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Write About
Your Own Life
What is the most important thing
that ever happened to you?
What was your greatest adventure?
Your biggest success?
Your greatest failure?
Your greatest accomplishment?
Your deepest dream?
• Do you remember any especially funny
or sad stories about your life?
What are they?
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Write A Message
Of Hope
An Indonesian boy leaves
a message of hope written
on a paper ower outside a
mosque on the anniversary
of the tsunami that killed
thousands of people in his
province. The ower mes-
sages are a beautiful way of
marking an event or putting
a prayer or spiritual thought
on paper.
What messages of hope would you place on your paper ower?
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Select An Object
To Help You
Remember The Past,
And Write About
The Memory
Choose a favorite object from
home. Perhaps it is an item you
brought from your country to
remind you about something or
someone very important to you.
Or, perhaps it is something you
acquired while in this country or
discovered when you were on a
trip.
The object might be a photograph of someone you love or care about. It
might be a pin or watch your mother or grandmother gave to you to re-
mind you of them. Perhaps it is a letter, a book or poem, an herb or a food.
Maybe it’s a military or school medal of honor. Perhaps it is a childhood
toy or something that belongs to someone you love. Maybe it is a sea shell
or a stone you found at the beach or in the countryside.
Write about this object and tell us what it means to you. What memory
does it bring to mind? Are your thoughts happy or sad? Why is this ob-
ject so important to you? Is there a story about the object you can write
about, such as who gave it to you or how you found it? Make up a story
about this prized possession.
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What Kind Of Business
Would You Like To
Own? Or, What Kind
of Job Would You
Like to Have?
For many people the American
dream is to own their own business.
Each year thousands of people in the
United States start their own small
businesses or enterprises. We call
them entrepreneurs.
This may include businesses that are food
shops or restaurants, retail stores, home cleaning services, or a business that
imports or exports products. Some businesses grow very successfully, but
some fail because the owners do not have enough expertise or because the
market is not large enough to support the services or products they provide.
It’s not easy having your own business—you worry about it all the time, you
work long hours and can’t take days off. But if you are successful, the rewards
can be wonderful—wealth and independence and pride.
What about you? If you could start your own business, what kind of business
would it be? Why would you choose this type of business? Do you have any
experience in this eld of work? What special skills do you have that would
help you in your business? Do you think there is a need or market for your
work? Write about the dream business you would like to run.
Or, if you don’t want to operate your own business but prefer instead to
work for a company which gives you a regular salary, then write about your
dream job. What kind of work would you like to do, and why?
If you like, you can even write about your very rst job or the best or worse
job you ever had.
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Tell Me About
Something That Makes
You Feel Proud
Everyone has something to be proud about.
Maybe you’re proud of yourself for having
been able to make a new life for yourself
and your family in a new country despite
the great difculties you faced.
Maybe you’re proud of being able to master the
English language.
Maybe you’re proud of something you accom-
plished in your studies, such as completing your
education.
Maybe you’re proud of something you did on your
job—your boss called you a hard worker and told
you that you make a valuable contribution.
Maybe you’re proud of a talent you have developed, such as creating art or
singing or sewing or raising owers or plants in your home or garden.
Maybe you’re proud of earning your independence and being able to take
care of yourself and your family.
Maybe you are proud of having been able to overcome terrible problems by
working hard to solve them. What were these problems?
Maybe you were able to overcome big obstacles and through hard work and
determination accomplish some goal which you weren’t sure you could do.
What did you accomplish?
Write about the things that make you proud of yourself. It is important to
remember these positive things.
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What Does
Freedom
Mean To You?
What do you do with
freedom?
• How does freedom smell? What does it taste like?
• Does freedom have a bad side as well as a good side?
• How does being free make you feel?
When in your life have you felt you were in a prison?
When in your life have you felt free?
• Do you feel free now? Or, do you feel tied down?
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Describe A Hardship
You Have
Experienced
Sometime in our lives, each of us
has endured hardships that we
overcame. Life is not always easy.
Sometimes the difculties are -
nancial. We often must deal with
money problems, particularly if we
lose our job and need to nd a way
to make a living.
Sometimes the hardships we experience
have to do with people we love. Some-
times people hurt us or get into trouble. Or, someone we care about may
die or leave us when we are still children. Even if we are grown, it is not
easy, and we have to learn to live with the loss. This is not easy.
Sometimes hardships can arise from leaving a city or country where you
have lived for many years and then moving to a new place and starting
a new life. You need to learn to adjust to a new country with unfamiliar
people, customs and language.
Sometimes the hardships are emotional. We have to overcome depression
or loss of condence. We may lose hope and need to regain a sense of
security.
Try to write about a hardship you have experienced in your life and how
you endured or overcame this experience. How did this hardship change
you? Did you become stronger or weaker as a result of this hardship?
What lesson did you learn that you can share with others?
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Who Is Your Hero?
Each of us has a hero in our life.
Maybe it is a loving parent. May-
be it is a teacher who was kind
to us and helped us learn how to
read and write.
Maybe your hero is a boss who has
helped you grow and succeed in your
job.
Maybe it is someone who has given
you a helping hand in this new
country.
