Writer’s Digest Has Hundreds of Awesome Writing Prompts for Students

Posted on Tue, Apr 08, 2014 @ 12:04 PM

writing prompts for studentsWe’ve known many teachers who believe “bell-ringers,” warm-ups, or informal writing assignments are a poor use of time, but we still stand by them.

Because we do not “grade” informal writing in the traditional sense (students receive credit simply for completing the assignment) we find that students are often more willing to take risks. Many students have even expressed that these exercises increase their confidence and get them excited about putting pen to paper. Is there a note of music sweeter to the writing teacher’s ear? We think not!

When we’re looking for writing prompts, our first stop is a site called Writer’s Digest. Below are a few examples of the writing prompts you’ll find there:

  •  “You’re leaving your favorite restaurant after eating breakfast when a stranger taps you on the shoulder. But this tap leads to a conversation—and adventure—that leaves you with one item that you never thought you’d ever own.  Start your story with “I hate to bother you, but I have something important to ask.” And end your story with, “And that’s how I ended up being the proud owner of a (fill in the blank).”

  • You are a world-renowned mystery writer living a life of seclusion. A random email informs you of a great story, the next bestseller. Unfortunately, you find the details to be a little too close to home. Write a scene where you confront this mysterious informant, who seems to know a little too much about your personal life.

  • The snow is coming down and school has been canceled. Your brother, who has an important government job, has asked you to watch his kids during the day so he can go to work. While watching his kids, they reveal something top secret about your brother’s job—and it’s something, for the sake of your family, that you need to stop.

  • You receive a mysterious email and the subject line reads “Everything you know is a lie.” You open the email and read further: “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

If you’re looking for more writing prompts, we also recommend checking out a site called Writing Prompts. Each prompt on the site comes with an accompanying photo and a brief explanation of how the prompt fulfills Common Core Standards.


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Topics: writing strategies, writing skills, Writing, writing prompts for students

Rituals and routines: tips for language translators

Posted on Thu, May 23, 2013 @ 08:05 AM

language translatorWe wish creativity and motivation were formulaic, but every writer—or in our case, language translator—has to find his or her own way of tapping into them. We’ve always been fascinated by the creative rituals of others, so we thought we’d share a few of our own. While we can’t guarantee that these will work for you, we hope that you’ll at least find them interesting.

Dress the part
A colleague of ours—and a fellow translator who used to work a nine-to-five—recently told us an amusing story. Before she exited the corporate world and went freelance, she was expected to show up every morning in a two-piece business suit. And each morning as she slipped into it, she resented it. The first thing she did after going freelance was wad up her power suits, throw them in a black trash bag and drop them off at the local Salvation Army.

Here’s the funny thing: Working from home in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt was liberating, but she believed that—in some strange, psychological way—the new wardrobe impacted her output and quality of work. Although you won’t find her in a business suit, the wardrobe that replaced it isn’t a far cry from the one hanging on the racks in the Salvation Army. Her conclusion: “Dressing up” is a necessary ritual and when she doesn’t do it, her work suffers.

Warm up and stretch your mental muscles
You’ll never go to a professional sporting event and find an empty field. Hours before the action begins, the athletes can be found running, taping their wrists, stretching, strategizing, throwing, etc. Language translators are linguistic athletes and as with physical activity, we’ve found that warming up and stretching is a necessary part of our routine.  

Before we dive into the rigors of our daily work, we log into our Penzu account, an online journal platform that actually looks like a real journal. We may only write 100 words, but we never scrutinize it, never revise and never care how it sounds. We simply write enough to stretch our mind and ease into the day’s work.

Find an accountability partner
Our friends, spouses and partners may sympathize with the stress that comes with being a language translator, but they’ll never fully understand it. We’ve found it necessary to have an accountability partner—that is, a fellow language translator we “check in” with at least once a day. Our partner is someone we call or email in the morning and let them know what we’re going to be working on for the next four or five hours. Around lunchtime, we speak over the phone and give a brief “account” of what we’ve accomplished.

It may sound like a strange practice, but we’ve found it works wonders for our productivity and mental health.

You have a bedtime routine. Why don’t you have a translating routine?
We recently read a biography on novelist Stephen King. Amongst other things, we learned a bit about his philosophy on creative routines. For him, creative routines are no “different than a bedtime routine.” Here’s a quote from the book:

“Do you go to bed a different way every night? Is there a certain side you sleep on? I mean I brush my teeth, I wash my hands. Why would anybody wash their hands before they go to bed? I don’t know. And the pillows are supposed to be pointed a certain way. The open side of the pillowcase is supposed to be pointed in toward the other side of the bed. I don’t know why.”

