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8 Mindful Writing Habits (and 16 Prompts!)

16 Writing Prompts for Inspiring Inquiry
Thoughtful Learning

What habits of mind lead to good writing? The National Council of Teachers of English teamed up with the National Writing Project to identify eight mindful habits that produce exceptional writing in school and beyond. In this post, we introduce the habits and share writing prompts that invite students to use them . . . and have some fun along the way.

1. Curiosity

Curiosity is the desire to know more about the world. (Get these prompts in a Google doc.)

Mysteries Next Door

The poet Oscar Wilde said, “The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Take a walk through your neighborhood and closely observe your surroundings. What buildings, businesses, landmarks, or artifacts are mysterious? Pick a mystery and investigate it. “What is that? What goes on there? What function does it serve? Why is it part of my community?” Then write a short report that reveals the amazing mysteries you have discovered.

Multimedia alternative: Create a tourism flyer or video about the topic.

Back to the Beginning

Watch this video about the origin of popsicles. Then write "Foods," "Activities," and "Clothes" on a piece of paper and list favorite examples of each. Choose one example and research its origins. Answer the 5 W’s and H: “Who invented it? What did it first look like? When was it invented? Where was it invented? Why was it invented? How was it invented?” Create an essay that explains its origins.

Narrative alternative: From the perspective of one or more people involved, create a historical narrative about the item’s origins.

2. Openness

Openness is the willingness to consider new ways of being and thinking in the world. (Get these prompts in a Google doc.)

The Other Side of the Coin

Review the controversies at Choose a controversy, state your opinion about it, and list three reasons that support your opinion. Now state an opposing opinion and list three reasons that support it. Write a brief essay arguing for this opposing view, including strong reasons and refuting one of the reasons you initially stated for your own view. Did you rethink your original position? Do you better understand the opposition's view?

Speaking alternative: Create a speech in support of the opposing point of view.

Feeling Like a Stranger

When have you been an outsider (the only girl or boy, a new kid in school, the only young person in a room full of adults)? How did the experience make you feel? Now imagine being someone from a different background in a setting where you are an insider. Write an essay that shares the experience of being an outsider and discusses ways that outsiders can become insiders.

Visual alternative: Create a poster with strategies for making your classroom or school more inclusive of diverse ideas, cultures, and perspectives.

3. Engagement

Engagement is investment and involvement in learning. (Get these prompts in a Google doc.)

Moment in History

Interview an older person about a significant moment from the past. Take careful notes and then (1) write a narrative about the event from the person's perspective or (2) write a nonfiction article titled “What You Should Know About [Event] from Someone Who Lived It.” Research your topic to fill in any missing information.

Multimedia alternative: Create a slideshow presentation using photos from the person's life and providing narration of events.

What’s More Important?

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." —Albert Einstein

How can this quotation be true? As a child, you spent much time immersed in imagination, but now you've spent many years pursuing knowledge. What's the relationship between imagination and knowledge? Write an essay that defines each term and tells how they relate. Explain Einstein's position but then state your own position, supporting it with reasons and evidence.

Visual alternative: Create a poster that represents the relationship between imagination and knowledge.

4. Creativity

Creativity is using novel approaches to generate, investigate, and represent ideas. (Get these prompts in a Google doc.)

Mascot Madness

Many sports teams have a mascot—a character who represents the team in a memorable, sometimes goofy way. Now imagine that you need to create a mascot for one of your classes in school. Use your best creative thinking to come up with a great mascot. In an essay, name the mascot, describe its appearance and signature moves, and explain why it is a good representation of the class. (This minilesson provides more support.)

Artistic alternative: Draw a picture of the class mascot or create a costume for the mascot to wear.

Opposites Attract

How could a classroom be more like a playground? That's a silly question. Why should a classroom be like a playground? Classrooms are for learning. Playgrounds are for play. The two concepts don’t blend—but maybe they should. Playgrounds give kids space to build community, create new worlds, and work out problems. That's learning! So how could a classroom benefit from being more like a playground?

This scenario uses conceptual blending: forcing opposing concepts together and working out the conflicts between them. Try it out. Choose something you are currently studying—a concept, an organization, an idea—and then think of something entirely different. Construct a question creating a conceptual blend: "How is the U.S. Constitution like a baloney sandwich?" If you're stuck, try one of these conceptual blends:

  • How would an engineer design a pop song?
  • What would Huckleberry Finn do in the Hunger Games?
  • How could we make novels more interactive?
  • How could school be more like a rock concert?