Maybe your hero is someone you read about in the newspaper or saw on
television. Perhaps someone who did something special with his or her life
that helps make the world a little better. Perhaps your hero is a writer, an
artist or an athlete.
Or, maybe your hero is a ctional character whom you read about in a
novel and you decided you wanted to be like that person.
So, who is your hero? What makes them so special to you? What did they
accomplish? Why do you want to be like them? And, do you think that you
are a hero to someone, too?
Please write about your hero and why she or he is important to you.
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Tell Me About
Your Favorite Hobby
Most people have hobbies that they
enjoy. Some people, for example, like
to play a musical instrument when they
have free time.
Other people like to sing. Some like to
read books.
Some people collect coins or have
stamp collections. Some love to dance
or cook or draw, while others study
martial arts and participate in sports.
What is your special hobby? What kind of
things do you do in your free time that you
feel strongly and passionately about? Write
about your special hobby and what it means to your life. When did you
rst begin your hobby and what has it taught you?
Or, is there a new hobby that you would like to begin? What is it?
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What If You Could
Become A Character
In A Movie?
In the movies you nd yourself suddenly
about to step into the screen to play a
part in the lm being shown.You can inu-
ence the outcome of events and interact
with all the characters.
What movie would you like to step into?
What would happen in the movie you “enter’’—
how would the movie change?
What would your character be like?
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Write About The
Simple Pleasures
In Your Life
A newspaper columnist writes
about a few of his favorite things
guaranteed to lighten his heart or
bring a smile to his face. As ex-
amples, he writes about seeing a
fox walk across a bridge; watch-
ing a dog that jerks its hind leg in
its sleep—and even “walking into
a public restroom and discovering
that it is equipped with actual pa-
per towels, not a dryer that weak-
ly blows lukewarm air on your
hands.’’ Simple things, yes?
My simple things include:
• Being warmly greeted by my dog when I come home—my dog makes me
feel like a bright light has returned to her life and all is right in her world.
• My wife lovingly rubbing my neck when it is so stiff that I can hardly turn
my head.
• Sitting down at the kitchen table at night after dinner with a new book in
my hands.
Now, what about you? Write about the simple pleasures in your own life,
the ones that make life so rich for you and yet rarely cost any money?
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Let’s Write About
Hopes And Dreams
For The New Year
The New Year is always a time of new
beginnings, of new possibilities when
some of the things we hope for can
come true if we work hard and if we
have some good luck. We try to put all
the bad things that happened in the
previous year behind us and instead
turn our thoughts and hopes
to a brighter future.
As we begin the New Year, let’s think about
some of the hopes we have for the days ahead. I would like you to write
about the hopes and dreams you have for yourself, or for the people you
love or for the world you live in.
Make a list.
What are some of the dreams you would like to see come true?
• How would you like your life to change?
What prayers do you have for the new year?
What new things would you like to accomplish in the months ahead?
• How do you want things to change for you, for the people whom you
care about, and for the world?
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A Memory
About The Beach
Or The Ocean
If you have been lucky enough to visit
the beach, you probably still have
strong memories about this experi-
ence. Who can forget the sight of the
ocean and its waves? Who can forget
the feel of the sand on ones feet, the
hot sun beating down, the smell of salt
water?
I want you to think back to a time when
you were at the ocean—it might be when
you were very little, or it might be recently when you visited a beach on a
vacation.
Close your eyes and try to describe a beach or ocean memory. Try to use
some of your ve senses in writing your memory:
Touch – what did the beach or ocean feel like?
• Smell – what did the beach or ocean smell like?
• Sight – describe what you saw and how this made you feel.
• Hear – describe the sounds that you heard at the ocean. What, for ex-
ample, did the ocean sound like?
Taste – what tastes do you remember from your visit to the shore—did
you swallow any salt water? Did sand get in your mouth? Do you remem-
ber the taste of the foods you ate or the liquids you drank at the beach?
Describe them.
Did you have an adventure at the beach or meet someone new or see
something strange? Did you discover something in the sand? Was your
memory of the ocean or beach a happy one or a sad one? Did you take
something home from the seashore? Share with us.
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What Will
This Key Open?
We use keys to open many
things.
Some keys open doors—such
as the door to your home, or
the door to your car, or the
drawer in your desk where
you store special things.
Some keys can open treasure
chests lled with all the things
which you consider valuable.
Some keys can open your personal
diary where you write about the important things in your life.
Or, maybe you have given someone you love the “key’’ to your heart or to
your soul.
Imagine that someone gave you a key to open something. Write about
what the key will open. If the key opens a door, for example, then write
about what is on the other side of the door.
If the key opens a treasure box or hope chest, then write about what is
hidden inside the box.
Or, you can begin your writing with the following sentence:
She put the key into the lock, turned it and ….
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Write A Letter
To A Child You Love
Or Hope To Love
One Day
Sometimes in our lives we are lucky
enough to receive a letter which
we want to keep our entire life. We
treasure such letters because of the
wonderful things they say to us—
they may speak loving and tender
thoughts, or they may be lled with
wisdom and good advice to help us
live better lives. I always tell adults
how important it is to write such let-
ters to their children and express all
their hopes and dreams for their
future and how important their chil-
dren are to them.
