When you want your students to practice explanatory writing, present them with one or more of the following prompts, grouped by difficulty. You can also introduce students to the PAST strategy to help them understand what each explanatory prompt is asking them to do.
Beginning Explanatory Prompts (Grades 4–5)
The following explanatory prompts are meant for students who are moving from paragraph writing to essay writing.
1. Defining Friendship
Everyone needs friends. What qualities make someone a good friend? How can you be a friend for someone who needs one? Write an essay that explains ways to be a good friend.
2. A Job for Me
People do all kinds of jobs. Some people build. Others serve. Some teach. Others sell. Some people work on ships at sea, and others in skyscrapers in cities. What kind of job would you like to do? As a future worker, write an essay that names a job you would like, describes the work, and tells why you would like it.
3. An Admirable Person
We all have people we admire. They might be family members or friends. They might be singers, dancers, or actors. They might even be fictional characters. Whom do you admire most? Write an essay that names a person you admire and describes the qualities that make you like the person.
4. Sweet or Spicy?
Most people have a favorite food. What is yours? Is the food a common one that most other kids would know about, or a really special type? Is it sweet or spicy? In an essay, name your favorite food and describe to your classmates how it looks, smells, and tastes. Tell why you like it so much.
5. My Ideal Home
Most people can imagine a dream home. What would yours be? Big or small? In the country or in the city? How many floors? Would it be underground or up in a tree? As a young person, write an essay describing your dream home to a parent or guardian.
Intermediate Explanatory Prompts (Grades 6–8)
The following explanatory prompts are meant for students who do regular multi-paragraph writing.
6. Connectivity Culture
Smartphones, tablet PCs, social media, and constant connectivity are changing the ways that people live, think, work, and connect. How do these technologies shape your life? Are you plugged in or tuned out? Why? Write an essay that explains to your fellow students the ways that you connect digitally and predicts how people will connect in the future.
7. Pets vs. People
Pets are not people. After all, dogs don’t go to school and cats don’t hold down jobs. But pet owners often consider their dogs and cats to be members of their families. In what ways are pets like people and in what ways are they not? Write a comparison-contrast essay explaining the similarities and differences between pets and people.
8. Defining Responsibility
A parent is responsible for taking care of children. A criminal is responsible for committing a crime. And teens are encouraged to make responsible choices. Just what does it mean to be “responsible”? Does it mean something different for young people than for adults? As a young person who is taking on more and more responsibilities, write an essay that defines what responsibility means to you, and explain the idea to those older than you.
9. Unique Celebrations
The Chinese celebrate New Year with a dragon dance. How do you celebrate New Year? What other special days do you observe? In an essay, explain a celebration or ritual that you know about. Tell what is usually done and why. Explain it to a reader who is new to the event.
10. Here's How It's Done
What are you really good at? Perhaps you can sink a free throw every time. Maybe you can identify birds by their songs, or make a very delicious homemade pizza. Think of a particular skill you have and could teach others. Then write an essay describing the process you use to accomplish this special feat. Provide enough detail so your reader can learn how to do the same thing.
Advanced Explanatory Prompts (Grades 9–12)
The following prompts are meant for high-school level writers. Students may need to research the topics in order to respond with sufficient depth and complexity.
11. Addressing Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying involves using technology to harm, intimidate, and embarrass others. One form of cyberbullying called “trolling” occurs when anonymous Internet users intentionally post inflammatory content in an attempt to provoke and upset other users. While much effort has been made to counteract bullying in schools, the online and anonymous nature of cyberbullying makes it difficult to regulate. Write an essay that explains to your fellow students ways to counteract cyberbullying.
12. Moral Dilemmas
Consider a moral dilemma that a character in a novel or other piece of literature must face. It could be an issue you yourself have faced or one that is new to you. Explain what you would do if you were caught in the same situation. Then explain why you would handle it that way.
13. Talking About My Generation
Today’s youth are sometimes perceived as tech savvy, optimistic, and accepting. Other times, they are perceived as spoiled, coddled, and lazy, more interested in checking Instagram than in bearing down and working hard. In an essay, define the general characteristics of your generation. Provide evidence and reasons to support your definition.
