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Self Explanatory Essay Prompts

When you want your students to practice explanatory writing, present them with one or more of the following prompts, grouped by difficulty. You can also introduce students to the PAST strategy to help them understand what each explanatory prompt is asking them to do.

Beginning Explanatory Prompts (Grades 4–5)

The following explanatory prompts are meant for students who are moving from paragraph writing to essay writing. 

1. Defining Friendship

Everyone needs friends. What qualities make someone a good friend? How can you be a friend for someone who needs one? Write an essay that explains ways to be a good friend.

2. A Job for Me

People do all kinds of jobs. Some people build. Others serve. Some teach. Others sell. Some people work on ships at sea, and others in skyscrapers in cities. What kind of job would you like to do? As a future worker, write an essay that names a job you would like, describes the work, and tells why you would like it.

3. An Admirable Person

We all have people we admire. They might be family members or friends. They might be singers, dancers, or actors. They might even be fictional characters. Whom do you admire most? Write an essay that names a person you admire and describes the qualities that make you like the person.

4. Sweet or Spicy?

Most people have a favorite food. What is yours? Is the food a common one that most other kids would know about, or a really special type? Is it sweet or spicy? In an essay, name your favorite food and describe to your classmates how it looks, smells, and tastes. Tell why you like it so much.

5. My Ideal Home

Most people can imagine a dream home. What would yours be? Big or small? In the country or in the city? How many floors? Would it be underground or up in a tree? As a young person, write an essay describing your dream home to a parent or guardian.

Intermediate Explanatory Prompts (Grades 6–8)

The following explanatory prompts are meant for students who do regular multi-paragraph writing. 

6. Connectivity Culture

Smartphones, tablet PCs, social media, and constant connectivity are changing the ways that people live, think, work, and connect. How do these technologies shape your life? Are you plugged in or tuned out? Why? Write an essay that explains to your fellow students the ways that you connect digitally and predicts how people will connect in the future.

7. Pets vs. People

Pets are not people. After all, dogs don’t go to school and cats don’t hold down jobs. But pet owners often consider their dogs and cats to be members of their families. In what ways are pets like people and in what ways are they not? Write a comparison-contrast essay explaining the similarities and differences between pets and people.

8. Defining Responsibility

A parent is responsible for taking care of children. A criminal is responsible for committing a crime. And teens are encouraged to make responsible choices. Just what does it mean to be “responsible”? Does it mean something different for young people than for adults? As a young person who is taking on more and more responsibilities, write an essay that defines what responsibility means to you, and explain the idea to those older than you.

9. Unique Celebrations

The Chinese celebrate New Year with a dragon dance. How do you celebrate New Year? What other special days do you observe? In an essay, explain a celebration or ritual that you know about. Tell what is usually done and why. Explain it to a reader who is new to the event.

10. Here's How It's Done

What are you really good at? Perhaps you can sink a free throw every time. Maybe you can identify birds by their songs, or make a very delicious homemade pizza. Think of a particular skill you have and could teach others. Then write an essay describing the process you use to accomplish this special feat. Provide enough detail so your reader can learn how to do the same thing.

Advanced Explanatory Prompts (Grades 9–12)

The following prompts are meant for high-school level writers. Students may need to research the topics in order to respond with sufficient depth and complexity. 

11. Addressing Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying involves using technology to harm, intimidate, and embarrass others. One form of cyberbullying called “trolling” occurs when anonymous Internet users intentionally post inflammatory content in an attempt to provoke and upset other users. While much effort has been made to counteract bullying in schools, the online and anonymous nature of cyberbullying makes it difficult to regulate. Write an essay that explains to your fellow students ways to counteract cyberbullying.

12. Moral Dilemmas

Consider a moral dilemma that a character in a novel or other piece of literature must face. It could be an issue you yourself have faced or one that is new to you. Explain what you would do if you were caught in the same situation. Then explain why you would handle it that way.

13. Talking About My Generation

Today’s youth are sometimes perceived as tech savvy, optimistic, and accepting. Other times, they are perceived as spoiled, coddled, and lazy, more interested in checking Instagram than in bearing down and working hard. In an essay, define the general characteristics of your generation. Provide evidence and reasons to support your definition.

14. Fashionable Expressions

Author Sarah MacLean believes “The most confident of women are those who believe in every scrap of fabric they wear.” Indeed, clothing is a form of self-expression for many people. Evaluate the clothing choices that you or someone else (famous or not) makes and explain what these fashion choices express about the person.

15. Comparing Future Career Paths

What do you want to do after you graduate from high school? Attend college? Hone your skills at a trade school? Or go straight into the professional world? Choose two options (college, trade school, job) and write an essay in which you analyze similarities and differences between the two options.

The number of academic writing genres is so expanding, that students always confuse the features of each of the styles. In college, teachers practice to assign them different types of an essay to train their writing skills. But they continue to confuse such elementary things as "narrative" and "expository" essay. However, the difference between these essay types is visible and clear. To uncover it, we want to you to take look at definitions of key words that reveal the purpose of these two variants of writing assignments.

What is the difference between words "tell" and "explain"?

"Tell" means to provide some information about certain subject or issue. "Explain" is to express the information on the topic in order to make it more understandable to the reader. So, in a narrative essay the writer tells a story, while in the expository essay the writer explains or describes the issue, provides guidelines to some process. 

What to write in your expository essay?

The aim of the argumentative essay is to expand the information on the topic in a logical manner. The essay writer must support his ideas with relevant evidence. With its content and structure, an expository essay must resemble manuals, descriptions, and instructions. All these types of writing provide sufficient information on the topic in easy to understand the logical order.  To be more precise, before you select argumentative essay topic, it is important to decide what essay variation you would like write. There are such types of it:

- Expository definition essay. Take a concept of the phenomenon and discuss the denotation and connotation of it.

- Expository process essay. Write the guidelines about the mechanics of making some particular process. Your goal is to instruct the reader.

- Expository classification essay. Here the aim of the write is to categorize the broad concept into smaller groups according to their function.

- Expository compare and contrast essay. The aim of any expository writing is to reveal the features of notions indicated in the topic. One of the most useful ways to detect these features is to compare and contrast them.

- Expository cause and effect essay. In this case, two objects must be indicated in the topic and the writer must explain how one object affects the other.

What is the key feature of expository essay topics?

As the main aim of the expository essay is to explain a topic in a logical manner, the topics must contain signal words that illustrate this action. Good expository essay topics usually start with words "Describe", "Explain", "Define". They show the writer the aim of the text he is going to write. The direction of this writing and idea creation is determined by the signal word stated in the topic. It is important to keep to the denotation of this word. For example, if it is written “to define” in the expository essay topic, you must provide a substantial definition of the object, but not reflects the effects of it on another object.

When should I make up a topic for an expository essay?

Students usually come up with expository essay topic on the prewriting phase of essay writing. Sometimes teachers offer the topic, but most often students use their own creative skills to define about what they will write. So, a topic of the essay determines the further actions of the writer. You cannot start writing an essay without a sharp clue about what to write. When you have a well-formulated topic, it is a half success of your final writing. During the selection of the topic take into account such criteria:

- the topic must be interesting for you to write and interesting for the audience to read;

- the topic must force the writer to conduct a research to present a content of correspondent quality;

- the topic must correspond to your academic level. Topics for high school students differ in the complexity with topics for college students. Mind it

- expository essay topic must be relevant to the subject on what you were assigned to write. For example, if your subject is “law studies” it is an unsuccessful idea to write about reasons of children obesity in high school.

- you must be able to find and show worthy evidence and examples on the topic. Without it, your topic cannot be fully covered and the writing will be poor.

Expository essay writing prompts: 50 best ideas

Teachers of many subjects can assign expository essay writing. That is why even if you know some prompts and a basic concept of this kind of writing it is still difficult to make up a worthy topic for the essay on a particular subject. So, we divided the most efficient topic ideas into groups according to the most popular subjects. Select the one you liek to write a perfect expository essay!