Put together a morning ritual and follow it the same way every day. Like pulling back the covers on your bed before getting into it, the final step of your creative routine may make beginning your translation work a painless, almost reflexive final step.


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Topics: writing strategies, writing skills, Modern Language Translation, Translation and interpretation studies, time management tips for translators, Translation Classes Online, language translators, writing rituals, creative rituals

If you could write a haiku to a Martian, what would it say?

Posted on Tue, May 07, 2013 @ 09:05 AM

MAVEN MarsWe just found out that NASA is calling all Earthlings to submit their names, along with a three-line haiku, to the Going to Mars with Maven contest. If you need a little incentive to get your submission in by July 1, try this on for size: The three most popular submissions will actually be written to a DVD and sent to Mars onboard the MAVEN spacecraft!

There is one caveat: Those who submit must be 18 or older. The good news is that teachers are allowed to submit on behalf of their students.

We think this is a great way to get students excited about science, space, space travel and writing. It’s also a creative way to help students make a personal connection to the MAVEN mission, which is scheduled for launch in November.

To learn more about the Going to Mars with Maven contest, or to view current entries, stop by their website by clicking here. You can also watch a video about the MAVEN mission below.


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Topics: Educational Technology, Educational Technology Master's Degree, Educational Technology Programs, Instructional Technology Graduate Programs, writing strategies, writing skills, Online Education, Master's in Educational Technology Online

iAnnotate: A greener, simpler way to provide effective feedback

Posted on Tue, Apr 30, 2013 @ 10:04 AM

effective feedbackProviding our students with effective feedback is a challenge not only due to the sheer volume of essays we have to read, but also because it can be so tedious—and heavy. Like most teachers, we’ve been toting around back-breaking file folders and stacks of student essays for years. But the alternatives weren’t much more appealing. We tried having students email us their work or submit it via Dropbox. Then we’d open the document in MS Word, type up marginal comments, and email it back to the student. This worked, but frankly, we missed being able to physically write out our thoughts. Instead of going back to toting around hardcopies, we decided to give iAnnotate a shot and it hasn’t let us down.

iAnnotate: A greener, simpler way to provide effective feedback

For a mere $9.99, iAnnotate allows users to read and physically annotate Word/PowerPoint files on their iPad. 

Want to provide effective feedback? Simply touch a blank area of a document, choose your tool—pen, highlighter, note, strike through or voice recorder—and go for it. Confused about a student’s word choice? Tap on the word in question and make your note. iAnnotate will also sync documents with Dropbox, which makes it easy to stay organized.

To learn more about iAnnotate, check out the video below.

If you’re looking for a few more tips to help you provide effective feedback, check out three of our recent blog posts:


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Topics: Educational Technology, Educational Technology Master's Degree, Educational Technology Programs, classroom technology, writing strategies, effective feedback, writing skills, apps for educators

5 Apps to Enhance Those Run-of-the-Mill Poetry Lessons

Posted on Tue, Apr 16, 2013 @ 10:04 AM

April means a couple of things to educators: poetry and taxes. Although we hate to make any associations between the two, the way we feel about taxes may (unfortunately) mirror the way many of our students feel about poetry. In a recent blog we offered two alternative poetry lessons to make enthusiasts out of even your most reluctant students, but we realized that our technologists may be feeling a bit left out. So here are 5 of our favorite apps for enhancing your April poetry lessons.

5 Apps to Enhance Those Run-of-the-Mill Poetry Lessons

poetry lessons 1The Poetry App (free)
We’ve always believed that good poetry should be read aloud and it looks like the Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation shares our opinion.

The opening screen of The Poetry App takes you into a cozy, book-lined study, complete with portraits and a crackling fireplace. Tap paintings on the wall and you’ll be able to listen to 30 performers (including Juliet Stevenson, Jeremy Irons, Dan Stevens and Eileen Atkins) as they read work from some of the most beloved poets in history. This is only half of it.

Tap on "My Poems" and you’ll find a template not only to write your own poems, but also to record them and then share (both text and performance) via email. Stuck for a word? There is an "inspire me" button that provides word clouds of poets' favorite vocabulary that just may ignite a creative spark!

poetry lessons 2Instant Poetry ($2.28)
By providing your students with random words, which they can simply drag and drop onto their screen, Instant Poetry gives your students the creative nudge they need to create their own masterpiece.

