Last summer, my son started an online writer’s workshop. Although it fizzled by the end of the summer, there was a period where they were all working on a collaborative story and writing their own editorials back and forth. This wasn’t a school-sponsored activity. It was a spontaneous act of creativity. But actually, it wasn’t all that spontaneous, because it began months earlier through the intentionality of a teacher.

While the members of this writer’s group ranged from fourth through sixth grade, they all had one thing in common: Mrs. R. She had inspired the love of writing in her students and now they were choosing to write for fun. Although she had nothing to do with the planning and implementation of this writer’s workshop, she was the quiet hero in the background by crafting lessons that would help her students fall in love with writing.

She is an amazing curator, always seeking out new writing prompts that will reach the most reluctant writer. It’s easy to miss the creativity because she’s not necessarily making new curriculum or content. But her creative genius is in her ability to explore and experiment.

Creating Video Prompts

Years ago, I started creating visual prompts (mostly photo prompts) with the goal of helping my students fall in love with writing. Honestly, they were hit or miss. However, as I developed these writing prompts, I began to share these resources so that the Mrs. R’s of this world could have additional resources that they could use as they curated their resources.

More recently, I have started creating sketch-note animation videos you can use as with your students. I recently created a YouTube channel ( with these writing prompts, maker challenges, and project prompts. Ultimately, you are the one who will inspire your students to fall in love with writing and making. But these resources might be something you could use to help inspire creative thinking in your students.

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The Power of Video Prompts

For years, teachers have been using video prompts to get kids interested in writing. Often, teachers begin with a high-interest short video and have students writing a response. Sometimes, they’ll stop it partway and have students continue the story. Edutopia curated a playlist of seven of these videos that teachers might use with this approach.

However, I’m taking a slightly different approach with sketch-note animation prompts. Instead of showing a short video and asking for a response, the video itself is a complex writing prompt. I sketch out each section and animate it visually to make the thinking more visible for students. I also narrate the videos and add background music.

The following are some of the reasons I began creating video prompts.

#1: Video prompts help bridge the gap between abstract and concrete ideas.

Video prompts break down the overwhelming aspect of a longer prompt in smaller, visual elements. When I taught middle school, I noticed students getting overwhelmed by long writing prompts. I had always created shorter, single-sentence prompts designed to get students started quicker. With video prompts, students learn how to visualize the longer writing prompts so that they can plan their writing and get started faster.

If you watch this video prompt about the ideal method of transportation, you’ll see that I turn concepts like cost and eco-friendly design (both abstract ideas) into concrete visuals to help students make sense out of the prompt.

I do not try to oversimplify the language in a video prompt. Instead, I try to make the concepts visible and accessible to students through my sketches.

#2: Students can access it anytime, anywhere.

If students have access to a device, they can rewatch the video prompt over again to see the directions. It can work as a scaffold for students who need additional language support because students can see it, hear it, and repeat any part that needs repeating. The following video prompt actually has some challenging verb tenses (simple future, future progressive, and future perfect). However, because students can repeat the prompt, they can make sense out of the text more easily.

#3: Video prompts can increase motivation.

I want to see students fall in love with writing, so I try to keep the video prompts high-interest. To my core, I believe that writing should be fun. When I taught eighth grade, I actually avoided the term “prompt” because of the negative baggage it had for many students. I used the word “idea” instead, because prompts require writing while ideas inspire writing.

Here’s an example of a high-interest writing prompt that taps into pop culture.

Meanwhile, this one taps into a common experience of losing your shoes:

The same is true of the project prompts. I created the following video for the Wonder Day Project (which you can download for free here), an inquiry-based research project:

The Four Types of Video Prompts

Although video prompts work well for writing, teachers can use these prompts for other areas as well. The following are the four types of video prompts I have created.

#1: Video Writing Prompts

Although most of my video writing prompts focus on creative writing and creative thinking, they can also lead students toward functional texts, expository texts, and persuasive texts. Some of my favorite prompts have been quirky, like this one.

#2: Project Prompts

With project prompts, teachers use the video as a starting place on the first day of a project. It can work as an anticipatory set. However, students can also access the video at any time to gain clarity on what they are supposed to do. The following is a project prompt for the Genius Hour Project:

#3: Maker Challenges

With maker challenges, students start with a specific problem they need to solve and then engage in research, ideation, and ultimately prototyping using the LAUNCH Cycle.

#4: Creative Thinking Challenge

Sometimes, it’s a shorter challenge that focuses on creative thinking. It might be a problem that students solve together, a riddle that they tackle, or a divergent thinking exercise. In some cases, you might blend together divergent thinking and hands-on prototyping into one activity:

Endless Possibilities

Note that you can create video prompts in just about any subject area. For example, Dan Meyer has used video prompts to help students develop their own math problems. I love how he explains the process here:

Potential Uses for Video Prompts

The following are some of the ways you can use video prompts in the classroom:

  • Assignment and project prompts: You might use these videos at the start of a project or an assignment to spark student interest and help students visualize what they will be creating.
  • Stations or centers: Video prompts can work great as an independent workstation. You might have maker prompts available on a computer in a makerspace station or you might use it as an ELA rotation station activity.
  • Enrichment activity: You might send students to as an enrichment activity when they have finished their other assignments.
  • Warm-ups: Many of these video prompts work well as a daily warm-up activity. One of ELA Common Core writing standards mentions, “Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.” Often, teachers focus on having students write over longer periods of time, with webs, outlines, drafts, and multiple revisions. However, with video prompts, students can do shorter 10-15 minute quick writes in their journals.
  • High-interest option for a substitute teacher: You might want to use these video prompts when you have a substitute teacher and you need something that doesn’t require the teaching of new content. These can also work well right before a fall, winter, or spring break.

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John Spencer

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


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