Writing alternative: Fill out a form using a completely unrelated topic. For example, complete an accident-report form to describe a first date, or complete a job-application form to become a suspect in an unsolved crime.

5. Persistence

Persistence is sustained effort to achieve goals. (Get these prompts in a Google doc.)

Gritty Not Pretty

Did you know Walt Disney was once fired for lack of creativity? He started his career as a cartoonist at a newspaper but was fired because his cartoons were not creative enough. Instead of giving up, Disney steadfastly pursued his ambition to draw and entertain. The rest is history.

Walt Disney demonstrated grit. Grit is intense passion and perseverance, striving for goals despite setbacks. When did you show grit? Write a personal narrative about a time you showed grit.

Publishing alternative: Submit one of your pieces of writing for publication. After each rejection, continue to submit your work to other venues. (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was rejected 12 times before it found a publisher.)

The Challenge Advantage?

Michelle Obama says, “You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. . . . Facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.” Do you agree with Obama's position? Support your answer with specific examples.

Physical alternative: Think of something you cannot yet do—a certain number of pushups, a song on the piano, a dance step. Decide how you need to practice to gain the skill, then do it!

6. Responsibility

Responsibility is owning one’s actions and the consequences that result. (Get these prompts in a Google doc.)

Do I have permission to . . . ?

Gaining independence requires responsibility. What do you want to do that you need permission for (staying out later, going to a concert, etc.)? Write a letter asking for permission from an authority figure. Cite specific examples that demonstrate your responsibility and trustworthiness. Also include an example of a time when you were not responsible and what you learned from the experience.

Acting alternative: Roleplay an encounter between you and an authority figure. Explore different ways that the conflict could be resolved.

No “I” in “Leader”

Team-building expert Peter Drucker says, “The leaders who work most effectively . . . never say ‘I’.  . . they think ‘we’; they think ‘team.’ They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep.” How does a good leader accept responsibility? How does a good leader delegate responsibility? Cite examples from your own leadership experiences.

Interpersonal alternative: Think of something you want to do that requires help. Enlist others to achieve the goal. Express what you want to accomplish and encourage them to join your team.

7. Flexibility

Flexibility is adapting to situations, expectations, or demands. (Get these prompts in a Google doc.)

I'm Not Ready for This

Have you ever dreamed about taking a final exam you never studied for? That's a nightmare! What did you do? Responding in the moment to unexpected demands requires excellent problem-solving skills. Write a narrative about a time when you had to come up with a solution on the spot, and note what you learned from the experience.

Artistic alternative: Have a partner scribble on a piece of paper. Then try to make a drawing incorporating the scribble. Reverse roles and repeat the process.

What? No Pizza?!

What one thing could you not live without? Your phone? Your bed? Pizza? Now imagine having to do without it. Write an essay about how you might lose this one thing and indicate how you would learn to live without it.

Kinesthetic alternative: Grab a random object and name a completely unrelated task that you will use it for: "This cactus will help me become president!" "This shirt will help me end homelessness!" Then explain how the random object will accomplish the unrelated task.

8. Metacognition

Metacognition is reflecting on how you and others think. (Get these prompts in a Google doc.)

Literacy History

What are your earliest memories of reading and writing? What do you read for fun? Who most influences your reading and writing? Write an essay that explains how your reading and writing habits have changed from childhood to the current day. What did you read way back when, what do you read now, and what will you read in the future? Why?

Social alternative: Interview a classmate about the person's reading and writing habits. Ask probing questions that get at the person's preferences.

My Week in Learning

Flip to a blank section of your notebook and start a learning log. Spend 10 minutes writing about what you learned today. Do the same tomorrow. At the end of the week, read over your entries and write down any questions that remain about what you are learning. If you are unsure what to write about, use these prompts:


  • What study habits work best for this class? What will I do the same this week? What will I change? Why?


  • How does [class topic] relate to [another idea]?


  • What is the most important thing I got out of class today?


  • To understand this topic, I have to . . .


  • Something that puzzled me in class today was . . .


  • What's the most important thing I learned this week?


  • Until this week, I didn’t know . . .

Reflective alternative: Before class, answer one of these questions:

  • "What idea most interested me from class yesterday?"
  • "What question do I have about what we are studying?"
  • "How do these ideas relate to my life?"