After students select a theme, the app’s algorithm provides you with an endless stream of related words. Your students will also enjoy adding their own backdrop photos, customizing font, and having the ability to email their work.

poetry lessons 3.jpgMagnetic Poetry (free)
Magnetized words have found their way onto countless refrigerators and for good reason: they’re a blast. Now your students can have the same fun, but do it online. Like Instant Poetry, this web application allows users to simply drag and drop words. Don’t like the “word hand” you’ve been dealt? No problem, click on “more words,” piece together your poem, and email it when you’re done.

poetry lessons 4.jpgRhyme Zone (free)
If you’re worried about your students “playing tennis with the net down” and feel, like Robert Frost did, that poems must have form and rhyme, send them over to Rhyme Zone. Your students will appreciate being able to organize the results by syllable and letter. You can also include phrases, which renders some interesting results. 

poetry lessons 5Poetry (free)
Poetry allows you to take thousands of poems—from Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot and Emily Dickinson—with you wherever you go. We’re particularly fond of the app’s “shuffle effect,” which randomly selects a poem whenever you give your phone a shake.



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Topics: Educational Technology, Educational Technology Master's Degree, Educational Technology Programs, Instructional Technology Graduate Programs, Best Apps for Educators, Technology in the Classroom, writing strategies, writing skills, apps for educators

When words fail: Reinvent expository essays with Tildee

Posted on Tue, Mar 26, 2013 @ 15:03 PM

tildeeIf you’ve spent time in the classroom, you’ve probably experienced a breakdown in language. Perhaps you were trying to explain a difficult, theoretical concept, but couldn’t find the words to fully elucidate it for your students. Tildee is a free tool that will help you create and share tutorials that’ll keep you focused and help you get to the point!

Type up instructions or an explanation and add map or video to help illustrate your point. Once you’re done, simply enter your email address and voila, you’re tutorial (complete with its own URL) will appear in your email box.

This is certainly useful tool for teachers, but it would also be a great way to introduce your students to expository essays and give them the opportunity to share the results with their peers.

The only downside with Tildee is that it doesn’t allow you to annotate (add arrows, lines or text) your pictures. There are a few free apps out there that will allow you to do this; we talk about three of them in one of our recent blogs, 3 Free Apps for Teachers: Edit and annotate your photos.

Here’s a video tutorial that will walk you through creating your Tildee tutorial:



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Topics: Best Apps for Educators, writing strategies, writing skills, apps for educators

Effective feedback made easy—or at least easier—with GradeMark

Posted on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 @ 16:03 PM

Providing our seffective feedbacktudents with effective feedback is a challenge not only due to the sheer volume of essays many of us have to read, but also because it can be so tedious. Often there are so many things we want to address that we wonder where or how we should begin. We recently offered a few tips for giving effective feedback and thought a discussion about GradeMark, a new online tool for grading papers, would make a nice companion piece.

Effective feedback made easy—or at least easier—with GradeMark

Instead of submitting hard copies of their work, students simply upload their essay to GradeMark. This not only frees you from having to lug around stacks of essays, you’ll also save printing ink and never again will you chase down hard copy papers (that may or may not have been submitted to your mailbox). “But I can already do this through email and Microsoft Word,” you say.  Not so fast.

Once you open a document in GradeMark, you are free to:

  • Add comments within the body of the paper
  • Point out grammar and punctuation mistakes
  • Evaluate the paper against qualitative or quantitative rubrics
  • Assess the student’s performance within the class
  • Reduce plagiarism by running an originality report
  • Enter a grade for the paper that is automatically saved into GradeBook.

Here’s the best part: Grademark combines several methods of evaluation which makes providing effective feedback infinitely easier than working with hard copies or within Microsoft Word:

  • Drag and drop fully-customizable comments. Say, for example, that your student commonly misuses the comma. Instead of inserting all of the commas for the student, simply drag and drop the “missing comma” icon onto the page and type up a short explanation about why the comma is necessary.
  • Add marginal comments by typing directly on the draft or drag and drop quick marks. You can also attach lengthier comments to the essay.
  • Add voice messages. There are times when it’s easier to just say what you mean instead of writing it. Now you can. 
  • Use rubric scoring. Set up rubrics and attach them to the assignments so you can illustrate what specific improvements need to be made.

We’re sorry to say that we can’t tell you how much the program costs, but GradeMark will provide you with a quote if you fill out their short request form—which will only take you a minute.

