History is all around us. Most of our cities and towns were settled hundreds of years ago and our important historical buildings (city hall/town hall, courthouse, library, churches and others) were the first to be built. These prompts for writing about history will encourage students to study the past to better understand the future. Here’s a collection of expository writing prompts to get your older elementary, middle school and high school students thinking about history.
→ Writing Prompt 1: You have been invited to be one of the crew with Christopher Columbus as he sails to discover the new world. Describe what you think your life will be like for the next several months.
→ Writing Prompt 2: Think of an event that is historically significant to your life and describe the event in detail.
→ Writing Prompt 3: Describe a time period in history that you wish you could visit. Why did you chose that era?
→ Writing Prompt 4: The British Philosopher Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Explain what that quote means to you and how it is relevant to the world we live in.
→ Writing Prompt 5: Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Thomas Edison gave us electricity. Clearly, all three men are historical figures. Which man accomplished the most impressive feat? Write an essay about why you think the person you chose had the most effect on history.
→ Writing Prompt 6: If you were a freed slave in the Civil War, where would you go? Would you stay in the south where you knew people and the environment? Or would you go north, not knowing if you could tolerate the climate or if you could even find a job?
→ Writing Prompt 7: What do you know about your great-grandparents? How were their lives different than yours?
→ Writing Prompt 8: Think about an invention that changed the course of history and describe what made it so important.
→ Writing Prompt 9: Explain what it means to be patriotic.
→ Writing Prompt 10: Judges have confirmed time and again that it is within one’s Constitutional right to Free Speech to burn the American flag. Therefore you can legally do so. But do you feel it is morally acceptable? Discuss whether you agree or disagree with the court’s decision.
Writing Prompts on History Continue
→ Writing Prompt 11: Winston Churchill said, “History is written by the victors.” Explain what you think that means and if you think it is true or not.
→ Writing Prompt 12: For thousands and thousands of years, man could only travel as fast as he or his horse could go. A little over 150 years ago, in the 1860’s, the first Transcontinental Railroad linked the eastern U.S with California. What do you think it meant for the country to be able to travel as quickly and easily? What do you think it did for businesses and families?
→ Writing Prompt 13: Sybil Ludington was a 16-year old teenager who lived during the American Revolutionary War. In April, 1777, she rode through the night on horseback to warn fellow colonists asleep in their homes of approaching British forces, undoubtedly saving the lives of many men, women, and children. Why do you think her story isn’t as well known as Paul Revere’s?
→ Writing Prompt 14: The Bill of Rights constitutes the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Choose one of the rights and argue against it. Cite specific reasons why you think the amendment should be changed.
→ Writing Prompt 15: It is believed that after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who was one of the most famous Japanese naval admirals, said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” What do you think the admiral meant? Do you think he feared what the United States would do?
→ Writing Prompt 16: The Dust Bowl situation was not only caused by nature; it was created by the overuse and destruction of the land by the farmers as well. As a result, what, if anything, should the government have done to help the farmers save their farms?
→ Writing Prompt 17: Find the name of a famous person who was born in your town, city or state. Write a report about that person. If your area celebrates his or her accomplishments, write about the celebration. What does your town do to honor the person?
→ Writing Prompt 18: The 1906 San Francisco earthquake resulted in the death of about 3,000 people. Nearly 80% of San Francisco was destroyed, mostly by fires, which broke out after the quake and lasted for several days. However, government officials reported that only 300 people died because they feared if the truth were known, efforts to rebuild the city would be hurt. Do you think the government officials had a right to do that or should they have told the truth?
→ Writing Prompt 19: In March of 1933, Adolf Hitler received 43.9% of the vote to be President of Germany. Therefore, he didn’t win on his first attempt. He became president a year later when he seized control of the government after Germany’s president died. Why do you think so many people voted for him? Do you think he promised them one life and gave them another or do you think the Germans knew what he was truly like? Research the subject and write an essay giving your point of view.
→ Writing Prompt 20: The Pony Express only lasted 18 months. However, it was an important and glamorous part of American history. Although it has never been found, there is reportedly a famous advertisement which was written to get young men to want to join the Pony Express. The poster allegedly said, “Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.” Write an essay from the point of view of a boy who needs to work and reads the ad and must decide whether or not to take the job. Does he take the job or does he walk away from the offer? Explain his reasoning.
→ Writing Prompt 21: Imagine George Washington coming back to life and visiting your classroom for a day. Make up a list of questions you would like to ask him.
→ Writing Prompt 22: The industrial revolution brought about some groundbreaking inventions still in use today, such as the steam engine, the assembly line, the telegraph, etc., as well as job opportunities. It also was the cause of deplorable work environments, unsanitary living conditions and child labor. Write an essay highlighting the socioeconomic impact of this era in American life.
→ Writing Prompt 23: Adolph Hitler won Time Magazine’s person of the year for 1938. Why do you think he was given the title “Person of the Year?”
→ Writing Prompt 24: What do you think people would have posted on Youtube if it had been around in the 1930’s?
→ Writing Prompt 25: Are there any statues in your town? Who or what do they commemorate? Research the history of a statue and write an essay on it.
→ Writing Prompt 26: For the next month, you get to live in any decade from the last 100 years. What decade would you choose and why?
→ Writing Prompt 27: There’s a famous quote that reads: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. This popular phrase is warning against complacency. Write about an event or a time in U.S. or world history where this type of warning was ignored.
→ Writing Prompt 28: Pick among one of these three historical figures: Alexander the Great (356 BC – 323 BC), Joan of Arc (1412-1431), or Martin Luther King (1929-1968). Write an essay describing what you think life was like in the particular era they lived. Include the hardships and personal challenges they faced, as well as their legacies.
→ Writing Prompt 29: Throughout the 1800’s, the construction of the railroad system flourished in the U.S. in a race to connect the remote settlements in the mid-west and far-west to the more established east and southern parts of the country. Write an essay explaining the role railroads played in the development of the United States as well as their social impact.
→ Writing Prompt 30: You are a journalist who gets sent back in time to cover the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Write a news report which includes the following: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.