I would like you to write a letter to a child, too. It could be to a young person
in your life now, such as a son, daughter, grandchild, nephew, niece or cousin.
Or, if you don’t have a child, write to one who might be born in the future.
Perhaps you might even decide to write a letter to the child you once were.
(Think about your receiving the letter that you always wanted but never did
receive.).
In your letter, write about your hopes and dreams for your child. What are
the things you want for them? What kind of person do you want them to
grow up to become? What values do you want them to have? Write about
the kind of world you hope your child will live in in the future. In your letter,
you can offer advice or wisdom you have learned in your own life which you
would like to share with them. Or, write something about your own life which
you want the child to know.
Write a beautiful letter that a young person would want to keep all of her or
his life. This may be the most important letter you ever write.
(For more ideas on writing letters to children, please read our free on-line
book, Laptop Letters: Sending Wise & Loving Messages to Young People in Your Life.)
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Write A
Love Story
Each of us has experienced love
sometime in our life. We either
have been loved by someone or we
have loved someone or something.
I would like you to write about love.
You could write about a certain
person whom you love or have loved
with all your heart. This might be a
spouse, a partner, or a parent, or a
child, or a relative or a friend. This
can also be a creature, such as your
beloved pet. Tell us why you feel
such love for them. If you wish, you
can even write them a love letter.
You can also write about the kind of person whom you hope to love one
day. Describe the person of your dreams. Write a letter to this dream per-
son, if you wish; tell them what caring and loving mean to you.
Or, perhaps your love story is about something that gives you great plea-
sure. Some people love their work; some people love books or music.
Some people love to travel or to play sports. Whatever it is that you love,
feel free to write about it. Why do you love this thing so much? Why do you
feel so passionate about this?
Or, perhaps someone once told you a love story or tale when you were young
that stayed in your mind. What was this love story about? Share it with us.
Or, perhaps you once read a love story, such as Shakespeare’s “Romeo and
Juliet,’’ but you didn’t like the sad ending. How would you change the tale?
What new ending would you give it?
Or, think about a story that you once heard, such as “Beauty and the Beast,’’
in which the two characters feel great love for each other at the end of the
story. Then, think ahead 25 years. Do they still love each other? Has their love
changed? Has their love grown stronger or weaker? What has happened to the
love in their life?
You are also welcome to write a love poem, too, about someone you love
or wish to love.
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Make A Wish
Or Many Wishes
You can write about all the wishes
you have in your personal life for
yourself, for your friends, for the
people you love and care about,
your pets. Even wishes for your
enemies.
Let your wishes be as wild and crazy and as imaginative as you like
anything is possible, such as: I wish I could y like a bird to the top of the
Empire State Building.
We can start each sentence with the words: “I wish…’’ Then develop the
idea of the wish in the rest of the piece.
Your wishes can be serious or they can be serious or whimsical, such as,
“I wish I could change the color of my skin each day to go with the color
of the clothing I wear when I go to school.’’
The point is to have fun in writing about wishes. Try to write at least ve
different wishes if you can. Or, if you want, write only about one wish but
do it with several lines. Develop the idea of your wish(es) as best as you
can.
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Write About
An Early Memory
From Your Childhood
We are made of memories; our
memories make us special and
different from other human beings.
Often, we think back to our childhood
and remember an experience we had
when we were young or a special
person we knew or met.
Please consider one of your childhood memories that stays in your mind
and share it with us. It can be a happy memory, or a sad one, or a magi-
cal memory or an exciting memory. Try to describe in detail what you
remember. Write about the type of child you were, what you were like.
Write fully about the memory as if you could draw a picture which we
could also see with our eyes. Why is this particular memory so important
to you? How does it make you feel now?
If you wish, you can write about the earliest memory you can remember.
You can start your essay with the words: I remember…
Writers often use their memories to tell us about their lives and their his-
tory. You are a writer, too, so tell us about your memory. That way we will
get to know you better.
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I Come From...
Each of us has come from some place that
has shaped us as human beings.
Lets write a poem or essay that tells where
you come from.
Let the rst three words of your poem be,
“I come from…’’
After you say where you are from, try to describe all the
important things about where you come from. In your
writing, describe the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings of the place you
call home. I want to hear what is special about where you come from. What
do you remember most about the place you come from. Is it the people, the
customs, the lifestyle, the history, the food, the cinema?
• Do you, for example, come from a cold or warm climate?
• Do you come from the city or a rural area?
• Do you come from a small nation or a large nation?
• Do you come from a noisy place or a quiet place?
• Do you come from a poor land or a rich land?
• Do you come from a country with lakes and rivers or with oceans, or moun-
tains and woods?
• In your country, what language is spoken or which language did you speak at
home?
• In your country, how do the people dress? What do they look like?
What foods do you eat?
What is special about the place you come from? What do you love about
your former home? What do you hate or dislike?
• Do you come from a country at peace or a country at war?
• Do you come from a country that is free or one which has a dictator?
Are people happy in your country? Why?
Are people sad in your country? Why?
What are the most important memories you have of the place you come
from?
Who are the people you love or miss? Who are the people who inuenced
you?