14. Fashionable Expressions
Author Sarah MacLean believes “The most confident of women are those who believe in every scrap of fabric they wear.” Indeed, clothing is a form of self-expression for many people. Evaluate the clothing choices that you or someone else (famous or not) makes and explain what these fashion choices express about the person.
15. Comparing Future Career Paths
What do you want to do after you graduate from high school? Attend college? Hone your skills at a trade school? Or go straight into the professional world? Choose two options (college, trade school, job) and write an essay in which you analyze similarities and differences between the two options.
Expository writing is used to present reasons and explanation about a topic in a step-by-step process. The expository essay should contain a main idea (thesis), supporting details (with transitions) and a conclusion in a logical fashion. Be sure to check your work for grammatical correctness as well! Happy writing!
1. Write about what you think the world will be like in 100 years.
2. We are learning all the time. Write about something you have learned recently and how it has affected you.
3. You have been asked by your principal to recommend one course which will help you prepare for the job you want in the future. It could be a course your school is already offering or a new course. Write an essay to explain to your principal the course you would recommend. Be sure to give the reasons for your suggestion.
4. Explain the main reasons why you think students drop out of school.
5. Talk about your favorite music and why you like it.
6. Think of your favorite year in school. Explain why it was your favorite year.
7. Friends are important, but everyone has a different opinion of what makes a good friend. Explain what, in your opinion, makes a good friend.
8. Some teachers are special. Without giving any names, explain why one particular teacher in your life was special.
9. If you could change one thing about your school, what would you change? Explain why.
10. We all get angry at times, but different people react in different ways. Some people show their anger openly, and some hide it within themselves. Explain and describe what you do when you get mad.
11. Friends sometimes experience conflicts. Explain why this happens.
12. If someone were new to your town, explain to him/her the highlights.
13. If you could make changes to your school lunchroom, what would you do?
14. Most people like one particular animal more than others. Explain why your favorite animal is your favorite animal.
15. Most people remember one day that really was special. Think about a special day you have had and write an essay explaining why that day was so special.
16. Your generation faces many problems. Identify one of these problems that you feel is the most important, explain it, and propose some possible solutions to the problem.
17. Much has been written about the negative effects of television on young people. Are all television shows bad for children? Write an essay describing a show you feel has a positive impact on today’s teens and explain how the show could be helpful.
18. Rules are important in our daily lives. We have rules for driving, rules for studying, and even rules for playing. Think about the rules you have in your school. What three rules should every school have? Write an essay explaining to the reader the three rules you selected. Give clear reasons why each one is needed.
19. Games are fun and often teach us something as well. Think about your favorite game. Write a paper telling about your favorite game. Explain to the reader your reasons for enjoying it.
20. Suppose you have been appointed to a neighborhood improvement committee. You must make recommendations on ways to make your neighborhood a better place to live. Think about some changes you would like to make in your neighborhood. Write an essay to inform your reader of changes you would recommend to improve your neighborhood and why these changes are important.
21. If you could choose any animal for a class pet, what would you choose and why?
22. What is your favorite time of the year? Explain why this is your favorite time.
23. Everyone has something or someone that is important to him/her. Pick an object, a person, or a feeling that is important to you and explain why it is so important in your life.
24. Eating healthy foods is very important. Write an essay explaining why it is important to eat healthy foods.
25. Explain why it is important to learn to read.
26. Think back to when you were little and had a favorite toy. Explain why you liked this particular toy.
27. Everyone has chores to do. Explain why you do the job or chore you have.
28. If you could be any other person for a day, who would you be? Explain why you would like to be that person for a day.
29. We are increasingly worried about our environment. Write an essay explaining about one environmental problem you think is important and propose some possible solutions to the problem.
30. Suggest one change that you think can make this country better.
31. If you had a time machine and could go to any time in the past or future, where you go? Explain why you chose that particular time.
32. Everyone has responsibilities. Write a paper explaining a responsibility you have now or will have in the future and why you shoulder that responsibility.
33. Write an essay explaining whether you prefer a big city or small town in which to live and why you prefer it.
34. Your class is making a box to be seen in 2096. Write an essay explaining the one thing you put in that box and why.
35. Think of your favorite year in school. Now write an essay explaining why it was your favorite year.
36. Most adults in this world have a job of some sort. Think of the ideal job for you when you complete your schooling. Now, think of some reasons why this would be your ideal job. Write an essay to explain why this is your ideal job.
