Images’ value, an ELA writing prompt

couple in cafe having respectful argument
An argument is supposed to result in better understanding of a topic and the participants.

Since it’s officially summer, I’m sure all my blog readers are busy preparing new materials for fall term. (Cue uproarious laughter.)

Today I’m going to give you the nub of a writing prompt about communication that (a) you could use in an ELA course and (b) is relevant to a wide range of other subjects and in many careers.

If you are not busy preparing materials for fall, you can tuck it away for August.

Here’s the prompt:

Do people learn better from images?

If you can believe what you read on the Internet, people learn better from images, especially video, than from print.

Do some research: Is that assertion true? What evidence is there to support it? What does learning mean in this context? Does the assertion apply to all kinds of learning, or are there only certain things that people learn well from images? You need not limit yourself to information from published sources; you may do original research.

Write an argument in which discuss the value of images for teaching. You may limit your discussion to either video or to non-moving images if you wish.  In fact, your writing will probably be stronger and more interesting if you can include some of your personal observations.  You can include your personal experience as a portion, no more than a quarter, of your evidence.

Remember that you don’t need to disagree totally with someone else’s opinion. You can agree partially. You can argue that the other guy’s evidence isn’t strong enough to warrant his conclusion. You can show that the other guy misunderstood what he presented as evidence.

Remember, too, that in an argument you must accurately and respectfully present the opinion with which you disagree. An argument is supposed to be an exploration of a topic so all parties come away feeling they were understood and respected. If your argument reads like an attack by a thug in a dark alley, you’ve totally missed the point.

When will your students use analogies?

Analogies are an extremely powerful device for explaining complex or foreign ideas.

People who work in STEM fields, social sciences, and business use them extensively.  Too often, however, analogies don’t get adequate attention in English class.

To help students discover the power of analogies, I suggest a formal writing prompt that asks students to predict how they might use analogies.

Start by having students view one of these short videos explaining how analogies work. Both sites are oriented toward law students, but the explanations are easy to understand:

FYI:  Only part of the video at is available without signing up for an account, but the accessible portion is adequate for this assignment.

After students have viewed a video clip, give students five minutes in class to brainstorm situations in which they have either (1) had someone use an analogy to help them understand something, or (2) used analogies themselves to explain something. (Hint: Require brainstorming in full sentences; collect the responses to use as formative assessment.)

Give students this formal prompt either as homework or, better yet, have them respond to it at your next class meeting:

Think about the job you have or the one you’d like to have. Identify between two and five situations in which you might need to explain something—a product or a process, for example— to a customer who is unfamiliar with it.  (If in your job you deal with patients, students, or clients rather than customers, use the appropriate term for your situation.)

In an I/E text, discuss two or three such situations in which you could use an analogy to help the person understand your explanation. If you have actually used an analogy in such a situation, you may use the story as one of your examples.

Please keep your response to no more than 650 words.

Fables, myths, parables: a writing prompt

If you’re an experienced English teacher, you know there are times during the year when students are too stressed to deal with heavy reading assignments.

This writing prompt, which draws on very short fiction pieces—myths, fables, and parables—gives students a break from long, heavy reading and also gives them a chance to do a bit of creative writing within an expository writing assignment.

Besides its utility as an ELA assignment, the prompt also suggests to students how they can recast an old story to better connect with their audience. That’s a useful seed to plant in students’ consciousness.

Here’s the writing prompt. Use or adapt as you wish.

Ancient fables, parables, and myths draw their power from the way they reveal truths about the way people behave. 

Select one famous fable, parable, or myth. In an informative/explanatory text, discuss why the story’s moral is relevant today. Prove that the story applies in the 21st century by writing a contemporary version of the story set in this year.

Format your text as a print document. Please keep your text to under [650] words.

Easily found fables, parables, and myths

Some myths, fables, and parables are available multiple places on the Internet. These include: 

  • the Midas myth,
  • Pandora’s box.
  • Dog in the Manger
  • Ant and the Grasshopper
  • The Boy Who Cried, "Wolf"
  • The Good Samaritan
  • The Prodigal Son

Two sources for less familiar parables: