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Writing Prompts for Analyzing Nonfiction

Below, we provide a number of writing prompts that teachers can use to help students analyze nonfiction texts in remote classrooms. Although these writing prompts were written with a few common nonfiction genres in mind, they can be easily adapted to work for other nonfiction genres (or even, with a little more work, fiction genres).

General Analysis Prompts for Nonfiction Writing

  • Purpose
    • What is the purpose of the text?
    • What kind of text is this? Is this appropriate for the writer’s purpose?
  • Organization
    • What structure does the text broadly follow?
    • How is the text laid out/organized?
    • Is the overall structural organization appropriate to the text type?
    • In your opinion, are any sections that might improve the text missing?
  • Connectives/Transitions
    • Does the "flow" or progression of ideas in this text seem smooth and logical?
    • Can you identify any clear instances of transitional or connective elements in the text?
    • Is there an appropriate variety of these transtitional/connective elements?
  • Language
    • What other interesting or unusual language features do you see in the text?
    • In your opinion, does the text demonstrate a varied vocabulary, or is it too dry and repetitive?
  • What is your overall impression of the text? Why?

Narrative Nonfiction Writing

  • What is the story about? What is the main topic of the text?
  • Who is the main character? Who are the other important characters in the story?
  • Where does this story take place? How does the place influence the storyline or sequence of events?
  • Are there any conflicts/problems in the story?
  • How does the conflict progress? Do things get worse or better?
  • How does the conflict get resolved?
  • What are the most emotionally-charged parts of the story?
  • How would you have reacted differently if you were the main character?
  • Do you remember any similar series of events you experienced?
  • What was the most memorable part of your own experience?

Informational Reports

  • What is the main topic of this report?
  • Is the overall purpose of the report clear? What would the author like us to do with this information?
  • How does the author start and end this report?
  • How efficiently did this report convey information to the reader?
  • What makes this report interesting/uninteresting?
  • What might the author have done differently to convey information more clearly/interestingly?
  • What were you surprised to learn about the topic?
  • What other topics would this type of informational report be good for describing?
  • What makes this type of writing different from narrative writing?

Argumentative Writing

  • What is the author's main argument?
  • What would the author like us to do, if anything?
  • How effective was the argument, from your point of view?
  • Do you have any prior beliefs or opinions that might affect how persuasive you perceived the argument to be? What about other readers who are likely to read this piece?
  • What would be some other good topics for this type of argumentative writing?
  • What were the primary sources to support the author’s argument?
  • What makes this type of writing different from an informational report or a narrative?

The table below provides a summary of the features common to a few important nonfiction genres. You may want to consult it as you draft your own writing prompts.

Nonfiction Genre

Narrative

Information Report

Argument

Example topic

Account of a class field trip

Description of local ecosystem

Should personal travel be banned during a pandemic?

Purpose

To provide personal perceptions or observations of some event the author experienced

To provide vital information about some topic or content area

To persuade others; to put forward a position on an important or controversial topic and support it

Organization

  • Orientation (i.e., information about who, what, where, when)
  • Sequential series of events
  • Introduction of problem/conflict, if present
  • Resolution
  • Personal interpretation of event's significance
  • General statement of topic's importance
  • Vital background information about topic
  • Specific characteristic 1
  • Specific characteristic 2
  • Specific characteristic 3
  • Summative conclusion reiterating topic's
  • Introduction: history of debate, summary of a recent development/counterargument,  or a provocative statement of purpose
  • Personal statement of position
  • Argument 1 and supporting points/evidence; argument 2 and supporting points/evidence, etc.
  • Conclusion and recommendation

Examples of transtitional/connective elements

Related to passage of time (e.g., one day, once upon a time, later, next, afterward, in the end, etc.)

Subheadings structure information

  • Introducing each argument (e.g., first, second, in addition, etc.)
  • Introducing the conclusion (e.g., therefore, in conclusion, etc.)

Other language features

  • Past tense language to describe what happened
  • Dialogue to recount what important figures said
  • Generalizations using present tense
  • Specialized vocabulary to explain complex systems and ideas related to topic


  • Evaluative vocabulary indicating writer’s belief
  • Specialized vocabulary to explain complex systems and ideas related to topic, as well as to enforce the author's credibility

Reference

Gibbons, P. & Cummins, J., (2002). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning: Teaching second language learners in the mainstream classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.