• So begin with the words, “I come from…’’
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How Do You
Want To Live
Your Precious Life?
In her poem, “The Summer Day,’’
Mary Oliver writes about mak-
ing time to look at all the beauty
of the world, even to kneel in the
grass to look at insects, or to walk
through the elds and enjoy the
day without hurrying. Life is so
very short—“Doesn’t everything
die at last, and too soon?’’ she asks
(read her poem at: http://www.loc.
gov/poetry/180/133.html).
And then she ends her poem with two amazing lines to form the question:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?’’
So, dear writer, tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and
precious life? What do want to accomplish in your lifetime? What things
do you want to do before you die? What things do you want to see before
you leave this life? Which person do you want to love? What do you want
to taste before you die? What do you want to achieve? What do you want
to experience before your run out of time?
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What Would You Place
In Your Worry Box?
Write about a special person in your life.
This could be someone you have known
for a short time or someone you have
known all your life. This person can
be someone you love, or even perhaps
someone you hate. It might be someone
you fear, or someone who is very dear
to you.
Tell us who this person is.
What is his or her name?
What is their relationship to you?
Are they a friend or a relative, a boss or a bully
you know from school? A lover?
Why is this person special to you?
What have they done for you or to you?
What have you learned from this person?
Did they ever speak special words to you?
Did they teach you something special that changed your life?
Tell us a story about them.
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What Was Your
First Day In The
United States
Like?
In the movie “Avalon,’’ a
character who immigrated
to America remembers
what it was like to arrive
by ship in Philadelphia from
Europe on Independence
Day July 4, 1914. He saw
lights and reworks and
mistakenly thought they
were put there specially
for him to welcome him
to this country. He remem-
bered feeling so excited
and happy.
What about you? Write your own memory of what your own rst day or
week was like when you arrived in the United States.
Write about the impressions you had. What excited you? What frightened
you? What made you laugh? What made you cry?
Were you comfortable or uncomfortable? How was this place very different
from the place you had come from, and how was it similar? What was it like
to speak or understand English? How did you feel with the language?
What were your hopes and expectations in coming to the United States?
Why did you want to come here? Does what you have found here match
your hopes and dreams? In what ways? How did people treat you?
Try to write about the feelings you had in those early days in this new coun-
try. Try to remember the day or time when you nally began to feel at home
here. When was that?
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What Would You Do
To Make The World
A Little Better?
A writer asks someone, “What is
worth worrying about.’’
The person offers a simple, pro-
found answer: “People doing good
things on this earth, leaving the
world a better place. It doesn’t
matter what you do—if you do for
cats, ne; if you do for Uganda,
ne…,’’ she says. But “everybody
owes it to the world to make it a
little better.’’
What about you? What are the things
you do or can do to make the world a
little better?
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Write What Is In
Your Heart
In his poem, “Theme for English B,’’
Langston Hughes has an English instructor
instruct his students, “Go home and write
a page tonight, and let that page come out
of you—Then, it will be true.’’ The teacher
is asking the students to write honestly
to show what they are thinking or feeling.
(See: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/
theme-for-english-b/)
Let this be your assignment to bring to class. At
home, sit down with paper and pencil and write
a page about what is in your heart. Maybe, you
will write about something that’s on your mind, a
problem you have to solve. Maybe you will write
about a new experience you just had which you
are trying to understand. Maybe, your writing is
about a person you have recently met who has changed your life or had
an effect on you. Maybe you will write about what made you happy or sad
this particular day. Maybe you will write about a funny moment you expe-
rienced, or a joke you heard.
Or, if you prefer, think back to the time before you came to the United
States. Discuss what your life was like during the last year in your home-
land. Was it a good time? Or was it a hard time for you and your family?
Share with me something about your life in your homeland so that I can
learn more about you and your country.
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Writing A Subway
Or Bus Story
There are many things we can
write about from what we see and
hear riding on the subways or on
buses through the city.
We can write about the people we see.
Describe someone you have observed.
Make notes in your book about this
person. What does he or she look like?
How are they dressed? Does that per-
son look happy or sad, rich or poor?
What are they thinking? Where do you
think that person is going? What is his
or her name (make up one). Invent a
story about the life of a person you see.
Maybe it’s a happy story; maybe it’s sad.
Or, perhaps you see two people sitting together across from you. Maybe
they are friends or lovers or parents. How do they relate to each other?
What do you think they feel? What are they talking about? Try to imagine
what their lives are like, and write a story about them.
In your description, tell us what time of day it is—morning, afternoon. Do
the people look tired or full of energy? What do you think is going on
inside their heads—perhaps it is the same as what you are thinking. There
are so many subway and bus stories, aren’t there?
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What Is Mona Lisa
Thinking?
Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of
the Mona Lisa is famous for her
puzzling smile. (Or, is it a smile?)
For centuries people have asked,
“Is she smiling or not? Why is she
smiling? Why does she seem to
look a little different each time
one looks at her?’’ (See http://
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Lisa)
Imagine that you are Mona Lisa. You have come into the studio of the art-
ist, Leonardo da Vinci, to sit for your portrait. You must sit still for a long,
long time while Leonardo paints you. Your mind wanders. What are you
thinking of as you sit? Write Mona Lisa’s interior monologue; write about
the thoughts that run through her mind as she sits still.