37. Schools do not offer all the elective courses (like art and music) that students would like to take. Think of one elective course you want to take that your school does not offer at this time. Think of some reasons why you think this course should be offered. Now, write an essay explaining why you think that this particular elective should be offered in your school.
38. Everyone has a book that he or she enjoyed reading, whether it be a book recently read or one read as a small child. Think of one book you have read that you really enjoyed. Maybe it was your favorite book when you were little. Maybe it’s one you read recently. Think of some reasons why you liked that book. Now, write an essay explaining why you really like your favorite book.
39. Many writers, scientists, and politicians have a view of what the world will be like 50 years from now. What do you think the world will be like by the time you are in your 60’s? Think of the future and the direction you think the world is headed. Write an essay explaining what you believe the world will be like 50 years from now.
40. Many students drop out of school before they graduate from high school. Think of some reasons why you think these students do not finish high school. Now, write an essay explaining why you think students drop out of school.
Alternative for younger students: Many students do not do their work in school and then later often quit school before they graduate. Think of some reasons why you think these students do not do their work and get bad grades. Now, write an essay explaining why you think these students do not work in school and often quit school before graduating.
41.High school English classes require students to read Shakespeare and other classics. Some students object to this practice. Think of some reasons why you think the state requires that Shakespeare and the classics be taught in high school English. Now, write an essay explaining why you think Shakespeare and the classics are required.
Alternative for younger students: In school, students must read classic books that the teacher picks. Some students do not like to be told what to read. They would rather pick their own books. Think of some reasons why your teachers require these classic books that are so famous. Think of some that your teacher has read to you or that you have read yourself. Now, write an essay explaining why you think the teachers insist that students read and listen to the famous classics.
42. Imagine that time travel to the past was possible. Think of where and when you would like to go for a visit. Write an essay telling where and when you would go in the past and explain why you choose to go there.
43. Imagine that you had no TV or radio for one week. Think of some activities that you can do instead to keep you busy and out of trouble. Write an essay to explain what you can do to keep occupied in a week of no TV or radio.
Or, alternatively, if your students are having trouble with this type of essay: Imagine that you had no TV or radio for one week. Think of one activity that you would like to do instead to keep you busy and out of trouble. Write an essay explaining one activity to replace the TV and radio for that week.
44. Teenagers (children) are faced with many problems today. School, home, society, peers all complicate your lives. Think of one problem that really bothers you. Now, think of some solutions to that problem that might make it easier to bear. Write an essay offering solutions to your worst problem.
45. Many teenagers (children) complain that adults expect too much of them. Many adults think that teenagers (children) do not help out enough at home, at school, or in society doing volunteer work. What do you think? Do adults expect too much of you? Think of some reasons to support your answer. Now, write an essay explaining whether or not you think adults expect too much of you.
46. Each year many teenagers are killed by driving under the influence of alcohol or by being in a car driven by another teen who has had too much alcohol. How can the number of alcohol-related deaths be reduced? Think of some solutions you and your friends could implement to solve this problem. What do you think would work to reduce the deaths? Now, write an essay proposing some solutions to help stop teenagers from risking their lives and driving under the influence of alcohol.
Alternative for younger students: Each year many teenagers are killed by driving under the influence of alcohol or by being in a car driven by another teen who has had too much alcohol. Think of what you and your friends, as younger persons who cannot yet drive, can do to keep your older brothers and sisters and friends from drinking and driving when drunk. Write an essay explaining your ideas to keep these teens out of the car if they drink.
47. Pollution, excessive garbage, toxic and industrial waste, using up nonreplaceable resources are all problems facing our environment. Think of one particular environmental problem that you believe could be solved. Now think of some possible solutions to that problem. Write an essay proposing and explaining your solutions to the environmental problem you chose.
48. We all have a place where we can imagine or go where we relax, let our troubles disappear, and have a good time. For some it is a place far away, and for others it is a place close to home. Think of your favorite place where you can feel an escape from the hassles of your world, a place you love to be, your favorite place. Now, write an essay explaining why this place is your favorite.
