James Wayne offers a writing prompt for each day of the month. These aren't ordinary writing prompts! They're based upon historical events and positive character traits - sure to educate and motivate elementary and middle school students to get writing!
by James Wayne
Regular contributor to the Gazette
April 1, 2008
The character trait for April is Trustworthiness.
Being worthy of confidence
In 1895, the world ended, all living things died, the oceans boiled, and the planet melted in a great explosion of the sun. APRIL FOOL! (As if you couldn't guess!) What is the funniest April Fool joke you have ever heard about or can invent?
In 1748, excavation began on the city of Pompeii, which had been buried by a volcano 1,800 years before (79 BC). It is still going on. Suppose you could spend a summer working on an archeological dig. In what part of the world would you prefer to work? What kind of things would you like to find?
In 1796, William Henry Ireland announced he had found and was presenting a lost play by William Shakespeare. The play was very bad, and contained several references to things that happened after Shakespeare had died, proving that Ireland was a forger. Have you ever seen or helped to put on a play or skit? Tell briefly about your experience.
Nicholas Murray Butler was born in 1862. A famous educator, writer, and scholar, he won the Nobel Peace Price in 1931, and founded the Columbia School of Journalism, the first journalism school in the world. Journalists are reporters; they may report for newspapers, magazines, television, radio, or even the Internet. Most of them specialize in one or two kinds of news. If you were a reporter, what kind would you like to be?
Three famous actors were born today: Leslie Howard, who played Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind; Marlon Brando, who played the Godfather in all three parts of The Godfather; and Doris Day, who acted in movies, on television, and also sang many popular songs. Would you like to be an actor? What are three things about being an actor you would like, and three things you would not like?
The first mention of the city of Moscow was made in 1147 in an ancient chronicle of a banquet, so today is considered the birthday of the city. Moscow is the capital and largest city of Russia. Think about capitals of countries all over the world. List 5 capital cities you would like to visit, and tell why you want to visit them.
In 1828, Casparus van Wooden invented chocolate milk powder in Holland. What is your favorite drink with meals? Make up a slogan that willencourage others to drink your favorite drink.
African-American educator and leader Booker T. Washington was born in 1856. He once said, "If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else." What do you think he meant by that?
In 1753, the British parliament voted money to open a public museum, the first one since ancient times. Some people love museums, but others think they are a waste of the taxpayer's money. What do you think of spending tax money to run museums? Defend your opinion.
In 1969, the annual boat races between Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England were held on the Thames River. It was the first time in many years that the river had been clean enough for the race to be held there. Pollution is a problem affecting many places in the world. What can you do personally to reduce pollution?
Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, was born in 1930. Some people would like to start a settlement on the moon; others say it would cost too much. How do you feel about it? What reasons can you give for your opinion?
In 1784, archeologists begin to excavate the city of Pompeii in Italy, which had been buried during a volcanic eruption seventeen centuries before. Suppose you were an archeologist centuries from now and were digging up your school. Make a list of objects you think might have lasted, and another list of things you don't think will last.
In 1869, celluloid, the first kind of plastic, was invented by John W. Hyatt. Today, its main use is to make dice and buttons. Think of all the things that are made of plastic today. If it were necessary to replace all plastic with natural material, such as wood or metal, which plastic things would be the hardest to replace? Why?
Mahatma Gandhi, India's leader in its struggle for independence, said, "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet." What do you think he meant by that?
Cy Young, one of the most famous baseball pitchers of all time, pitched his first game in 1890. The award for the best pitcher in the American League each year is known as the Cy Young award. If there were to be an award named for you, what would you like it to be for?
Walter Winchell, one of the first popular gossip columnists was born in 1897. He said, "I usually get my stuff from people who promised somebody else that they would keep it a secret." How would you react if a friend of yours spread your secrets around?
Today is World Health Day. Many health problems could be prevented if people took better care of themselves. Make a poster or script for an ad that encourages people to follow an important health rule.
Ralph J. Bunche was born in 1904. He was a distinguished diplomat who worked tirelessly to promote peace for the United Nations. He was the first African-American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. What is something you could do to help create peace in your neighborhood and school?
In 1838, the Great Western, the first ship able to carry cargo and passengers across the Atlantic entirely by steam power began her maiden voyage. If you could sail anywhere on a ship, where would you go? Who would you take with you? Give reasons for your choices.
Margarine was invented in 1873. Margarine is used as a substitute for butter by dieters because it contains less fat and no cholesterol. Some people prefer its taste to butter, but others can't stand it. What food do you like that other people dislike? Write an appetizing description of it.
The Watermelon Festival is celebrated each year in Rush Springs, Oklahoma. Design a float for the Watermelon Festival. Write a description or draw a picture of your float.
