Creative writing prompts for kids

Story writing in primary school
From pictures to music, using prompts can inspire your child to produce great writing. We look at the benefits of creative writing prompts, and how to use them.

What happens when you ask your child to write a story? It’s a common homework task for primary school kids, and a key part of the English National Curriculum, but while some children are overflowing with inspiration, others find it hard to come up with ideas. That’s where creative writing prompts – any tool that is used to kickstart the writing process, such as a picture, an opening sentence or a piece of music – can come in useful.

‘Creative writing prompts can be anything that gets children thinking outside the box,’ explains Julia Skinner, founder of the 100 Word Challenge writing programme and The Head’s Office blog. ‘Some children find it hard to get going with creative writing, and really benefit from having a more thought-provoking starting point.’

Creative writing prompts: the benefits

Often, children are given a creative writing task based on a set title, such as: ‘Write a story about a dragon’. ‘This might not be a problem for a child who has lots of imagination, but it can be a challenge for those who find it difficult to come up with ideas and don’t consider themselves to be very creative,’ says Julia.

A creative writing prompt such as a picture or opening sentence can help to fire this creative process. ‘It gives children both the freedom and encouragement to develop their ideas by thinking beyond the obvious and immediate,’ Julia explains. ‘Giving them something specific and concrete can help them to develop their ideas in ways that they would usually struggle with.’

Prompts can help children to come up with a far more diverse set of ideas than they might usually. ‘If you give a whole class a set title, you tend to get a very generic response,’ says Julia. ‘But if they have a prompt, they can use it to take their story in any direction they choose.’

Using prompts also encourages children to use all their senses to inspire their writing. Giving them a title alone is likely to inspire a one-dimensional response, whereas showing them a picture can help them to imagine themselves in the scene and use all five senses to explore what their characters might see, hear, smell, taste and touch.

How to use a creative writing prompt

The key to using a creative writing prompt, says Julia, is to not just put it in front of your child but to spend some time exploring it together before they put pen to paper. ‘Creative writing shouldn’t be something where you leave your child to their own devices,’ Julia explains. ‘It really needs some input to draw out your child’s ideas. Set aside 20 minutes to discuss the story, starting with the prompt and asking questions to build on what your child suggests.’

It’s important to make sure your child knows that there are no boundaries where creative writing is concerned. ‘The testing culture in schools has led children to think that there is always one answer to aim for, but in creative writing, there is no right or wrong,’ says Julia. ‘We need to build children’s confidence to write about whatever they’re seeing or thinking, and prompts are a great way to encourage this.’

It’s also essential to let your child write freely when they’re using a writing prompt, without getting too caught up in spelling, punctuation and grammar. ‘Children need to be able to write creatively and without restriction,’ Julia agrees. ‘They need to feel free to express themselves, knowing that they can come back and put in the capital letters and full stops later.’

Six of the best creative writing prompts

Pictures
Pictures are probably the most obvious creative writing prompt. You can use any sort of picture – a cartoon, a photo, a piece of classic artwork – to inspire children’s imagination. ‘One of my favourite picture prompts is a photo of a smashed chocolate egg, surrounded by tiny model workmen,’ Julia says. You can either leave the picture blank, or add a caption to encourage children along the right lines: for example, a speech bubble on a person saying, ‘Where am I going?’

Sentences
Another good prompt is to give children a sentence – typically the opening sentence of a story – to build their writing on. Giving them a starter such as, ‘How was the dragon going to tell his father what he had done?’ can prompt a huge and varied range of storylines, from adventure to comedy to tragedy.

A page from a book
A picture is said to be worth a thousand words, so taking a page from a children’s picture book and removing the text is a great way to kickstart a piece of creative writing.

Music
Using music as a prompt can help your child to think about how they use their senses in their writing. Typically, instrumental pieces work best, otherwise the lyrics put words in your child’s mouth, but you can use any genre, from classical to rap. Encourage them to think about how the music makes them feel; what they think is happening; what sort of character would play that music, and so on .

A feely bag
Put a selection of small, tactile objects into a bag (for instance, a golf ball, a fork, a comb…) and ask your child to pick one out at random. Use this as the starting point for their piece of writing, building a plot around it.

Challenges
For children who are motivated by rewards, taking part in a writing challenge can help to prompt them to write. The 100 Word Challenge, run in association with Night Zookeeper, gives children a weekly writing prompt; they then put together a piece in 100 words and can upload it to the website where other children can read and comment on their, giving them extra motivation to write.