Or, if you wish, imagine you are the famous artist da Vinci. What are his
thoughts as he paints the Mona Lisa? What are the words that go through
his mind as he looks at her and tries to capture her image on canvas?
What must he think of Mona Lisa?
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Tell Me
What Makes
You Happy
I want to hear about something
or someone who makes you
happy.
Maybe its a person who makes
you smile. Maybe its a song.
Maybe its a celebration. Maybe
its a special food. Or a special
place you visit. Or, maybe it’s a
special book or poem or prayer
or belief.
If you prefer, tell me about the happiest day in your life —what happened
that day? What made it so special to you?
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An Unforgettable
Person—
Someone I Will
Always Remember
Tell me about a person you can-
not forget, no matter how far
away they are from you now.
Maybe it’s someone in your family—
for example, a grandparent or rela-
tive who is wise or loving. Or maybe
it’s a friend or someone who lives in
your neighborhood. Maybe it’s some-
one who makes you laugh or cheers
you up when you are sad. Maybe it’s someone who always shows you love
and cares deeply about you. Maybe it’s someone who is still back in your
homeland and you miss him or her so much. Maybe it’s someone who once
frightened you. Maybe it was a teacher who inspired you.
Why will you always remember this person?
Why is this person so special to you?
What are their special characteristics?
What did he or she teach you?
Describe that person to me—what does he or she look like? What is that
person’s name?
Did you ever have an adventure together? If so, what was it like?
Share with me a memory about that person—something that he or she said
to you or did with you. What makes this person unforgettable to you?
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If Someone Gave You
A Second Chance,
How Would You
Change Your Life?
Imagine for a moment that you were
one of the miners who had been
trapped for many weeks at the bot-
tom of a deep mine in Chile and were
nally rescued. While waiting for res-
cue, you had vowed to yourself that if
you ever got out of the mine alive you
would change your life for the better.
How would you change your life if you were rescued?
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What Would
You Do
If You Won
The Lottery?
You’ve struck it rich and
won $144 million in the
lottery!
So, tell me, what will you
do with the money? It will
change your life, making it
either better or worse.
Tell me about the selsh things you would do with the money, such as
spending it on things you would like.
Tell me about the unselsh things you would do with the money, such as
helping others.
One man who won this amount of money divided the money three ways.
First an education fund for his children and future generations; second,
a trust to cover his family’s health care, and third, a philanthropy to help
people and organizations in need.
Now it’s your turn to use the money. What will you do with it?
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Tell Me About
HowYou Are
Challenging
Yourself
Tell me about a goal you set
for yourself and what you
did or are doing to achieve
your goal. What is the task
you have set for yourself and
why did you do this? Why
is this goal so important to
you? What do you hope to
accomplish?
How hard is the task? What progress have you made so far? How much
more work do you have to do?
Once you accomplish your goal, how will you feel? How will your life be
changed?
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Tell Me About A Time
When You Were Brave
Each of us is brave in different ways
and in different situations.
For example, there is the person who
saves another persons life by rescuing
someone who falls off the subway
platform.
Then there is the person who nds the courage
to leave his or her country in order to go to
another land and start a new life. That person is
very courageous, too, because starting a new life
in a strange land and with a different language
can be very difcult.
Then there’s the person who is very shy, but who leaves the house in the
morning to try to nd a job and make a living. He somehow does his best
to overcome his fear.
There is the mother or father who works very long hours at a hard job in
order to earn money to help support the family. That person is very brave,
too.
There is also the person who is afraid of the local bully, but gathers his or
her courage to stand up to the bully and tell him off.
So tell me about your own life and a time when you were brave. What was
the brave deed or act you did? How did you feel—frightened or condent?
Was it hard for you to be brave?
Or, if you wish, write about someone you know who has done a brave deed.
Tell me who that person is and what he or she did.
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What Are Your Hopes
For Spring?
Yes, spring is coming. You can almost
sense it. Something is in the air.
For me spring always brings a sense of hope.
Maybe it’s because as a youngster growing up in
Brooklyn I would plant seeds in cheese boxes
on my sunny windowsill in late winter, right
before spring. I loved looking at the seed pack-
ets, particularly the ones with marigolds and
morning glory owers on the covers. As I pre-
pared the fresh soil and began planting the seeds, I dreamed of the orange-
golden marigolds that would bloom and the blue-purple morning glories
that would grow along the re escape on which I’d place the cheese boxes
once it got warmer.
Nowadays, I live near a park and around the beginning of spring look long-
ingly for signs of the early yellow crocuses and daffodils that will start
emerging from the ground. I search desperately for the emerging leaf
buds on the tree branches. I know that winter is now almost over and
everything will soon be better in the world, and I can begin once more to
dream of all the good things that the warmer, sunnier weather will bring.
Spring is also the time when I met my wife many years ago, and also when
my daughter was born, so it is always a happy time for me.
What about you? What hopes does spring bring to you?
Or, tell me about a spring in your life—maybe it was the year you fell in
love, maybe something else good happened to you. Or, maybe it was a very
difcult spring lled with rain and tears, but you still remember the time.