In 1105, England's King Henry I was scolded in church for his long hair. He replied that he used his long hair to cushion his helmet when wearing armor, but permitted it to be trimmed. Why do you suppose people get so upset about other people's hair?
In 1859, Samuel Clemens got his license as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. This was a difficult, highly skilled job at that time, with the kind of prestige a passenger jet pilot has today. After Samuel Clemens began to write under the name Mark Twain, he often used his experience as a riverboat pilot in his stories. What kind of skills do the jobs you are interested in require? List 3 jobs you think you might like to have, and then list 3 skills each job requires.
In 1633, Thomas Johnson of London sells the first bananas ever sold in the city. The people had to be shown how to peel them, and when they were ripe or rotten. Imagine a new kind of fruit: what would it look like? What would it taste like? Would it have a peel, or seeds, or some other inedible part? Describe your fruit in detail?
In 1944, German-born actress Marlene Dietrich, who had become an American citizen in 1939, began giving shows to American troops and campaigning to sell US war bonds during World War II. She won the Medal of Freedom for her work against Hitler and the Nazis. How can young people today work against prejudice and hatred?
In 1913, Ettore Bugatti begins building the huge, expensive, handmade cars that bear his name. His cars are considered some of the most beautiful ever made, but were so expensive very few were sold. People often buy very expensive objects, even though other, less expensive versions, can do the job just as well. Why do you think they do that? (Teachers: the Bugatti brand has been revived, and a new model is now available for $1,200,000. Only 600 will be made. They are being made by the same company that makes the Volkswagen--an excellent example of the situation this prompt addresses.)
Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, was born in 1950. What is your favorite computer program? Why do you like it?
In 1961, Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the earth in a spacecraft. Gagarin, a test pilot who refused to give up flying despite his fame, was killed testing a new plane in 1968. List 5 qualities you think a good astronaut would need to have. Which of them is the most important?
In 1979, Kevin MacKenzie sent the first emoticon or smiley, over the Internet. Smileys use punctuation marks and keyboard symbols to show the writer's feelings. Make up a list of all the kinds of smileys you know. :-) "I'm happy," or :-( "I'm sad." or :-| "I'm neutral" are examples. Tell what they mean.
In 1776, the North Carolina assembly, meeting at Halifax, instructed its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence from Great Britain. N.C. was the first colony to do this, and it was very dangerous, since the delegates at Halifax had no way of knowing that any other colony would go along with them. Imagine that you were a delegate at the Halifax assembly and were voting on this resolution, which might result in your being hanged by the British as a traitor. How do you think you would feel? What reasons might you have for voting for the resolution?
The first police force was started in 1658 in New York, then known as New Amsterdam. What would you like to know about the job of a policeman? Make a list of questions.
In past times, bowing was a way to show respect to others. What are some of the ways we show respect for others today?
Tiger Woods won his first major golf tournament in 1997. Thereafter, he went on to win all of golf's four major tournaments, the first person to do so in modern times. If you could interview Tiger Woods, what are three questions you would ask him?
Harold Stassen was born in 1907. He was governor of Minnesota, and ran for the Republican nomination for President 9 times. He was never nominated. Why do you think he would do it, when it was clear that he could not win?
American writer Eudora Welty was born in 1909. She lived almost all of her life in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was born and died. She once said, "A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within." What do you think she meant by that? Do you agree?
In 1932, the Graf Zeppelin, a huge balloon, became the first airship to fly completely around the world. Imagine you were living back then and were traveling on the airship. Describe some of the things you might see that you might not see today.
Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was born in 1977. If you could act in a movie or TV show, which one would you choose? Why that one?
In 1828, Noah Webster published the first edition of his dictionary of the American language. Every year or so, dictionary makers (lexicographers) must decide which slang words have lasted long enough to be put into dictionaries. What are some slang words or expressions you think might make it into the dictionary?
The Chinese Moon Festival is held during the first full moon in April, and the Chinese eat moon cookies as part of the celebration. Another custom is to write poems about the moon, or things you see in the moonlight. Write a poem about the moon for yourself
The Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in 1912, the worst ocean liner sinking up to that time. Modern ocean liners are much safer, and carry plenty of lifeboats. Many people enjoy cruises on ocean liners. If you could take a cruise, where would you like to go?
In 1912, Mrs. Margaret Brown, wife of a wealthy gold miner, found herself on a lifeboat with 50 other people after the Titanic sank. When the people on the boat began to panic and almost caused it to turn over, she took a pistol out of her handbag, took over the boat, put everyone to work rowing to stay warm in the freezing cold, wrapped her fur coat around some young children, led songs and prayers, told funny stories, and kept everyone calm until rescue came. She was later given a gold medal for her heroism, and was nicknamed the Unsinkable Molly Brown. If you were in a dangerous and difficult situation, who do you know that you think would be a good leader to follow? Why that person?
