A Month of Writing PromptsBy James Wayne
The character trait for August is HOPE.
Determination to work for the best
Refusal to give in to despair
Willingness to look for the best in people and situations
Joseph Priestley of England discovered oxygen in 1774. Chemistry was Priestley’s hobby; he made his living as a minister. He is only one of many people who have become more famous for his hobby than for his work. What is your favorite hobby? What are some things about it that you enjoy?
People living in three small communities in a remote area of the Alps banded together in 1291 to protect themselves from outside invaders who claimed their territory. This tiny group eventually grew into the nation of Switzerland. Have you ever heard of something small that grew into something important? List 4 things that seem small or unimportant but can have a major impact on your life.
In 1715, theater owner Thomas Doggett sponsored a boat race on the River Thames in London to celebrate the crowning of King George I. It has been held every year since, and may be the longest-running annual sporting event in the world. If you were going to start an annual contest or sporting event, what kind of event would you like to start? What are four rules you would make for your event?
The world’s first subway opened in London in 1870. Many people like riding the subway in a city, because it helps them avoid traffic. Others hate riding underground. What is your favorite form of mass transit: bus, plane, train, ferry boat, or subway?
Frederic Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty, was born in 1834. The statue was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States as a 100th birthday present. If the American people wanted to give a present to the people of another nation, what do you think we should give them? Make a list of five gifts and why they would be appreciated.
The city of Los Angeles was named on this day in 1769. If you started a city, what would you name it? Why that name?
Actress Myrna Loy was born in 1905. At one time, she was one of the most famous of Hollywood’s stars. She once said, “Life is not a having and a getting, but a being and a becoming.” What do you think she meant by that?
The first Mickey Mouse watch was sold in 1933 for $2.75. Today Mickey Mouse watches that old are worth hundreds of dollars. What cheap or common items we are familiar with today may become valuable and rare in 50 years or so? List 5, and tell why you think those things will be valuable.
Mystery writer P.D. James was born in 1920. She once said, “The greatest mystery of all is the human heart.” What do you think she meant by that?
The first ship passed through the Panama Canal in 1914. It had not been finished at the time, so regular ships didn’t start using it until much later. Have you ever visited something that had not been finished, such as a house or store display? Describe how it differed from the finished thing.
In 1060, Philip I became king of France, although he was only 8 years old. What are three problems a nation with a young boy as king might have?
Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in 1792. He wrote the following poem:
I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said — “two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert … near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lips, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
What do you think Shelley was trying to say about fame in this poem?
Louis Armstrong, considered the greatest jazz trumpet player of all time, was born in 1901. What instrument is your favorite to listen to? Why that one?
Ferdinand Porsche begins working on the cars that bears his name in 1947. He designed the original Volkswagen. Describe or draw a car you would like to own.
This week, the annual Magic Convention is held in Colon, Michigan. What is the most interesting magic trick you have seen or heard about?
In 1181, Chinese and Japanese astronomers recorded a supernova that appeared in the constellation Cassiopeia. It grew to be the brightest star in the sky, then slowly faded out. Modern telescopes report it is now a neutron star, about the size of the moon, rotating 15 times a second. Being an astronomer requires great patience, late hours, and very careful observations. Tell whether you think you would be a good astronomer or not, and why you think so.
Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1926. What is the longest distance you have ever swum, run, bicycled, skated, or walked? Tell about what happened during your journey.
In 1782, General George Washington created the Purple Heart, an award to be given for bravery. It is now given to any American military person who is wounded in battle, and is the oldest medal still being awarded. Propose a medal for something that you think deserves being recognized. What would your medal be for? Who would be eligible to win it?
In 1899, A.T. Marshall patented the refrigerator. Name 4 ways your life would be different if you had no refrigerator.
Today is the annual Star Festival in Korea. Some people like to study the science of astronomy, others enjoy reading about the mythology of the stars and constellations. Which would you prefer to study? What are some things you would like to learn?
In 1576, Tycho Brahe began building the first European astronomical observatory on an island in Denmark. His observations were later used to determine the laws that govern the motion of planets, and helped Sir Isaac Newton formulate the laws of gravity. If you could go to an observatory and look at objects outside of the earth’s atmosphere, which things would you like to look at first? Make a list of six heavenly objects you would like to observe.
Isaak Walton, the first man to write a book about fishing with a rod and reel, was born in 1593. Write a paragraph explaining how you feel about fishing.
Work began in 1936 on the first full-length animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Walt Disney Studios. One of the most popular songs from that film is “Whistle While You Work,” which suggests whistling as a way to make a hard job seem easier. What are four other things you could do that might make a hard job easier or more fun?