Write whatever you wish about spring and what it means to you.
If you prefer another season, feel free to write about that time instead.
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Tell Me How
You Would Like
To Transform Yourself
I remember reading about a person
whose face was destroyed in an acci-
dent. Doctors and surgeons worked to
transform—to change —her face into
one that wouldn’t frighten her and
others, a face that would allow her to
be active in the world again and not be
ashamed of her appearance.
There are also other kinds of transformations that each of us undergoes.
How many times have you said to yourself, “I need to change my life. I want
to be a different kind of person.
Or, you may have said, “I want to live a different kind of life.’’ Or, you might
have thought, “I want to give up bad habits and bad things and bad people
and instead acquire good habits and good things and good friends.’’
Or, you might have thought to yourself, “I don’t want to be afraid any longer.
I want to become a more courageous and less frightened person.’’
So, choose one of the following writing questions:
• How would you want to transform or change yourself?
• Do you know someone who changed or transformed their life into a
better life or way of living? If so, write about that person and how they
changed.
• Or, if you wish, put yourself in the place of the woman whose face was
destroyed and who has been helped by doctors to acquire a new face. Can
you write about what she must feel, what she must worry about, how she
can nd the strength to go on and live her life? Would you have her cour-
age? What are the words she says to herself to keep her going?
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Tell Us Who You
Really Are
The poet Emily Dickinson once wrote
a poem saying: “I’m nobody! Who are
you? Are you nobody, too?’’ (See the
poem at: http://www.poets.org/view-
media.php/prmMID/15392)
I think she may have meant that she felt she
was not special or famous or even worth
knowing. She wrote that she was a “nobody.’’
But, I don’t agree with her view. I believe that
each of us is a “somebody.’’ By that I mean each of us is special and distinct
in our own way. Each of us is fascinating in our own way. Each of us has a
history; each of us has a personality; each of us has accomplishments and
hopes and wishes. Each of us has loves and hates; each of us has strong
and weak sides. Each of us is distinguished in our own particular way. Who
is the “somebody’’ in you?
Please write about yourself to tell us who you are. Describe the “some-
body,’’ the special person you are. First, start with the words, “I am some-
body…’’ and continue writing about yourself.
For example:
I am somebody who was born in...
I am somebody who loves to eat ...
I am somebody who wants to be a ...
I am somebody who dreams of ….
I am somebody who loves...
I am somebody who lost ...
I am somebody who…
In your essay or poem tell us about your history, or where you come
from, or what you hope to accomplish in life. Tell us what your inter-
ests are, or what is special about you, or even what you don’t like about
yourself. You can tell us about your hopes and dreams. Or, tell us about a
special skill you have. Share with us the “somebody’’ you are. We want to
know more about you.
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Write About What
You Feel Strongly,
Passionately About
Each of us has something we love
doing with all our heart, with all our
passion, with all our soul. Some
people call such things a hobby or
avocation, some people say this is
a calling—something that speaks to
their soul or spirit.
Some people delight in collecting the most interesting and beautiful
stamps in the world. Some of us have great doll collections; others like to
collect tiny gures made of china. Some people have buttery collections.
Others love to collect and read books or listen to music. One person
I know owns CDs of all the recorded works of the composer Johann
Sebastian Bach. Another acquaintance—someone who is obsessed with
politics—has a huge collection of campaign memorabilia. Others feel very
passionate about playing soccer or football or cycling and know every-
thing there is to know about their favorite sports teams and players.
What is your special passion? What do you love doing most or thinking
about?
In this essay, tell us about something you love dearly. Explain why that
interest is so important to you? How does it give you pleasure and bring
joy to your life? Share this special part of your life with us.
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What Meaningful Words
Would You Want
To Write On The Walls
Of Your Classroom?
A teacher encourages his students
to write their most creative, their
deepest thoughts on the walls of his
classroom. The students cover the
walls with original art, quotes from
favorite books, and the things that
are in their hearts. Many of the
students look to these walls for
inspiration in their own lives. The
wall, lled with student writings, tells
young people that their ideas and
thoughts have value and are worth
sharing with others.
If you were allowed to, what would you have wanted to write on the walls
of your own classroom?
Or, what would you like to write now?
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What Holiday Does
Your Family
Celebrate?
When you were a child, was there
a special holiday your family
celebrated? Was it Christmas or
Chanukah or Ramadan, Three
Kings Day or the New Year?
Something else? Do you have a
happy memory of something
special that happened on one
of those days?
What traditions, for example, did you observe?
What foods did you cook and eat?
Did you exchange gifts with family and friends?
Do you remember a wonderful gift that someone gave you as a child
on this holiday? What was it?
Is there a song or poem you would sing or recite during this holiday?
Can you share it with us? What does it mean?
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Describe A Room
Created In Your
Imagination
You receive a postcard that
shows an empty room. Now,
ll up this room. Imagine
that you once lived in it and
tell me a memory about this
room. Or, imagine that you
stepped into this room and
knew it well.
Was this a quiet room or a noisy one?
Was it a living room or a bedroom or a study or a kitchen?
Tell me how it felt to be in this room when the sun came in.
Was it a happy place—did good memories happen in this room? If so, what
were the memories?