In 1966, the ancient Egyptian temple at Abu Simbel was taken apart and moved to a new location to save it from being flooded by a dam. Many historic structures have been moved from their original location. Some people think this is a good thing, others disagree. What reasons to move an historical building do you think are good enough? List them.
In 1503, Columbus gave up trying to find China while on his fourth voyage to the New World, although he remained convinced that the land he had found was part of Asia. He made a mistake in thinking he had found a quick route to Asia, but something good came from it. Have you, or someone you know, ever made a mistake that turned out to be a good thing? Tell what mistake you made, and how it turned out to be good.
J.P. Morgan was born in 1837. He was a banker and investor, and for many years the richest man in the world. He gave lots of money to various museums, especially those in New York City, including museums of art, of science, and of history. What kind of museum do you like to visit? What exhibits do you most enjoy?
April is National Poetry Month. What is your favorite poem? Tell why you like it.
Virginia Dare was born on Roanoke Island, NC, in 1587. She disappeared with the rest of the Lost Colony. What do you think happened to her? Write a story about her later life.
In 1858, it began raining in Chicago, IL. It continued to rain for 60 consecutive days. Several people reportedly went crazy from fear that the entire world would be flooded. If you had to stay in the house for 60 days because of bad weather, what are 5 problems you might have?
Ole Evinrude, the inventor of the outboard motor for boats, was born in 2007. If you could travel on any kind of boat, what kind would you like to travel on? Where would you like to go, or what would you like to do?
The Alfred P. Murrah federal building was destroyed by a homemade bomb in 1994. It was set off by Timothy McVeigh, an American citizen. This was the worst terrorist act on American soil until Sept. 11, 2001. What can students and other citizens do to help prevent terrorism? How many ways can you think of?
Today is the annual running of the Boston Marathon, the world's most famous 26-mile race. If you were going to run in an important and famous race, how would you train?
Today is National Aviation Day. Orville Wright was born in Ohio in 1871. Imagine that airplanes had never been invented. What are four ways our lives would be different?
The National Park Service was begun in 1916. Which national parks would you like to visit? Make a list of them, and then list the things you would like to see on your visit.
In 1841, Edgar Allan Poe published his short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," which is considered the first detective story in history. Who is your favorite author? Tell which stories by that author you like, and why you like them.
In 1988, 57-year-old Helen Thayer became the first woman to reach the North Pole on a solo expedition. Her only companion was her husky Charlie, who warned her of polar bears. If you had to choose an animal for a long and difficult task, what animal would you choose, and why?
In 1926, a practical method of adding sound to movies was invented. Before that, all films were silent, and cards were displayed on the screen to show what people said. Think of the very old movies you may have seen, such as the Little Rascals or very old cartoons. What differences did you notice between them and more modern movies?
The first giant panda born in captivity at the San Diego Zoo in 1999. Pandas only eat one thing: bamboo. If you could only eat one kind of food, what would you choose? Why do you like that food best?
In 1994, astronomer Alexander Wolszczan announced that he had detected three planets orbiting a star in the constellation Virgo. They were the first planets outside the solar system to be discovered. If you were asked to write a short message to be sent to a planet around another star, what would you say?
Today is the city of Rome's 2757th birthday. Prepare a birthday card for this ancient, historical, and beautiful city.
April 22: In 1902,
Theodore Roosevelt became the first President to drive a car. Most Presidents do not drive themselves today for safety reasons. What are some other restrictions Presidents may endure for safety?
Henry L. Stimson, American leader during World War II, once said, "The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him." What do you think he meant by that?
In 1500, Pedro Alverez de Cabral claimed Brazil for Portugal. Imagine that you aretaking a voyage on the Amazon River in Brazil. What are some of the things you might do or see?
Today is the beginning of week-long fairs in many English towns. Most American communities have their fairs in the fall, but the English tradition is to have them in the spring. Which season is better for a fair? Defend your answer.
Happy birthday, William Shakespeare! He was born in 1564. Considered the greatest English writer of all times, his plays have been translated into more than 100 languages and are performed all over the world. Shakespeare is known for both his interesting plots and his fascinating characters. When you see a play, TV show, or movie, which is most interesting to you: the plot (action of the story) or the people in it? What are some stories or characters that really interest you?
Today in 1564 was William Shakespeare's birthday. (He was actually baptized on the 26th, which is what people celebrated in his time.) He wrote Romeo and Juliet and many other plays. It is remarkable that people still enjoy his plays, although the English language has changed a great deal since his time. What programs on TV today do you think will still be enjoyed many years from now? Why those programs?
