The writing prompt: STAAR-English I

Writing Tutorial

The writing prompt: STAAR-English I


The first stumbling block a student encounters in the written composition section of the English I STAAR test is the prompt. The prompt appears so general, but is in fact quite specific. Without a proper understanding of what is asked for, students often come up short on this section of the test.

A box containing information about what is wanted in the essay is given first in the essay section. This is followed by a short explanation of the meaning of the main idea. The prompt, what the student is to write about, is given next. Here is where the problem starts. Often the wording of the prompt differs from the explanation of the information box.

Highlight prominent ideas and use a dictionary to compare the denotative meanings of words to clarify the over-all concept.

While the information box, the explanation after, and the prompt change on every test, the basic format and what is required remains consistent.

Sample Problem

Question source

Quotation given in box:
Take risks. Ask big questions. Don’t be afraid to make
mistakes; if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not
reaching far enough.
—David Packard,
co-founder of Hewlett-Packard
1) What should you highlight in this quote?
2) How do you know this is correct?
After the quote is the explanation.
Taking a risk means acting without knowing whether the outcome will be good.
The explanation is moving away from the quote and focusing on the outcome that
David Packard achieved – a successful computer business.
3) What should you highlight in the explanation? Why?
And, at last, the prompt:
Write an essay explaining why it is sometimes necessary to take a chance.
4) What should you highlight?
5) What words should you clarify (look up the definitions for)? How do you know?


1) Highlight: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes”.
2) This is the main idea because a person learns from mistakes by asking questions and
seeking answers – the first two lines of the quote.
3) Highlight: “the outcome will be good”.
Why? The explanation is directing the student toward thinking of situations where
people did something that could have been a mistake, but instead had a positive
4) Highlight: “why it is sometimes necessary to take a chance”.
5) The words you should clarify are: risk and chance.
“Take risks” is in the initial information box and “take a chance” is in the
prompt. Both “risks” and “chance” follow the directive “take”. It is essential that
the student understand that both of these words are essentially the same in the
context of what is looked for in the essay:
How does taking a risk (chance) often lead to success (good things)?

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The sub-plan of my Master\'s degree was writing practicum. I have tutored in the writing center at Univ. of Houston – Clear Lake. My students ranged from undergrads to students seeking their PhD. I have tutored at San Jacinto college campuses. My students at these locations ranged from remedial to...
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