49. Everyone has something they do to relax and have fun. Some like to read; others prefer sports; still others like to chat with friends. What is your favorite thing to do to relax and have fun? Think of why you enjoy this activity so much. Now, write an essay explaining why your favorite activity is your preferred way to relax and have fun.
50. In the past few years, there have been more and more incidents of violence reported on school campuses. In fact, there have been many reports of violence even at the kindergarten level! What do you think is the cause of this rise in violence? Think of some possible reasons. Write an essay explaining why you think there have been more incidents of violence in schools in recent years.
51. By the time we reach high school, at least one teacher has made an impact in our lives. Think of a teacher you have had who influenced you and really helped you to learn and to mature. Think of some reasons why this teacher made such a positive impact on your life. Now, without mentioning the teacher’s name (use Mr. or Ms. X),explain why this teacher has had such a positive influence in your life.
52. Many kids hear their parents and grandparents talk about “the good old days.” Is this just a figment (imaginary thought) in older people’s minds as they remember their youth? Was life really better twenty or forty years ago? What do you think of this statement? Is life for teens harder now or when your parents and grandparents were young? Now, write an essay explaining your answer to this question.
53. Philosophers have written books and books about the meaning of life. Each one is different. What is your philosophy of life? What is life all about? Decide what you think are the most important elements that make us human, that are the ideas (philosophies) of the way you run your life. Write an essay explaining your philosophy of life.
Alternative for younger students: There are many books that talk about the meaning of life. Your teacher talks about living a “good” life. What do you think are the most important things to remember to follow in the years to come? What do you think are the most important things to do in your life that will lead to your happiness? Now, write an essay explaining what will make life good and meaningful for you.
54. We all have different personalities, different ways of dealing with life, different points of view. What are the main elements of your personality? What kind of a person are you? What are you really like inside? Write an essay explaining your personality to your reader.
55. Life is filled with conflicts, conflicts of interest, conflicts of opinion, conflicts of life styles, etc. Most good novels have some sort of conflict in them to add to the interest. Resolving that conflict is what the novel is about. Think about some of the conflicts in your life. Now think how you resolve those conflicts. Write an essay to explain how you usually resolve conflicts. What is your method?
56. Everyone, no matter how young, has a year in his or her life that was not so good. Think of the worst year of your life. Think of reasons why it was your worst year. Write an essay explaining why that particular year was the worst year of your life. (Or conversely)
57. Your school (the United States, your state, etc.) is not perfect. No matter how good something is, there are always ways to make it better. Think of one problem your school (the United States, your state, etc.) has that might be improved with some clever plans. Now, think of some solutions, some ways to make that improvement. Write an essay explaining your solutions to the problem.
58. Imagine that going to the future was possible. Think how far ahead into the future you would like to visit. Think about your reasons why you would like to choose that particular time. Write an essay telling how far into the future you would like to go and explain why you chose that particular time.
59. When we are young, we play games—board games, imaginary games, sports games. Think of some reasons why you really liked this game. Now, write an essay explaining why this game was your favorite as a younger child.
60. Medical studies have shown that exercise is a necessary part of our daily routine. What do you think? Do you exercise? Think about some reasons why you exercise. Exercising is important. Write an essay why it is important to exercise regularly.
61. We consider certain people (real or made up) to be our heroes. Think about a real or made-up person and why he or she is your hero. Now write an essay explaining why that person is your hero.
62. Imagine if you could do anything you wanted for an entire week. Pick one thing you would like to do that week of freedom. Now write an essay to explain why you chose to do that one thing in a week in which you could have done anything you wanted.
63. You have been told for years by your parents and teachers to eat healthy foods instead of junk food. Think of some reasons why eating healthy foods is important. Now write an essay explaining why eating healthy foods is important.
64. At school, at work, and at play we have to work in teams in order to achieve our goals. Think of some attributes that make a good team player whether it be in a sport, at work, or at school when working in groups. Now write an essay to explain what makes a person a good team player.
65. Your parents and teachers insist that respect for others is very important. Think of some reasons why this might be important. Now write an essay explaining why respect for other people is important.