Free Writing Prompts & Inspiration

You want to add more current event materials to your classes, but you definitely don’t have the time to dig through the daily paper or online media to find school-appropriate stories that’ll actually get kids talking. That’s where the education staff at The New York Times has your back. I’ve enjoyed their Learning Network materials for years, but just this weekend I learned about a mother lode of goodies they’ve compiled for us.

Whether you’re looking to add supplemental materials to an existing unit or you want to build a fresh weekly bell-ringer routine, the NYT site offers a library of free content to help students start thinking, writing, and sharing their work.

Each school day, they post a Student Opinion question where the assignment is to read a brief article and then answer a question or two about the reading. You can have students free-write and then launch a discussion/debate of the daily topic or you can have students post their responses to the site’s comments section and engage with other students online.

Access the entire list of the 177 articles and writing prompts from the 2020-2021 school year by clicking on the link or this image:

Although some topics already feel a bit dated, most are evergreen and will work for a variety of secondary levels this fall and beyond.

Another option is to use the work of the newspaper’s visual artists and photographers to inspire students’ writing. Picture Prompts are published four days a week to help students react to a variety of attention-grabbing images. Here’s the list of 140 Picture Prompts from the last school year (click the image below and then scroll down that page to see the prompts sorted into themes/assignment types):

But wait…there’s more!

144 images with prompts from 2019-2020:

140+ images with prompts from 2018-2019:

150+ images with prompts from 2017-2018:

160+ images with prompts from 2016-2017:

Finally, The Learning Network has a bunch of other tools that’ll save you some time and inspire your kids:

Thanks to my Facebook friends for reminding me about the annual prompt round-ups. As always, I haven’t received compensation of any kind from the NYT or anyone else for sharing these materials with you. I just like telling my teacher friends about the good stuff and hope you find these resources helpful. Teach on, everyone! 

Photographer image credit: Prota,, public domain

2 thoughts on “Free Writing Prompts & Inspiration

  1. Ohmygosh, YES, Sarah! This makes my graphic designer alter-ego incredibly happy!!! Use this, people. ❤️

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