Two of the most interesting prompts for middle grade writers fell into my lap over the last couple of years. I like these a lot and have used them again and again with classes.
With the first one, I was stopped at a traffic light when I saw a police car drive by on the road in front of me. It was a local township police car, but as it passed in front of me I saw that the driver was an old woman. Like someone's tiny grandmother with white hair tightly done, glasses, hunched over the wheel. I swear I saw this! I've told this story to many classes now and I ask them the same question - why? Why is a grandmother driving a police car? I asked students to write down some possible answers, which would then serve as story ideas. Here are some they came up with:
*She was a lazy police officer's mother and she was bringing him his car
*It was a police officer in disguise
*She is a master criminal who stole a police car
*She is part of a special squad of grandmother police officers: The Granny Squad
*She was bringing her police officer son doughnuts
*She borrowed her son's car while he was eating
*She was an alien who disguised herself as a grandmother and took the car
*She was at a diner and had an emergency and needed a car right away so she took that one. Now the police are chasing her.
The second prompt came from a student. When I asked the class to think about things they observed around them that might be a good start for a story, this eighth grader reported that scrawled in pencil on the wall in the girls' bathroom were two lists of student names. The Hot List and The Not List.
Many of the boys immediately perked up while girls exchanged glances and giggles. The air was suddenly electric. I asked, "Could a story come from that?" They all were immediately able to write down and share numerous possibilities including:
*A boy hears he is on the Not List and sneaks into the girls' bathroom to remove his name, only to be caught by the principal
*A girl takes money from other boys and girls to put their names on or take their names off
*Other students begin to put up new lists all over the school with different groups forming around different lists. The principal tries to stop it, but it can't be stopped.
*Boys start their own lists and girls try to do different things to get on the Hot List
It was very, very powerful and it all came from just a simple observation by a student who was willing to share it. It really pays to ask students what they've observed that might be good prompts.