Introducing and Dissecting the Writing Prompt | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History and Ourselves Bullying Summit September 29th 2012 in Los Angeles CA

Introducing and Dissecting the Writing Prompt

Students begin to understand and stake out a preliminary position in response to the assessment writing prompt.


One 50-min class period


  • History




English — US



About this Assessment

This optional assessment asks students to respond to the unit’s essential question in an argumentative essay. Seven steps are interspersed throughout the unit (after lessons 4, 7, 9, 14, 19, 22, and 25) to introduce students to the assessment and guide them as they gather evidence, develop their theses, and begin to write their essays. Follow the link at the end of each assessment step to proceed to the next lesson in the unit.

How can learning about the choices people made during past episodes of injustice, mass violence, or genocide help guide our choices today?   

This assessment includes:

  • 4 activities
  • 5 teaching strategies
  • 1 handout

In the first four lessons of the unit, students explore questions about identity, stereotyping, and group membership. There is a menu of activities that you can choose from for this first step in the essay process that introduces students to the unit writing prompt. The prompt is designed to serve as both a thematic frame for the unit and a final writing assignment at the unit’s end.

Unit Assessment Prompt

Over the course of this unit, you will examine the atrocities committed by the Ottoman government during the Armenian Genocide, the rise of Nazi Party in Germany following World War I, and the pursuit of racial purity in Nazi Germany that resulted in the murder of 6 million Jewish individuals and millions of other civilians during the Holocaust. You will also look closely at the choices made by individuals, groups, and nations that led to these events. For the culminating unit assessment, you will construct a written argument that you support with examples from these historical cases in response to the following question:

How can learning about the choices people made during past episodes of injustice, mass violence, or genocide help guide our choices today? 

The following activities provide suggestions to help students start to understand the meaning of the prompt and to stake out a preliminary position in response to it. At key points later in this unit (after Lessons 7, 9, 14, 19, 22, and 25), you will be cued to give students the opportunity to reflect on the essay prompt and consider how evidence from the history they are studying influences their thinking about it. At these times, students will also have the opportunity to revisit, and potentially modify, the initial position they articulate in this lesson.

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  • Before class, set up the room for a Four Corners activity. Create four signs that read “Strongly Agree,” “Agree,” “Disagree,” and “Strongly Disagree,” and hang them in different corners of the room.
  • Pass out the anticipation guide handout Why Study History? and ask students to read the statements and decide if they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with each one. They should circle their responses and then write a brief explanation for each choice.
  • Use the Four Corners strategy to debrief the anticipation guide. Read each statement aloud and ask students to stand near one of the signs in the classroom to indicate their response. After students find their positions, ask them to explain their thinking to others in their corner.
  • Next, ask students in each corner to share their ideas with the rest of the class. As one corner disagrees with another, encourage students to respond directly to each other’s statements and have a mini-debate about the prompt. If students’ ideas change due to the debate, tell them that they are free to switch corners.
  • Consider having students create a designated section in their journals for their essay reflections, notes, and ideas. Then tell them that they will be reflecting on the Four Corners discussion (if you included it in this lesson) and starting to think about a new and related question, which they will explore over the course of the unit.
  • Pass out or project the essay topic and ask students to respond to it in their journals. Encourage students to consider the quotations on the handout Why Study History? and their group discussion if these help them think about the question.
    • How can learning about the choices people made in the past be used as a tool to guide our responses to injustice, mass violence, and genocide in our communities and in the world today?
  • Next, ask students to debrief the journal prompt in a Think, Pair, Share discussion. Ask students to try to support their thinking with an example from the history they have studied or their own lives. Finally, ask students to share a few opinions or ideas with the larger group.
  • Using the Dissecting the Prompt strategy, have students take apart and analyze the unit assessment prompt (see above), identifying the historical topics they need to learn more about in the rest of the unit to be able to fully answer the question. This will establish several inquiry questions for the class that are related to students’ broader thinking about the purpose of studying history in this lesson.
  • Let students know that they should keep all their responses and notes about these ideas in their journals so they can use them later to generate ideas for their essays.
  • Have students respond to the following questions on an exit ticket:
    • How did today’s class affect your thinking about why we should study history? What makes you say that?
    • How did it affect how your think about the connection between the choices people made in history and the choices you make in your own life?
  • Collect the exit cards as students leave the classroom. Consider sharing some interesting ideas or patterns at the start of the next lesson. Unless you have permission from the student, we recommend that you keep these anonymous.

Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

These are the handouts that students use throughout the Introducing and Dissecting the Writing Prompt lesson plan.

Download the Files

Why Study History? - PDF
Get students' initial opinions about the importance and impact of history with this warm up activity.

Get Files Via Google

Why Study History?
Get students' initial opinions about the importance and impact of history with this warm up activity.

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