The Sistine Chapel was first used in 1483. It is decorated by wonderful murals on the ceiling by Michelangelo. He had to work on them for years, painting over his head. Describe the most beautiful room you have ever seen.
Engineer Thomas Telford was born in 1757 in Scotland. He pioneered many modern construction techniques, including the use of metal for building bridges. He built the first successful suspension bridge, the Menai Bridge in Wales, which is still in use. If you could be in charge of building something, what would you like to build? Describe it so that others can imagine what it would look like.
Happy birthday, Smithsonian Institution! The law creating it was passed on 1846, inspired by a gift to the United States by James Smithson, an English scientist. It is the world’s largest museum complex, holding everything from art to spacecraft. What famous museum exhibit would you like to see? It does not have to be in the Smithsonian.
Herbert Hoover, America’s 31st President, was born in 1874. He once said, “Words without actions are the assassins of idealism.” What do you think he meant by that?
Every year during this week, people gather for a group swim across the Danube in Ruse, Bulgaria. The river there is over a mile wide and has a strong current. Why do you think it is more fun to do things like this in a group than alone? Explain your answer in a paragraph.
August is National Water Quality Month. What are four important reasons people need clean water?
In 1688, the people of New Rochelle, NY, agreed to pay a fat calf every year to the members of the Pell family as rent for the land the city was built on. The agreement was forgotten, and the first calf was actually paid 265 years later, in 1953. How do you think the members of the Pell family reacted when they were told they were getting a fat calf in payment of a debt more than 200 years old? Pretend you are a member of the Pell family, and write a letter to the citizens of New Rochelle, NY, about how you feel.
The inventor of the sport of gymnastics, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn was born in 1778. Gymnastics is considered a “minor” sport, since it is not as popular as basketball or football. There are many minor sports. Which minor sport do you play, like to watch, or think interesting? Tell why you chose that sport.
The first patent for an accordion was issued in 1856. Accordions are used in many kinds of music, especially dance music. What kind of music do you like to dance to? What are some of you favorite dance tunes? (If you don’t dance, what kind do you like to listen to?)
Cecil B. DeMille, the famous movie director, was born in 1881. A director plans and supervises the making of a movie. What story would you like to see made into a movie? Why that one?
Lucy Stone was born in 1818. She was the first woman in the United States who decided to keep her own name after she was married (to Henry Blackwell). Do you think married people should have the same name? Give reasons for your answer in a paragraph.
Johann Christoph Denner, the inventor of the clarinet, was born in 1655. Which wind instrument (either woodwind or brass) is your favorite? What are three reasons you like that instrument?
In 1834, 19-year-old Richard Henry Dana, the son of a prominent Boston family, grows tired of his ordinary life takes a job as a seaman on a sailing ship. He later told about his experience in Two Years Before the Mast, which revealed the harsh and dangerous life of ordinary sailors. If you volunteered for something that required you to be away from your family for at least two years, what would you do to say goodbye and reassure your family?
John Ringling North, who combined his family’s circus with several others to form the Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Bailey Circus, was born in 1903. Because of special effects, television and movies can now show people doing things that are much more amazing than those things circus performers do, but many people still prefer to see the real performances rather than special effects. How do you feel about this: do you prefer real life performances, or ones involving special effects that no real person could ever do? Why do you prefer the kind you like?
When it was first invented, the telephone created new problems in language. The inventor suggested that telephone users greet each other with “Ahoy!” like sailors. Thomas Edison suggested, “Hello,” which before had been used only by fox hunters to mean, “I have seen the fox!” The Japanese have a special greeting that is used only on the telephone: “Mushi, mushi,” which means “I am here!” Suppose a new method of communication came along, like Instant Messaging, but without the computer. Invent a new word to use as a special greeting for this new way of communicating. Defend your idea by telling why it is a good one.
In 1890, Henry Ford resigned from the electric company to work full-time on his ideas for a new kind of car. He once said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” What do you think he meant by that?
Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769. He is considered one of the first great modern generals. He himself did not fight, but would try to find a high hill overlooking the battle where he could send orders in writing to the fighters. When pictures of him were made after the battles, he would tuck his hand inside his jacket to hide his inky fingers, since he thought they made him look like a sissy. People often try to hide things they think are unflattering. What are some things you have seen people try to hide from others about themselves?
August is Admit You’re Happy Month. Why do you think people have to admit that they are happy, rather than just announce it?
Edwin Prescott patented the first roller coaster in 1898. What kind of amusement ride do you like best? Why do you like it?
Today several towns in Argentina celebrate the Festival of the Snow (Fiesta de la Nieve). Seasons are reversed south of the Equator, so South America, Southern Africa, and Australia experience winter during June, July, and August. Suppose you woke up tomorrow morning and found that the seasons were reversed, and what is now summer was suddenly winter? How would you feel? What would you do?