Was it a sad place—did sad, unhappy memories occur in this room? If so,
what was the sad memory?
What kind of people lived in this room?
Were there conversations that went on among the people? What were
they like?
Did the people in this room sing songs, or read, or talk? What did the
people talk about?
Do you think you could be happy in this room? Why?
Would you like to live in this room? What would it be like?
Would you like to be alone in this room or with some one?
What would you do in this room?
Is this the room of a writer or a painter or a small family? Is this the room
of younger or older people? What are they like?
Or, if you prefer write about a favorite or remembered room from your
own life. What made it so special? What happened there? You can even
make up a memory about this room. Use your rich imagination where
anything is possible, anything is true.
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(continued)
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Write About The Most
Important Letter
In Your Life
Today you received the most
important letter of your life—
the one that you had been waiting
for such a long, long time.
What does the letter say?
How does it make you feel?
Who sent it to you?
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Write About Your
Deepest Wishes
The Japanese have a festival called
Tanabata and people celebrate by
writing wishes on colorful paper and
hanging the wishes on bamboo tree
branches.
I love the idea of writing wishes or blessings
for people I love. This reminds me of when
I visited the Wailing—or Western Wall—in
Jerusalem with my wife and placed a written
message to God in one of the tiny openings
on the wall. I asked God for a child to enter
our lives, and, in time my wife and I were
blessed with a beautiful, healthy daughter.
What are the wishes or prayers or blessings that you might write on
paper and hang from a tree or wall with the hope that they will be
answered?
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What Are The
Words
You Would Use
In A Meditation?
At a meditation practice
group, the leader asks par-
ticipants to think with loving
kindness and an open heart
about the following messages:
May you be safe from harm.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you feel loved.
May you feel at ease in the world.
Then she asks the group’s members to extend these good wishes to
themselves, to loved ones, to strangers encountered during the day, and
to the wide world.
Now, if you could add to these positive messages, what lines would you
write and say?
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(continued)
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What Was
The Happiest Day
In Your Life?
What made it so special?
Did your life change that day?
If so, in what way?
If you could give someone the happiest
day in their life, what kind of day would
you give them? What would that day
be like for them? Who would you give
that day to?
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What Is The Song
About Your Life?
Former New York Times
columnist Bob Herbert once
wrote that we need to pay
more attention to the non-
material things that “fulll
us, give meaning to our lives,
enlarge us, and enable us to
more easily embrace those
around us.’’ He remembers a
character in the August
Wilson play “Joe Turner’s
Come and Gone’’ who says
“everyone has a song inside
of him or her, and that you
lose sight of that song at your
peril. If you get out of touch
with your song, forget how to
sing it,’’ warns the character,
“you’re bound to end up frus-
trated and dissatised.’’
Then, this same character, recalling a time when he was out of touch with
his own song, says, “Something wasn’t making my heart smooth and easy.’’
Now is the time to write about the “song’’ in your own life. Listen. What is
your personal song telling you? What is its message? Write about the song
within you and share it with others. Sing your song to yourself.
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Write About
An Angel
In Your Life
Early in the morning when I
walk my dog in the darkened
streets, I meet an “angel.’’ He
is the man who delivers news-
papers to the apartments in
my building. He works so hard,
and often his shirt and face
are drenched with sweat from
having to lug the heavy news-
papers. But whenever we meet
on the street or in the eleva-
tor, no matter how tired he
is, he greets me with the wid-
est, most beautiful smile. We
then may then exchange a few
words as he tries his best to
communicate in broken Eng-
lish. His being seems to ow
with happiness and good will.
I think to myself how hard his life must be, working during the night to
make his deliveries, carrying his heavy load, adjusting to life in a new coun-
try far from his homeland, and yet he still nds it in him to smile with such
good will. When I see him, I feel better; he teaches me how to be a little
less self-preoccupied and selsh. How bad can life be, after all, when there
are human beings like this man who seems to have an innate sense of
goodness?
So what about you? Have you ever met a person who seems to give you
hope that things are good in the world and that life can be beautiful. If so,
please tell us about this “angel’’ in your life. Describe why she or he is so
special.
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(continued)
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What Would You Say
To Someone You Lost
But Who Later Returned
To You?
You are given the chance to talk to some-
one whom you have lost and who was once
very important in your life. This person may
have loved you or done something very spe-
cial for you. Possibly, he or she even caused
you pain and heartache.
What are all the things you would say to that
person if you could meet him or her now?
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(continued)
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What Are The Words
Of Peace
In Your Heart?
I read about a man who takes silent
peace walks. His aim is to spread
peace by sharing the silence with
others. Says the man, Piero Falci,
“If we are more peaceful ourselves,
we will not be so violent in our
relationships, and it will spread.
If you cultivate peace, then you can
give peace.’’
Imagine you are taking a silent peace walk. What are the words going on
in your head and heart?
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(continued)
What Are The
Opening Lines
Of Your Story?
