Responding to Literature Prompts
When you respond to a literature prompt, your teacher is checking not only how well you read but also how well you write. Reading and writing are activities that can strengthen each other. When you write about what you read, you understand it better. When you read what you write, you improve it.
This chapter helps you respond to literature prompts on tests. You need to understand the prompt and then carefully read the literature selection. Afterward, you will answer the prompt by stating a position and supporting your position with evidence from the text.
Writing to a Literature 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 must know what you are doing and get right to work. The first thing you need to do is study the prompt.
Prewriting Analyzing the Prompt
A literature prompt is a set of directions for writing. Think of the prompt as your target. You need to look closely at it and focus on it in order to hit the target. You can use the PAST questions listed below to make sure you fully understand a literature prompt.
Purpose: Why am I writing? What is my goal? The prompt for a story will tell you to summarize the plot, explain a theme, describe a character, or do some other task. The prompt for a poem will ask you to analyze meaning, rhyme, rhythm, figures of speech, or some other part of the poem.
Audience: Who will read the writing? Some prompts will name a specific audience: “Explain the story to someone who has never read it” or “Review the story for readers of your class blog.” Other prompts do not indicate an audience, so you can just assume the testers or your teacher is the audience.
Subject: What literature am I writing about? The prompt will name the literature and often who wrote it. The prompt might also point you to specific types of details or themes to use from the literature.
Type: What type of writing should I do? Most often the prompt will tell you what form of writing to create (a review, an essay, a blog post, or some other form).
Sample Literature Prompt
In Julia Raleigh’s story “Boating Trip,” Mia has different relationships with her mother, her little sister, and her dog. Explain each relationship using evidence from the text to support your ideas.
Purpose: To explain character relationships
Audience: Testers or teacher
Subject: “Boating Trip” by Julia Raleigh
Type: Response to literature
Sample Literature Response
In the Same Boat
The writer names the literature and provides her focus statement (underlined). In “Boating Trip,” Julia Raleigh focuses on Mia and her family as they settle into their lake house. From the things they do and say, you can tell that Mia has a different relationship with each member of her family.
Mia is close to her mother but sometimes feels like her mother treats her too much like an adult. When Mia’s little sister darts out the door, her mother wants Mia to watch the girl. Mia huffs and asks, “Do I need to?” Middle
Each middle paragraph focuses on one relationship. She also lingers at the door hoping her mom will change her mind. It’s easy to see that Mia often has to look after her little sister, and she sometimes resents it. Even so, Mia and her mom walk down to the lake together and back up together, so you can tell that they are close.
Evidence from the story supports each idea. Mia thinks her little sister, Evelyn, is a handful. Evelyn drops her bags and runs to the lake, which is not safe for a little girl to do. Even worse, when Mia and her mom arrive at the lake, Evelyn has already pulled out the canoe, put it in the water, and gotten in. Now we know why Mia and her mom are tired of having to chase after Evelyn. Instead of unpacking, the whole family piles with Evelyn in the canoe and heads out on the lake. Soon, they are in the lake. It’s up to Mom and Mia to save the little girl and the dog.
The writer uses specific details to explain the relationships. Mia loves her dog, Maya, but she also causes trouble. The dog nudges Mom to go down to the lake, and then weaves between Mom and Mia, tripping them up as they go. Once in the boat, the dog paces enough to tip them over. While her mom rescues Evelyn, Mia is searching for Maya. Once they get onshore, Maya shakes herself, spraying everyone. Mia thinks, “little sisters and dogs are trouble, but they’re also fun.” That’s the one time we see her thoughts directly.
The final paragraph adds a new detail about the relationships. Though she has different relationships, Mia loves everyone in her family. It’s obvious from the way she helps her mom and watches over her sister and helps clean up the messes Evelyn and the dog make. It’s also apparent because that night they all end up cuddling together in blankets and watching a movie.
Note You can read the short story “Boat Trip,” on page 149.
Prewriting Reading the Literature
Read Closely 🟪 As you read, think about the parts of the story: the characters, setting, conflict, episodes, climax, and resolution.
Summarize the Plot 🟪 Write one or two sentences to capture the overall plot of the story.
Mia and her family move into their new lake house, but her little sister runs off to the lake and jumps in a boat. When the rest of the family follows, they all end up dumping in the water. Mom and Mia rescue the others.
Suggest a Theme 🟪 Ask yourself what the story is about. How did the protagonist change, or what lesson did the protagonist learn?
“Little sisters and dogs are trouble, but they’re also fun.” Sometimes you have to nearly lose something to appreciate it.
Write Other Ideas 🟪 You may feel ready to start writing. If not, jot down ideas about the main character, plot, and setting to help you form your response.
Writing Developing Your Response
Begin by naming the literature and its author. Then lead to your focus statement. Add quotations from the story to help develop your ideas. Conclude by summarizing your major points.
Revising Improving Your Response
Responding to a prompt is a way of measuring your writing skills, so you’ll want to do your very best. That means you’ll need to save at least five minutes to check everything over and change anything that isn’t clear or appropriate. So, after you’ve finished writing, go back to the prompt. Ask yourself the PAST questions again. Make sure you have done everything you were supposed to do:
I’m supposed to
✓ 1. explain Mia’s relationship with each member of her family
✓ 2. use evidence from the story to support my ideas
Also ask yourself the following questions as you revise your response. Then make any needed changes.
_____ Does the beginning name the literature and the author?
_____ Does the beginning give a clear focus statement?
_____ Do the middle paragraphs support the focus?
_____ Do I include specific details and quotes from the story?
_____ Does the ending summarize my response?
_____ Do I cover everything the assignment was asking for?
Editing and Proofreading Polishing Your Response
Check for Careless Errors 🟪 Quickly review your writing to correct errors such as missing words, run-on sentences, and incorrect punctuation.
This quick summary can help you respond to a literature prompt.