Singer and actress Madonna was born in 1958. She once said, “Poor is the man whose pleasure depends on the permission of another.” What do you think she meant by that?
Today is Go Fly a Kite Day. Draw or describe a kite you would like to fly.
Davy Crockett, American frontiersman and explorer, was born in 1786. He once said, “I was never lost, but I was bewildered for three days once.” Have you ever been lost? How did you feel? What did you do to help yourself be found?
In 1807, the Clermont, the first successful commercial steamship began sailing on a regular schedule between New York City and Albany, NY. Before then, trips by boat could not be scheduled exactly, because they depended on wind, rowers, or currents. How would your life be different if you could not schedule trips regularly? Think of at least three ways.
In 1563, King Charles IX of France is declared an adult and allowed to rule on his own, although he is only 13 years old. Presently, in most nations, young people are considered adults at age 18, but it varies from 16 to 25. At what age do you think a person is a complete adult, able to live on his or her own without supervision or restriction? Give three reasons for your choice.
In 1902, Harry O’Hagen made the first unassisted triple play in the history of baseball. What is the most exciting sports play you have seen either in person or on television?
Genghis Khan, founding ruler of the Mongol Empire, died in 1227. He conquered China, Russia, India, Persia, and Iraq, but his huge empire fell apart after his death. If you could visit one of the parts of his ancient empire listed above, which one would you like to visit? Why that part?
Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America, was born in 1587. She disappeared along with the rest of the settlers in the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island. Describe what you think may have happened to the colonists.
Today is National Aviation Day. Make a poster. slogan, or advertisement for a new airplane.
In 1839, Louis Daguerre invented the first method for taking photographs. Each picture took several minutes to take, so people had to wear clamps to hold their heads still, and did not smile, so their faces would not be blurry. Before that, people paid artists to do drawings of themselves and their families. How would you like to make your living as a artist? What kind of art would you like to do?
H.P. Lovecraft, American author of weird and scary stories, was born in 1890. Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, R.L. Stein, and many other authors have become popular because of their scary stories. If you like scary stories, tell which scary author you like. If you don’t like them, tell what kind you like instead. Explain your answer.
Today is Miners Appreciation Day. Miners provide the raw materials for many things we use every day. Write a poem or paragraph about the work of miners.
Wilt Chamberlain, Hall of Fame basketball player, was born in 1936. He was seven feet, one inch, tall, and the second highest scorer in the history of the NBA. He once said, “Nobody roots for Goliath.” Why do you think he said that? What point was he trying to make?
In 1912, Arthur R. Eldred from Oceanside, NY, becomes the first American Boy Scout to reach the rank of Eagle, the highest rank in scouting. The motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be prepared.” What kind of emergencies have you had in your community? What can you do to be prepared for them?
In 1969, the world’s tallest totem pole was dedicated in Kake, Alaska. A totem pole consists of symbolic animals that tell about the people who live in a certain place. Some animals are already considered symbols; for instance, the owl is considered the symbol of wisdom. Select three animals that are not already symbols and think of something they could symbolize. Explain why that animal is a good symbol for that thing.
King George I sailed up the Thames River in 1715 to visit Oxford University. To entertain the king while he was sailing, George Friedrich Handel composed a musical suite called the “Water Music” that is still popular today with people who like classical music. What do you like to listen to while you are traveling? Name some of your favorite artists or songs.
One of the most famous vocal groups in the world, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, was formed in 1947. When you listen to singing, do you prefer to listen to a single singer, or a vocal group? Tell which singer or group you like, and what songs they sing that you think are especially good.
In 1902, the first cooking school in the United States opened in Boston. What are 5 things you would like to learn how to cook?
In the year 410, the city of Rome was captured by the Visigoths, a German-speaking tribe, and looted. This date marks the end of the Classical Ages and the beginning of the Middle Ages. Think about how people lived in ancient times: for instance, one reason their clothes were so different was they had not discovered the button. If you had to live in the same way those people lived, what five changes do you think would be the hardest for you to get used to? Why those changes?
Booker T. Washington, African-American educator and organizer, once said, “Character is power.” What do you think he meant by that?
In ancient Rome, people sacrificed animals to Vulcan, the God of Fire and of volcanoes. Vulcanologists are scientists who study volcanoes, seeking to learn to predict their eruptions. It is interesting, but can be very dangerous. List 5 qualities a person must have to be a good vulcanologist. Tell why you chose those qualities.
British painter George Stubbs was born in 1724. His most famous paintings are pictures of horses, or people and horses. Other painters have specialized in animals: Audubon painted birds, others painted fish, cats, or birds. If you were going to paint animals, what kind of animals would you like to paint? Why those animals?