1. Personal experiences

Describing situations from your personal experience is the easiest way to make up a topic for your expository essay. It is a chance for a student to express his feeling about the certain issue or give an explanation of some phenomenon based on his experiences. This expository essay theme is a good source for your academic writing ideas because you can get much evidence with fewer efforts.

  • Describe your first day at school.
  • Explain how growing up with (or without) a sibling influenced on your personality.
  • Describe what is it like to live with a pet.
  • Explain how studying apart from parents raised your courage.
  • Define the meaning of true friendship to you.
  • Describe the hobby you enjoy doing and how someone could go about learning this hobby.
  • Describe your favorite vacation place. Give reasons as to why you enjoy spending time there.
  • Describe your first work experience and what skills and knowledge you gained during it.
  • Explain how your favorite teacher affected your professional development. 
  • Explain how music influences your life.

2. Literature

The most frequent task at literature lessons is to create an essay on the topic concerning the literary work students currently study. Usually, all students differ in the aspects they pay attention during reading and analyzing of the book or a poem. Someone pays attention to characters, other treat seriously the general idea of the creation. To write an expository essay concerning topic from literature you must define what aspects you are interested in analyzing books the most.

  • Define what writing style features are innate to the author of your favorite book.
  • Compare the motives of protagonist and antagonist from the novel.
  • Define the historical background of the main idea of the novel.
  • Explain how modernism movement had been developing.
  • Define the key signs of detective genre in the story.
  • Explain the significance of the literary work for future generations.
  • Describe the way how the author expressed social issues in the book.
  • Define the significance of the author for the cultural heritage of a certain nation.
  • Define who influenced the writing style of the author.
  • Describe psychological subtext of the novel.

3. History

History is a subject that is compulsory for students of at nearly every major. Because the awareness of basic historical events is a must for educated person. To make an expository essay topic on this subject bear in mind that history studies the development of countries, its significant inventions, and outstanding personalities.

  • Explain the consequences of the World War II for the United States.
  • Explain the significance of technical progress in the history of the United States
  • Explain the effect of newspaper invention.
  • Describe the period of Great Depression in the United States.
  • Describe the key aspects of John's Kennedy political activity.
  • Define who is responsible for mass terrors in XXth century.
  • Define current dangers of military activity in the Eastern Asia.
  • Define the precursors of Civil War in The United States.
  • Explain the significance of negotiations during military operations.
  • Explain why some countries tend to implement Communism.

4. Social issues

Social topics is a win-win if you want to present the audience impressive and actual material. You only have to dig into current social problems of your local community and get the basis for topics from there. The source of social problems is hard to exhaust because new problems intensively appear in the society.

  • Describe the reasons for rising teenage pregnancy rate.
  • Explain social precursors of drug addiction.
  • Describe three things you would like to change in your society and explain why you would change them.
  • Define possible consequences of brothers and sisters constantly fighting
  • Define current harmful hobbies for teenagers.
  • Explain the social significance of wearing a uniform at school.
  • Explain the possible consequences of dropping out of college.
  • Describe the changes in communication in the last 20 years since the internet emerged.
  • Explain why the tolerance in a workplace is crucial.
  • Define the causes and effects of not voting in the elections.

5. Science and Technology

The advancement of technology is rapidly growing nowadays. Every day you can learn some new facts about science developments. So, if you want to have nontrivial expository essay topic that requires thorough research, choose something that refers to a technological area of study. Even if you are a Liberal Arts student, there are plenty interesting issues to dwell upon in terms of this theme.

  • Explain why people should continue space exploration?
  • Define the latest developments in human brain study.
  • Explain how to cure of cold fast and on a low budget.
  • Describe the significance of studies about black holes.
  • Explain the current reasons of environment pollution.
  • Define the most popular alternative sources of energy.
  • Define the latest developments in searches for cure of cancer.
  • Explain how basic knowledge of IT is essential nowadays.
  • Explain the reasons people must use solar energy.
  • Describe the long-term effects of global warming.

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