Students need regular content-focused writing opportunities in the classroom (Graham & Perrin, 2007; Sorcinelli & Elbow, 1997). Writing to learn in the content areas can be fostered with SPAWN prompts (Martin, Martin, & O’Brien, 1984). SPAWN is an acronym that stands for five categories of writing prompts (Special Powers, Problem Solving, Alternative Viewpoints, What If?, and Next), which can be crafted in numerous ways to stimulate students’ predictive, reflective, and critical thinking about content-area topics.
1. Begin by targeting the kind of thinking students should be exhibiting. If they are to anticipate the content to be presented or reflect on what has just been learned, then certain prompts work best.
2. Next, select a category of SPAWN that best accommodates the kind of thinking about the content you would like students to exhibit. For example, if you want students to regard recently learned material in unique and critical ways, the Alternative Viewpoints category prompts writing of this nature. If, on the other hand, you desire students to think in advance about an issue and brainstorm their own resolutions, the Next and Problem Solving prompts may work best.
3. Then present the SPAWN prompt to students. This can be done by simply writing it on the board or projecting it from the overhead or computer. If an anticipatory prompt, students will need to see it and begin writing before the new material is presented. If a reflective prompt, it should be revealed after new content has been covered.
4. Allow students to write their responses within a reasonable period of time. In most cases prompts should be constructed in such a way that adequate responses can be made within 10 minutes. Students should be asked to copy the prompt in their learning logs before writing responses and record the date.
5. Students can share their SPAWN responses with a partner or the class to stimulate discussion, heighten anticipation, and check for logic and accuracy.
6. Instead of a thorough assessment of students’ SPAWN writing, most teachers who use this strategy give simple grades such as points for completing responses.
Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing
of adolescents in middle and high schools. New York/Washington, DC: Carnegie
Corporation/Alliance for Excellent Education. (http://www.all4ed.org).
Martin, C., Martin, M., & O’Brien, D. (1984). Spawning ideas for writing in the content
areas. Reading World, 11, 11-15.
Corcinelli, M., & Elbow, P. (1997). Writing to learn: Strategies for assigning and re-
sponding to writing across the disciplines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
CONTENT LITERACY STRATEGY DESCRIPTIONS for the 2008 LOUISIANA COMPREHENSIVE CURRICULUM, Dr. William G. Brozo, May 2008