Today is National Waffle Day. The waffle iron was patented by Cornelius Swartout in 1869. Dream up the most delicious waffle dish you can think of. Describe how it is made and what you think it tastes like.
The printing of the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed by modern methods, was completed in 1456. This date is considered to be the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Modern Ages. Suppose all books still had to be copied by hand, and every student was supposed to copy one book before he or she could graduate from school. What book would you copy? Why that one?
Today is the day Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the city of Pompeii in 79 AD. Much of what we know about ancient Roman life comes from digging up the ruins buried by the eruption. If you could go back to ancient Rome, what would you want to see or do?
The National Park Service was created in 1916. If you could be a park ranger in any park, which would you choose? Why that one?
The city of New Orleans, LA, was founded in 1580. The city has had an eventful history, featuring both good (the invention of jazz) and bad (Hurricane Katrina’s destructive flood). Everyone has a history that contains both good and bad. Briefly write about a favorite good time or a funny bad time you experienced or know about.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Genesius, patron saint of actors. Who is your favorite actor? What was his or her best role?
The first public school kindergarten was approved in 1873 in St. Louis, MO. What was your favorite activity in kindergarten?
Lee DeForest, the inventor of the television tube, was born in 1873. What are four ways your life would change if he had never completed his invention?
Confucius, the famous Chinese wise man, was born in either 550 or 551 BC. Confucius believed that education and good manners were the secrets of a successful life. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
The first jet plane first flew in 1939. It was a Heinkel HE-178, a German fighter plane, reached a speed on 375 miles per hour, and was piloted by Flight Captain Erich Warsitz. Piloting a brand new plane is a dangerous job. Think of three more dangerous jobs; tell what problems make those jobs dangerous.
In 1932, the city of Bunol, Spain, banned bullfighting and substituted a Tomato Throwing Festival. Every year, thousands of people come to Bunol and spend the day throwing tomatoes at each other. Would you like to visit this festival? How would you prepare for a day of throwing tomatoes (and being thrown at)?
German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (pronounced GER-tah) was born in 1749. He wrote, “Excellence is rarely found, more rarely valued.” What do you think he meant by this?
Sir Michael Faraday demonstrated the first practical electrical transformer in 1831, allowing electricity to be transmitted long distances by wires. Without transformers, almost every electrical device would have to be operated by batteries, and the batteries for such things as air conditioners, electric heaters, refrigerators, or hot water heaters would be huge. What are five ways your life would change if all the electrical devices in your life had to be run off batteries?
The first motorcycle was patented in 1885 by Gottlieb Daimler, the co-founder of the Mercedes car company. Motorcycles, four-wheelers, and jet-skis are popular motorized recreational vehicles. If you could have only one of those, which would you choose? Why that one?
English philosopher John Locke was born 1622. He first wrote many of the ideas used by Thomas Jefferson in writing the Declaration of Independence. He wrote, “The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts.” What do you think he meant by that?
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born in 1797. Her father and mother were famous writers, and she married the poet Percy Shelley. At age 19, she was at a party where everyone agreed to write a story for fun, with a prize for the best one. She won with a story that later was expanded into the novel Frankenstein. Nothing she wrote afterwards was as popular or as famous. How do you think it would feel to become famous for something you did for when you were very young, which you never were able to equal afterwards?
To protect its dwindling elephant herds, Kenya banned trade in ivory in 1973, a ban that was subsequently extended to the entire world. As a result, the numbers of elephants has now grown so great that they are damaging African habitat by overgrazing. What do you think the government of Kenya or other African countries should do about the excess elephants?
The first computer designed to communicate with other computers was put into operation in 1969. In a few months, other computers were set up to form the first part of what is now the Internet (then called the ARPANET). Most students today use the Internet all the time, but many older adults are still not used to it. What are three things you think could be done to help older people get used to the Internet?
The first professional football game was played in 1895. If you could play a professional sport, which one would you choose? Why that one?
The first solar-powered car was introduced in 1955 by General Motors in Chicago, IL. Solar cars have never become popular because they are not very powerful and cannot run at night for very long, but solar power is used for several other things, including pocket calculators, yard lights, and traffic signals. As solar technology becomes cheaper and more powerful, other uses for it will become common. Name three things you think might become solar powered in the next few years. Which of them will be the first to become solar powered?
In 1903, the first automobile trip all the way across the United States, from San Francisco to New York City was completed in fifty-four days. If you were planning a trip by car that would take several days, where would you like to go? Why that place?
In 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car accident in Paris. The only person in the car who survived, Diana’s bodyguard Trevor Rees Jones, was also the only one wearing a seat belt. Think of something (an ad, a slogan, or a poster) that will encourage people to wear their seat belts.