The Challenges of Writing on Demand

Writing Assessments

During my tenure as an ESL teacher, I have to admit that I dreaded the return to school after the holiday break.  Besides having to brave the blustery Nebraska winter, all of our fourth graders had to take the state writing assessment at the end of January.  In Nebraska, fourth graders always have to write a personal narrative, so we spent September through January focusing on this writing style.

Once the state writing assessment was over, the classroom teachers were breathing a sigh of relief... but not me!  I knew that I had ten days to try to prepare my ELL students for the prompts they would encounter on the ELDA writing assessment (Nebraska's assessment for ELL's at the time).  This assessment couldn't have been more different than the one that they had just taken.  For the ELDA, students had to write to 4 prompts, instead of just 1.  Each prompt contained a different mode and/or purpose, so it was vitally important that they be able to read a prompt and closely analyze it to determine what they were to write.  For example, their four prompts looked similar to these:

1.  What is your favorite season?  Write a paragraph that tells your favorite season, and explain why it's your favorite.

2.  Think of your favorite animal.  Write a paragraph and share facts about that animal.

3.  You have a new student in your classroom, and your teacher will choose someone to help the new student on his first day at your school.  Write a letter to your teacher explaining why you should be chosen to help this student.

4.  School has been cancelled because of a snowstorm.  Write a story about what you during the day that school has been cancelled.

UGH!  Just the thought of these prompts cause serious anxiety to bubble up inside of me!  The results weren't pretty.  For the most part, my 3rd and 5th grade ELL students were more comfortable with the test, because they had been exposed to various writing modes and purposes throughout the school year.  My poor 4th graders, who had only seen personal narrative prompts until I tried to cram in some other ones ten days before the assessment, tended to be confused by the prompts.

Needless to say, when a teacher emailed me a few weeks ago, asking me to consider creating a writing PowerPoint to help prepare next year's students for the writing prompts on the PARCC assessment because she was unhappy with this year's results, I jumped at the opportunity!  I know that stress all too well!

I created the resource that I think would have helped my students.  I found an anchor chart on Pinterest that used the acronym SPAM, and I immediately noticed that the acronym could be rewritten to form MAPS!  Therefore, I created the following MAPS analogy:
Preparing for Writing Assessments

Then I created a section for each letter of the acronym, and included prompts and writing samples for students to analyze:
Preparing for Writing Assessments

Preparing for Writing Assessments

Preparing for Writing Assessments

Writing on Demand

Finally, I wrapped it up with a series of prompts where students get to identify all four pieces:

I also decided to take the prompts from the PowerPoint and include them in a "prompt packet".  After analyzing a prompt and some writing pieces, you can have students write their own response to each prompt.

Feel free to check out this resource if you think you might be able to use it in your classroom!  


  1. Deb, what an amazing product you've created! I'm sure that many teachers will pounce on it! Have a fun road trip!!

  2. This looks great! I love acronyms to teach topics and I think this would work for any age level. :)

    Mrs. Spangler in the Middle

  3. I am with Mrs. Spangler--love those acronyms!! Your reference posters look super helpful : )

    The Sassy Sub

  4. I couldn't resist! Bought that puppy before the post was even over! Can't wait to work this into our first few weeks back to school before we dive fully into our writing workshop- having an acronym like this will help them focus in their writing before we just jump into a new genre!! I can see it working very well with discussing reading as well! Thanks for your constant attention to detail and expertise!