If you’re looking for more ways to offer your students’ effective feedback, check out one of our recent blogs, “Are you providing effective feedback? Or are your students just ignoring you?”


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Topics: Educational Technology, Educational Technology Master's Degree, Educational Technology Programs, Instructional Technology Graduate Programs, Best Apps for Educators, Technology in the Classroom, classroom technology, writing strategies, effective feedback, writing skills

Wrestling the muse: 5 creative rituals for the freelance translator

Posted on Fri, Jan 18, 2013 @ 09:01 AM

freelance translator writing ritualsDespite popular opinion, translation has much more to do with creative decisions and imaginative acts than it does swapping out Word X in one language with Word Y in another language. Creative “wordsmithing”—as opposed to mechanical word exchanging—means that you have to find a way to set your creativity in motion.  Doesn’t it?

We once read an interview with Ernest Hemingway where he was asked about mnemonic devices, ritualistic acts that set him on the creative path. Hemingway may have been at the Ambos Mundos in Havana or the Finca in San Francisco de Paula. Regardless of where he was, he would begin the creative act with the same ritual:  He’d take out seven No. 2 pencils and sharpen all of them. Only then would he write.

One of our colleagues, an agnostic without a religious bone in her body, ritualistically lights five candles every morning before she practices her forty-five minute yoga routine. When a candle burns down after several weeks, a new one replaces it. Every day she repeats the act. For her, the candle has absolutely no connection to spirituality or the yoga routine. It’s simply a habit, a ritual that sets the day and the creative act in motion.  

Regardless of what your ritual is, it should be habitual and practiced unswervingly. If you’re looking for some ideas, here are 5 suggestions to get you started.

Wrestling the muse: 5 creative rituals for the freelance translator

Write in Bed
According to Monica Ali, author of Untold Story, Edith Wharton, Winston Churchill, Mark Twain and Marcel Proust all wrote in bed. Writing, or in your case, translating, is serious business; it’s “stuff” of the mind, so writing from bed might seem a bit irreverent. But if it works, why not?

Provoke Tiny Moments of Awareness
While we were browsing the shelves in Barnes and Noble, we came across a book by Roger-Pol Droit called Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life. It’s a playful book, but we’ve found that some of the exercises do in fact help us discover the ways in which small, ritualistic acts can become the starting point for a sort of “astonishment” that can take you out of the moment and inspire creativity. Here’s one such example, an exercise called “Empty a Word of Its Meaning”:

Make sure that you are in a place where no one can hear you. Take an ordinary object—in the past, we’ve picked up the very object that is intimidating us or hindering creativity. Now take the object in your hands and say its name. Repeat its name over and over again as you look at it. Keep going until the familiar word detaches itself and starts to become a series of strange sounds, meaningless noises that mean nothing, indicate nothing and take little form. Once this happens, you’ll notice that the object, too, has become much less startling, more crude and present. Did you notice the exact moment when the meaning dissolved, when the object became no longer something to intimidate, but a simple thing? Now go about your business creatively!

Learn to see the blank computer screen as a beautiful, clean canvas
What’s so bad about a new beginning? “Starting off with a clean slate” is one of the most frequently uttered colloquialisms around. Why not apply it to your work? Remember, the words you put on it don’t need to be perfect—especially since it’s a digital canvas that can be written on, deleted, copied, pasted, printed  and saved for later.

Go to your creative space
You may be familiar with Maya Angelou, author of I Know How the Caged Bird Sings? Here is how she describes her writing ritual:

I keep a hotel room in my town, although I have a large house. And I go there at about 5:30 in the morning, and I start working. And I don’t allow anybody to come in that room. I work on yellow pads and with ballpoint pens. I keep a Bible, a thesaurus, a dictionary, and a bottle of sherry. I stay there until midday. About once a month, the management slips a note under my door and they ask, ‘Please, Dr. Angelou, may we change the sheets? We know they must be moldy.’ But I’ve never slept there. I just go in and sit down and work.

Stop trying to be a genius and write only for X amount of time every single day
In a letter to Cecil Dawkins, author Flannery O’Connor said,

“I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away…Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.” 

These creative rituals may not be every freelance translator's cup of tea. Just remember, it doesn’t matter what the ritual is as long as it’s something that works for you and becomes a habitual part of the translation process itself.

Download our exclusive guide:  Translation and the Empathetic Imagination

Topics: writing strategies, Modern Language Translation, Spanish Translation Course, French Translation Certification, Online Translation Certification Arabic, freelance translation, Translation Agencies, writing rituals

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