SPAWN Writing


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 PowersProblem SolvingAlternative ViewpointsWhat If?, and Next), which can be crafted in numerous ways to stimulate students‘ predictive, reflective, and critical thinking about content-area topics.
Teaching Process

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. 

Examples of SPAWN Prompts for the Topic of World War I
SPAWN prompts can be used to prepare students to learn new information about the topic or reflect on what has been learned. Students should receive one prompt on any given day as the topic of WWI is covered. SPAWN prompts can be written on the board for students to find as they enter the classroom, and to which they respond in their logs before the day's lesson begins. This kind of writing usually calls for students to anticipate what will be learned that day, as in the following prompts:
P - Problem Solving We have been reading about how most people in the United States were isolationists at the start of World War I. How do you think President Wilson can convince his country to enter the war?
N - Next We learned yesterday that Germany has decided to use poison gas as part of trench warfare. What do you think the Allies will do next?
On other days, the lesson with a SPAWN prompt that asks students to reflect on or think more critically about what they have just learned:
S - Special Powers You have the power to change an important event leading up to America's entry into World War I. Describe what it is you changed, why you changed it, and the consequences of the change.
W - What If? What might have happened if the Turks hadn't entered the war on the side of the Germans?
A - Alternative Viewpoints Imagine you‘re the commander of the Lusitania. Write an accurate description in a letter format of your ship‘s being torpedoed.

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. (

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.