How to Excel on Writing Prompts with the 4 Square Writing Plan

4 square writing with writing prompts

We are gearing up for the writing portion of the Virginia Standards of Learning Test. In Virginia, we test students in fifth grade, but every grade level is important. Students need a writing routine in order to be prepared. In this post, I thought I’d share how I’m helping my students with a writing process. My hope is to at least have exposure to all of the possible writing prompts our state will choose from, but most importantly, I want the kids to know how to tackle them.

Writing Prompt Options in Our State

Below you’ll find some of the possible writing prompts from the state. If you’re in another state, you still might enjoy using them too.  During the fall, our district assigned two writing prompts per week. Our students work on their writing prompts either as quick writes or with the  writing process.  I use one as a class writing assignment and assign the other for homework. Now that the time is almost here, I am working with the students more in a simulated fashion. We’re working really hard on the brainstorming and planning step. I am hopeful this will make the difference.

writing prompts

Choose your writing Prompts

As you can see, the writing prompts are written in such a way as to cut them apart into strips (four pages), so that’s what I did.  I folded them all up, put them in a ceramic cup, and today, I had my students draw a prompt from the cup, brainstorm ideas on a web, and use the ideas gathered to plan out how they’d write it on a four square plan. (Jigsaw Method).  

After completing their plans, we had a group discussion about each idea and how we might attack it if we are to choose it, and I think that discussion for struggling students does *a lot* to scaffold their thinking.  That is the biggest hurdle for so many kids who struggle.

four square writing plan for writing prompts

Using Four Square and Jigsaw:

One other technique I’ve used is sticking to one basic method of organizing our writing versus 5-6 different organizer types.  I want understanding of how to use it, mastery of plugging in ideas, and application to the paper.  The root of a great paper is in the planning, and secondly in the revisions (and this is the second biggest hurdle for struggling readers….they want to be done on the rough draft!)  Here’s the Four Square plan my kids have been using, and I’ve asked them to memorize it as their “dump sheet” for test day.  They will have to make their own on testing day.

Well, I don’t know whether I wowed you or not with these tips, but I was wowed with the discussion we had.  I hope it makes a difference to my students and calms them, so that they can really do their best.  Have a great week everyone!

If you have either a writing wow to share or would enjoy linking up with Curious Firsties, click the wow button above.  You can also share in the comments.  Thanks for dropping by, and until next time, happy reading!

Other posts on writing:


Carla is a licensed reading specialist with 27 years of experience in the regular classroom (grades 1, 4, and 5), in Title 1 reading, as a tech specialists, and a literacy coach. She has a passion for literacy instruction and meeting the needs of the individual learner.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I agree with you….sticking with one way is super helpful. I love the 4 square method because the kids can really use it with any piece of paper at any time by just folding it! I think that is powerful for them. I do like that you include the "hook." Thanks for linking up!

  2. Deb

    As I read your post it occurs to me that I also like to be "done" after my rough draft, but I'm also reminded that the best pieces I've written are the pieces I revised with the help of colleagues or friends. It also occurs to me that I often take a long time to ponder a prompt or topic before writing, then I write my draft, and when I return to it a few days later, I revise. Yet, we assess students on writing in an entirely isolated and usually timed situation. Thanks for getting me thinking!

    Not very fancy

  3. I am glad it helped. For kids who have a hard time with story sense or ideas, this helps a lot. In Virginia, they've told us that our writing assessment will be one of the prompts on the four pages we received, so I hope it's one we've written already. I am still working through the process so it's routine. We test in one day…and they get so tired by the end. It's terrible for a child with adhd for sure. Have a great week, Deb.

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