Actress Shirley MacLaine was born in 1934. She said, "Dwelling on the negative simply contributes to its power." What do you think she meant by that?
In 1800, President John Adams approved legislation to establish the Library of Congress, which is now the largest library in the world, and has books on every subject. Most libraries cannot afford to get books on every subject. The librarians must try to figure out which books will be most useful or popular for the library users. What are two kinds of non-fiction books you like? What are two kinds of fictions books you like? Beside your choices, tell about some book of that kind you have particularly enjoyed.
Summer is a time for outdoor activities. List 5 things you like to do best outdoors in the summer.
Today is National Arbor Day, which is set aside to plant trees. Why do you think that the United States (and several other countries) have set aside special days to plant trees? Why are trees important?
Heavyweight world champion boxer Rocky Marciano retired undefeated in 1956, the only world boxing champion to ever do so. Boxing is one of the oldest of the martial arts. Do you like watching or participating in one of the martial arts? Tell why you feel as you do.
The world’s largest explosion, the eruption of the volcano Krakatoa, was heard over 100 miles away. Volcanoes are often beautiful and interesting, but dangerous. What beautiful but dangerous things (like volcanoes) can you think of? List them, and tell why they are dangerous.
In 1777, 16-year-old American Patriot Sybil Ludington rode through the night warning her neighbors of a planned British attack on Danbury, CT, during the American Revolution. She never became as famous as Paul Revere, at least in part because it is so hard to find words that rhyme with Ludington. If you were asked to design a memorial to her, what would you plan? Describe or draw your memorial design.
The first broadcast weather report was made by radio station WEW in St. Louis, MO, in 1921. Before that, daily or weekly weather reports printed in newspapers were the only ones available. How important is accurate news about the weather for you? What are some ways your activities or plans are affected by weather?
The first radio commercials were played in 1922. Commercials are often annoying, but some of them can be funny or interesting. Which commercial do you like? Describe it and tell why you like it?
In 1995, the Global Positioning System (GPS) started working when the last of the satellites that make it possible was launched. What are some ways the GPS system has helped to make our world safer?
Today is the feast of St. Zita, the patron saint of cleaners, housekeepers, and custodians. Write a thank-you note to your classroom's custodian or housekeeper. Deliver it to him or her.
The first computer with a mouse and point-and-click interface was put on the market in 1981 by Xerox. Some people like mice with one button, and some prefer the kind with two buttons. Which kind do you prefer? Why do you like that kind?
Count Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828. He wrote War and Peace, an exciting novel about the invasion of Russia by Napoleon. What modern day events do you think would make an exciting novel?
Explorer and naturalist Thor Heyerdahl set out to sail from South America across the Pacific to Polynesia, to show that ancient people could have traded that way. He traveled in a raft made of balsa wood, which he named Kon Tiki. 101 days later, he landed on a Polynesian island. Sailing on a raft can be fun. Where would you like to sail on a raft? Why there?
Today is the first day of the ancient Roman six-day festival of the flowers. What is your favorite flower? Write a poem or a paragraph, or make a poster, about your favorite flower.
The month of Toth in the ancient Egyptian calendar begins. The ancient Egyptians named their months for gods who had the bodies of men and women and the heads of animals. If you had to rename the months of the year, what would you call them?
In 1928, histologist Florence Rena Sabin became the first woman to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. A histologist studies cells and how they work together to form tissues. Which branch of science do you find the most interesting? List 3 interesting facts from that branch of science.
Being dependable is an important quality. List reasons that dependability is important.
The first clipper ship, the fastest and most beautiful of all sailing ships, was launched in 1853. Some people like to sail, others to fly, to travel by railroad, or to go by car. What is your favorite way to travel? Why do you like that way?
In 1897, British scientist Joseph Thompson announces his lab has discovered the electron, one of the particles making up an atom. At that time, everyone thought that atoms were the smallest possible particles and could not be divided into smaller parts, so no one believed him until other scientists duplicated his results. How would you feel if you had discovered something important, but no one would believe you? What would you do to try to convince them?
James Wayne has taught third grade and every grade from fifth to twelfth during a full-time career of 34 years, either in regular classrooms or in AG or AP classes. He began his writing prompts as a way to help teachers improve writing scores in his district. A native of North Carolina, James is a graduate of Duke University and a Vietnam Veteran, having served with the 101st Airborne Division. He continues to work part time for Onslow County Schools as a coordinator of the Academic Derby, a televised scholastic competition serving elementary, middle, and high schools. James resides in Jacksonville, North Carolina.