Sign up or login to use the bookmarking feature.

WE 189 Responding to Explanatory Prompts

Teacher Tips and Answers


Page 189

Responding to Explanatory Prompts

Explanatory Prompts
© Thoughtful Learning 2024

Sometimes, a test requires you to write an essay in response to an explanatory prompt. The prompt asks you to find a topic and explain it to an audience.

Don’t panic!

All the work you’ve done on explanatory writing has prepared you for this moment. You’ll use a quick version of the writing process to find a topic, gather details, and explain your ideas to readers.

What’s Ahead

WE 190

Page 190

Writing to an Explanatory Prompt

Responding to a prompt is different from other writing assignments because you don’t have a lot of time to complete your work. So you have to know what you’re doing and get right to work. To get started, you need to study the prompt.

Prewriting Analyzing the Prompt

A prompt gives you the basic directions for your writing. Most prompts—but not all—will tell you what to write about, what the overall goal or purpose is, and what form of writing to create. Read the prompt very carefully to identify the parts of your writing task.

You can use the PAST questions listed below to make sure you understand what is expected of you.

Purpose: Why am I writing? What is my goal? When you respond to an explanatory prompt, your goal is to explain or inform. Look for clues or key words (compare, define, demonstrate). These words can help you know how to develop your writing.

Audience: Who am I writing for? Look closely at the prompt to see who the reader will be (parent, classmate, principal). If the prompt doesn’t say, the audience is probably the tester or your teacher.

Subject: What is the subject of my writing? The prompt will name a general subject, but you will need to identify a specific topic related to the subject.

Type: What type of writing should I do? Make sure to organize your writing according to the form.

WE 191

Page 191

Sample Explanatory Prompt

You’ve had different teachers at different times. What qualities make for the best teachers? Write an essay that explains the qualities that teachers need and tells why they are important. Speak as a student to non-students.

Purpose: To explain

Audience: Non-students

Subject: Qualities the best teachers have

Type: Explanatory essay

Sample Explanatory Response

Three Qualities of Great Teachers

The first paragraph introduces the topic and focus.
Teachers come in all different shapes and sizes—young and old, funny and stern, people with long hair and people with no hair. These qualities do not make a teacher effective or ineffective. Great teachers care about their students, love their subjects, and connect with families.

Each middle paragraph explains a different quality that teachers need.
When people ask Mrs. Field what she teaches, she always says, “Students.” That’s because she cares about each kid in her class. She wants us all to learn but knows that we learn in different ways. She also knows that some days I might feel too excited to sit still, and other days I can’t keep my eyes open. Mrs. Field helps on both of those kinds of days. She meets students where they are and leads them to where they need to be. You can’t teach unless you connect with kids.

WE 192

Page 192

Examples help the writer explain her point. My band teacher Mr. Sohn loves music, and he makes you love it, too. He picks fun songs for us to play, and then also plays music for us to listen to and think about. He makes us want to hear lots of different kinds of music, from marches to jazz to movie scores. He also wants us to play better and practice to get it right. Teachers should love their subjects so much that they rub off on you. It’s easy to learn something you love.

Teachers also need to connect with families. If families know what is happening in class, they can help kids do homework and stay focused. If families find out that a student is struggling, they can get help so the person doesn’t fall behind. When I was having trouble in history, Ms. Smith moved me from the back of the room to the front. I thought I was being punished. But at my parent-teacher conference, Ms. Smith told my mom that I needed glasses. I’d been squinting to read the board. The next week, I got my glasses, and I don’t struggle anymore. Thanks, Ms. Smith, and thanks, Mom.

The closing paragraph recaps the topic and shares a final point.
Good teaching is a lot more than drilling math and spelling. It’s about connecting with students and sharing a subject teachers love so that others can love it too. And great teachers also make sure families know what is happening and can support students. Those three qualities are key. So, great teaching isn’t a secret. It’s as simple as 1, 2, 3!

WE 193

Page 193

Prewriting Planning Your Response

Find a Specific Focus 🟪 Even though a prompt may give you a general subject, you have to narrow it down to a specific topic and focus. You can use this formula to find a specific focus:

The topic + a specific focus =

Qualities of great teachers + Connect to students, subjects, and families

a focus statement

Great teachers care about their students, love their subjects, and connect with families.

List Your Details 🟪 Once you have a specific topic and focus, you need to list (very quickly) what you may want to include in your response. This student jotted down three main points, and underneath each, listed examples she could share to prove her point.

1. You can’t teach unless you connect to kids.

    —Mrs. Field

2. Teachers should love their subjects so much that they rub off on you.

    —Mr. Sohn

3. Teachers also need to connect with families.

    —Mr. Smith

    —My glasses

Think About the Time 🟪 You have only a certain amount of time to finish your writing, so watch the clock closely. Sometimes your teacher will keep track of time for everyone, but not always. So pay attention! Leave enough time to write a complete draft and quickly revise and edit.

WE 194

Page 194

Writing Developing Your Response

Once you’ve examined the prompt and made a brief list, you should be ready to write. Remember to stick to your plan as much as possible

Beginning 🟪 In the beginning, you should tell the reader what you will be writing about—your topic and focus.

Middle 🟪 The middle part of your response should include the key points you want to make (the qualities of great teachers, for example). Try to put each of your main points in a separate paragraph. That way you can support each point one at a time and keep all the important details together.

Ending 🟪 In the final paragraph, you need to tie everything together and remind the reader why your topic is important.

Revising Improving Your Response

Remember that responding to a prompt is a way of measuring your writing skills, so you’ll want to do your very best. This means you need to save some time to check everything over and change anything that isn’t clear. Ask yourself these questions when you revise:

_____ Does the beginning clearly state my topic and focus?

_____ Does the middle explain the key points to support my focus?

_____ Do I include enough details to make my points clear and interesting?

_____ Does the ending offer a final, helpful thought to the reader?

Editing and Proofreading Polishing Your Response

Check for Careless Errors 🟪 Try to set aside some time to read through your response one last time—and to look for careless errors such as missing words, run-on sentences, and incorrect punctuation.

WE 195

Page 195

Responding Review

This quick summary can help you respond to an explanatory prompt.

1. Analyze the prompt. Use the PAST questions.

Purpose: What is the purpose of my writing?

Audience: Who will read my writing?

Subject: What is the prompt asking me to write about?

Type: What form will my writing take?

2. Plan your response. Use the first 5 minutes for planning and the last 5 minutes for revising and editing. List your details and arrange them quickly.

3. Begin well. Write sentences that lead to a focus statement that names your topic and specific focus.

4. Support your ideas in middle paragraphs. Focus each paragraph on a main point. Support each point with steps or examples.

5. End in a meaningful way. State a final important idea. Remind the reader why your writing is important.

6. Revise your response using the PAST questions. Make sure your writing is clear and complete.

7. Edit your response. Check for errors in punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and grammar.

Tip If time permits, read through your response one last time to make sure everything is good to go.

Teacher Support:

Click to find out more about this resource.

Standards Correlations:

The Common Core State Standards provide a way to evaluate your students' performance.

Lesson Plan Resources:

Here you'll find a full list of resources found in this lesson plan.

© 2024 Thoughtful Learning. Copying is permitted.