Tony Morrison, winner of
the Nobel Prize in Litera-
ture, once said that there
was a time in her life when
she felt she “had nothing left
but my imagination.’’ She
began writing ction, and
in desperation one day to
complete a piece of writing
to take to a writers’ work-
shop, she dashed off “a little
story about a black girl who
wanted blue eyes.’’ That was
the genesis of her rst book,
“The Bluest Eye.’’ (See
http://www.amazon.com/dp
/0307278441/?tag=mh0b20
&hvadid=3523989121&ref=
pd_sl_384pgg4d2h_e )
Now, what is the story you dash off in desperation and frustration.
Share with us the opening words of your story.
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Rewrite The Life
Story Of Someone
You Care About
What if we could rewrite the
life stories of the people we
love?
That is exactly what Nobel Prize-
winning writer Doris Lessing did in
a book about her parents, “Alfred
and Emily.’’ The book has two parts.
The rst half is a work of ction
about the lives she wished her
parents did have, a life lled with
happiness and fulllment. The second part is the real version in which she
explores her parents’ unhappy lives.
In essence, Lessing wrote what many of us often think about: What if such
and such happened, how would it have change the outcome? Or would it
have worked out better if I had done this instead of that? The wonderful
thing about being a writer is that you can use your imagination to create
different worlds from the one you know. If you’re unhappy in real life, for
example, you might want to create a world in which you feel happy. If you
are poor, you might want to imagine a story in which you are rich.
So, for this writing prompt, you have permission to change a story about
your parents, or your friend, or yourself into something entirely different,
completely opposite if you wish. You are free to invent the story you want
to write, hear and read.
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What If You
CouldAttend
Your Own Funeral
And Begin Your
Life Again?
A funeral for the living? That’s
what is happening in Thailand.
People are ocking to a Bud-
dhist temple where they seek
a fresh new life in which they
have left all their cares and
worries of the past. As an ar-
ticle in The New York Times
described it, “Nine big pink
cofns dominate the grand hall
of the temple, and every day
hundreds of people take their
turns climbing into a cofn for
a few moments as monks chant
a dirge. Then, at a command,
the visitors clamber out again
cleaned—they believe—of
the past.’’
This takes just a few minutes and a donation, then the people feel reborn.
One person who sought luck in business and relief for his aching back and
knees said, “If I lie down in the cofn, it will give me a new lease on life.’’
What do you think about this? Would you want to be reborn, too? How, if
at all, would you want to change your life?
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Write Your Personal
‘Joy List’
I once read about a man who carried
around with him a little notebook which
he called a “Joy List.’’ In it he would jot
down all the moments that made him
smile or laugh. It was his way of culti-
vating a sense of happiness about being
alive and enjoying his life.
He learned to do this from a 13 year-old boy
who was dying of lymphoma and who handed
him a list of more than 100 memories of the
happy moments in his life, like camping or go-
ing to Disney World. The boy asked the man
to give the list to his parents so that they
would remember that their son had fun mo-
ments, too, in his short life. My own aged cousin kept a list of all the good
things in life which she would like to see go on forever and ever.
Your turn now: make up your own list of things that give you joy and hap-
piness. Which of those would you like to remain in your life forever? Write
some words when something really good happens in your life—from see-
ing a hummingbird to remembering a funny joke a friend told you.
Start your Joy List now. Write at least two or three things that have given
you joy recently. Or, do as my aged cousin did and write a list of all the
good things in life which you would like to see go on forever and ever.
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About the Illustrator
Tom Bloom is an artist who has
brought joy to the world with his
cartoons and illustrations which have
appeared in many publications, such as
The New York Times, The New Yorker,
Fortune and Barron’s. He has collabo-
rated with Bill on many other books.
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using Something to Write About: Writing Prompts for English
Language Learners and Literacy Students. Please send us
your thoughts or suggestions on how we can improve
this book, along with your permission to use your ideas.
We also would welcome your ideas for new writing
prompts. For every idea used, a free copy of one of Bill
Zimmerman’s books will be sent to you. What was your
experience like in using this book? Please share with us.
write to:
Bill Zimmerman
Guarionex Press Ltd.
201 West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024
E-mail: wmz@aol.com
About the Author
In his more than 20 books and
work as a newspaper editor, Bill
Zimmerman has pioneered
innovative writing techniques to
help people express all the impor-
tant things within them. His books
and web sites are used in literacy
and English Language Learning
programs around the world and to encourage
creative thinking.
His web sites are: http://www.billztreasurechest.com,
which features excerpts from all his books, http://
www.makebeliefscomix.com, which enables visitors to
create their own online comic strips, and http://www.
somethingtowriteabout.com, his writing prompts blog
for students. Please visit them.
Among his popular books are:
• Pocket Doodles for Kids
• Make Beliefs: A Gift for Your Imagination
• Lunch Box Letters: Writing Notes of Love
and Encouragement to Your Children
• How to Tape Instant Oral Biographies
is part of a series of free interac-
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part of our mission to help people
of all ages discover their writers’
voices and express their deepest
thoughts through writing.
Another Free
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The other e-books are:
Laptop Letters: Sending Wise & Encouraging Messages to Young
People in Your Life
Hummingbird Joy: A Book of All the Things That Make You Happy
Make Beliefs to Spark Your Imagination
Words I Wish Someone Had Said to Me As A Kid
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Something to Write About:
Writing Prompts for
English Language Learners
and Literacy Students
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