Inviting Writers

The most important part of my job is to foster the growth and development of writers. This means convincing many of my students that they can be a writer, that they have something important to say, and that there is an audience for their voice. And I have to do all those things in a required class and after those students have had a K-12 education experience that (at best) did not provide good writing experiences and (at worst) undermined their confidence. Far too many of my students have never written anything that matters to them before they enter my class. Far too many of my students have never had an audience for their voice before they enter my class. Far too many of my students have been given only disposable writing assignments graded with a red pen and is it any wonder that they have no interest in writing or belief in themselves as writers?

There is only one antidote for the insidious poison that passes for writing instruction in far too many schools: centering the writer and the writing. This requires building a classroom model that supports some version of the writing workshop and writing then writing some more. But this post is not about that model. For that you can read about creating a writing studio and my thoughts about the writing journey I want for my students. For this post I want to focus on one essential part of the writing workshop or studio: the writing invitation. I like to use the word invitation rather than prompt as the word prompt just sends the wrong vibe for me. I invite the writers in my care to join me on a writing adventure and so I use the word invitation. My own journey developing a good writing invitation has been long and perilous with many pitfalls and missteps. I hope my advice will help you avoid my mistakes.


A personal writing invitation does not require the writer to share their most personal and intimate secrets – although some may choose to do so. A personal writing invitation simply offers multiple entry points for a writer to find some topic, memory, or experience that matters to them as a person. Music and food are often great touchstones for personal writing that also allow the writer to choose the secrets they wish to explore and share. There are also many universal human experiences and relationships that can provide a great jumping off point for writers. Through the years I have shared many writing invitations about home and family, but here are two from this year. The first writing invitation I shared with my students this fall centered on writing home and in the spring my leadership team urged our community to write their origin story. Tip #1: Make sure the writer can see themselves in the writing invitation.


As a writer there is nothing I hate more than a closed writing prompt. It took me longer than I like to admit for me to come to this realization but I hope that I never again make that mistake when crafting invitations. Open invitations play on multiple meanings of words, multiple answers to questions, and layers of ideas. Open writing invitations can be tremendously simple and yet ripe with writing potential. For example, this spring my writing group explored hinges, bridges, and cartography and the range of writing inspired was amazing. Tip #2: Make sure writers have more than one path open to them.


One of my favorite things about writing with others is the ways that our experiences and thoughts can run parallel, intersect, overlap, and yet still take us on surprising journeys. The best writing invitations help us connect as humans sharing the same world, community, or classroom. The best writing invitations help us learn more about ourselves and each other. Last year the writers in my classroom and writing group explored our humanity through a variety of explorations including examining how games can teach us a lot about ourselves. Tip #3: Make sure writers can make connections.

In truth, one of the reasons most of my writing invitations include poetry is that poems offer personal associations, open ideas, and interesting connections. I love when I can create writing invitations that do all these things. Even better if I can craft an invitation that is personal, open, and connective that also includes a poem just to make sure! What do your favorite writing invitations offer? Check out this advice from some of my favorite writing teachers:

Nancy: Those writing invitations that offer many directions or connections work the best for me. For instance, a question, statement, or poem that speaks of tree roots could take you to actual trees you have known and loved or to anchors that hold you in place or to your family and its beginnings. A narrow invitation  can make it difficult to connect with the prompt, especially if you are not used to doing much writing in response to an invitation.

Karen: I really like when you begin with short lists or questions. Our responses help generate ideas that we can expand on in the writing invitation.

Stacie: I’m thinking of something that the writers connect with. Something that guides the writer but doesn’t restrict them. Something that includes something visual and/or musical.

Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

Author: Deanna Mascle
#TeachingWriting and leading #NWP site @ Morehead State (KY): Passionate about #AuthenticWriting, #DeeperLearning, #PBL, #Ungrading, and #HyperDocs.

4 thoughts on “Inviting Writers

  1. I’m so glad I took the time to read your blog this morning. The past month has been consumed by trying to teach kinder and collect petition signatures to block the latest assault on public education by our legislators–I’ve had no time to think, or, more importantly, to write, regularly. This blog reminded me of all the writing I’ve done in the last year, and all the uplifting, inspiring writing I’ve been exposed to. What a gift to myself that I responded to your invite 2 years ago–it’s been a reconnection to writing and exploring the craft, creativity of the writing process, and a new path on my life journey.

  2. “The insidious poison that passes for writing instruction.” Wow. The language used here really drew me in to what you were saying and made me think how I really don’t want to be one of the poisonous ELA teachers. I found myself relating personally to what you said about the negative connotations around using the word ‘prompt’ and found myself nodding my head to your suggestion for the usage of the word ‘invitation’ instead. I agree that a prompt can seem like there is only one correct path. I can remember multiple times throughout my own education career where I had no idea where to start with answering a specific prompt and I remember feeling so frustrated. However, when you invite students to write about an open-ended topic, students have the freedom to choose whatever path is relevant and engaging to them. We know that when students feel personally connected to their work and have the autonomy to choose what they do that they are going to be much more motivated and engaged. I think that verbiage and the framing of an assignment is so important in education. The language that we use as teachers has so much power to make the same lesson meaningful for a student or seem like the longest hour of the day. I will most definitely be using ‘writing invitations’ instead of ‘writing prompts’ in my future ELA classrooms. Thank you for giving such a meaningful example of how language matters!

    1. Just reading your thoughtful response tells me that you do not need to worry about falling prey to spreading poison. Entering writing instruction from the viewpoint of the writer as you do will prevent that pitfall. Your frustration with a very specific writing prompt so echoes my own. Best of luck with your teaching.

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