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Understanding an Opinion Writing Prompt & Identifying the Topic

Here are three strategies I use with my students to help them better understand a writing prompt and identify the keywords in the given topic. This lesson was created as an introductory lesson for my opinion unit that I start at the beginning of the school year.

Video Lesson Table of Contents

0:00 Introduction

1:02 Example Writing Prompt

2:10 Strategy 1: Repetition

3:38 Strategy 2: Use the W’s

4:51 Strategy 3: Find the Keywords Inferencing

6:13 Practice Prompt #2

Free Handout from Moreno Made Teacher’s Pay Teacher’s Store Front:


What is Opinion Writing?

Opinion writing is all about sharing your thoughts and ideas about a topic. This writing style is sometimes extra challenging for students because they can’t just rely on research to help them form their points of an essay. However, I love it because I find it easier to add creativity to a usually structured piece of writing. An example topic for an opinion essay might be to write an opinion essay about your favorite sport.

Writing Prompt Overview

Writing prompts typically give directions, topic descriptions, and requirements for students. The rules usually are fundamental and explain to students that they need to write an essay.

The topic description then includes about three sentences.

Sentence 1: Definition, description, overview, or fact about the topic.

Sentence 2: Explains the type of essay and explains the main idea of the topic.

Sentence 3: Explains requirements for the essay.

*If the prompt is only two sentences long, then sentences one and two are combined.


Strategies for Learning to Identify an Opinion Topic

I use three strategies to help even my most struggling students understand a writing prompt and identify a given topic. These include methods I call; Repetition, Use your W’s, and Finding Keywords.

Repetition Strategy

These techniques ask students to read the writing prompt THREE times. Yes, I ask students to reread it again and then again. Yes, they fight me sometimes. But this insanely simple strategy works! I model how to do this by slowly reading the prompt, and each time I pause and point out something from the prompt, I understand. I model asking myself questions and demonstrate the thoughts I have when I see a prompt for the first time.

Next, we look back in the prompt to find words from the topic that are repeated. For example, in the example prompt for this lesson, the terms wild and animals are repeated twice. Also, the word adaptation and phrase “ways animals survive” are synonyms; therefore, that counts as repetition.

Use Your W’s

I had a student struggle with writing a topic sentence, and this strategy was the thing that helped it “click” for him. First, on a sticky note, I wrote down; What, Where, When, Why, Which, How. Then, I read the prompt to him and asked which words in the prompt explains “what this topic is about?”.

He read aloud the prompt again, and I asked, “Which words in the prompt explain the “where” for this topic?”

We continued this until we answered each of these words on the sticky note. Typically, it is easy to answer all, and the answers repeat. This practice is perfect for students to then analyze and understand the topic for the writing prompt.

Finding Keywords

This strategy goes hand-in-hand with inferencing in reading. It asks students to read something and judge- “Which words are the most important for this topic?”

When I read a prompt aloud, I ask the class or student, “Pick 3-4 words that we have to include in the essay that would explain the main idea for this topic?”

If students struggle with quickly reading, judging, and finding keywords, I narrow their focus into the middle sentence of the prompt. Not always, but frequently the format of a writing prompt started with a fact or overview of the topic. The second sentence explains the type of essay and the main idea. Then, the last sentence explains the requirement for the paper. Focusing on the middle sentence helps students see which words can answer, “What is the main idea for this topic?” Or “What is this essay suppose to be all about?”


Students understand the prompt and can identify the topic. Now What?

Once students can easily read a prompt and quickly identify the keywords of the prompt, they are ready to write a topic sentence.

I say this knowing that during reading instruction, I am also teaching note-taking skills. If you are not teaching this simultaneously, I recommend teaching nonfiction note-taking skills first before moving on to topic sentences. Students need to pick their points or reasons to include for a specific topic sentence.

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