Students can respond to daily New York Times-inspired writing prompts for free at home


To note: High school students and teachers in the United States can sign up for free digital access to

Schools across the country have closed and switched to distance learning in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus epidemic. If you’re a teacher or parent looking for ways to empower your students to read, write, and think critically in these uncertain times, The Learning Network offers a dozen new writing prompts every week, all based on Times articles, photographs, illustrations, videos and graphics. , on a wide range of topics including internet memes, climate change, the #MeToo movement, racism, the 2020 election, and healthy habits. All of these activities are completely free for everyone.

Here’s how to get started.

Students can create an account for free by pressing the “Login” button in the upper right corner of the screen. They will be taken to a login page that looks like this:

Please Note: Students must be 13 or older to use any part of in the US and UK, and 16 or older anywhere else. If students are under 18 and want to create an account, they should have a parent or legal guardian read and agree to The Times Terms of use before registering.

Students can click on the “Create One” link. Then they can click “Continue without subscribing”. When students make their first comment, they will be asked to enter a name and location.

Sample names: Amy, Emilia AOSE, Payton L and Mrs. Miller’s 3rd period class.

Example Locations: Ohio, Milbank, SD, and Hoggard High School in Wilmington, North Carolina

While students do not need to have a New York Times account to access the many activities of The Learning Network, they will need one if they wish to submit a comment.

Students can comment via desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone. To submit a comment, they must click on the comment bubble at the top of the post or the comment button at the bottom. Either way, they’ll bring them to a box where they can share their thoughts, as well as respond to other student commentators from their school or around the world.

We encourage young people to have civil dialogue on all kinds of topics, but if students cross a line – for example, if they use offensive language or disrespect other commentators – we will reject those comments.

We follow Hours commenting on standards as we moderate, but we also take into account that many students do not have perfect spelling or grammar or are still learning English. Our comments section is intended to be a rehearsal space – a safe place for students to practice writing and sharing their ideas.

We regularly moderate comments during weekday working hours, but at other times, such as nights and weekends, approval can sometimes take several hours.

We invite students to share their opinions and analysis on all kinds of issues and media types on The Learning Network. In our Student opinion functionality, we ask questions like, “Should rashes be allowed in youth sports?” And “Should the adults in your life be worried about how often you use your phone?” About half of our questions help students develop their argumentative skills, and the other half invite them to share experiences and observations from their own lives. All of these prompts are based on articles from The Times.

We also invite students to react to the many photographs and illustrations in The Times. In our Image prompt feature, we use an everyday image to inspire four types of student writing: storytelling, argument writing, personal writing, and analysis. Likewise, our What is happening in this image? This feature asks students to take a close look at an intriguing photo and share what they see and what details support their interpretation. Monday, our partner organization Visual thinking strategies provides live moderation for this activity to strengthen students’ visual literacy skills. Both of these features can be of interest to any student, but they are especially accessible to younger students and students who have difficulty reading.

We also use other types of Multimedia Times to encourage student writing and thinking. Our Movie club presents a short documentary from The Times – often less than 10 minutes – and asks students to think about themes such as race and gender identity, technology and society, and artistic and scientific exploration. And, What’s going on in this graph? ask students to notice and wonder about a graph, map or Times table. On Wednesday, our partners of American Statistical Association facilitate a live conversation for this activity to build students’ data literacy skills.

Finally, we also offer competition for students all year round. Currently, students can submit editorials of 450 words. Next month, they will be able to submit five-minute podcasts. During the summer, they can participate in our 10-week summer reading competition.

All of these activities and contests are free. They always have been.

The learning network prompts can be used in several ways as a teaching tool at school or at home. Teachers often let students choose which prompts they want to answer based on the topics they find most interesting. Other times, they assign a specific prompt: for example, if they are studying a topic, like friendship, or a topic, like slavery.

Many teachers use our guests as standing homework every night or every week. Other teachers use the prompts as a class activity to complete together. For example, in the tweet below, Adriana Diaz shares pictures of her class doing a What’s Going On in This Picture? activity.

Because we offer so many ways for students to read, write, and think, teachers can differentiate themselves however they see fit. They may ask some students to start with our image-based prompts, while suggesting others to comment on our student opinion questions.

And, while we appreciate that teachers task students with commenting directly on The Learning Network, we also understand that many teachers prefer their students to respond to our prompts in a classroom space like Google Classroom or Schoology. We want teachers to have the freedom to use our resources in the way that works best for them.

Not only do we moderate comments, but we also select comments to highlight in a weekly summary from our two daily writing prompts: student opinion questions and picture prompts. Teachers tell us that they and their students are excited when they see the names of their classmates published in The New York Times.

Here is an example of a weekly summary: “What Students Say About Facebook Fact Checking, Conversation, and Loneliness.”

Teachers naturally want to know what their students are saying in our online forums. The easiest way to empower students is to ask them to forward confirmation emails they automatically receive. To do this, students should ensure that the “Email me when my comment is posted” box is checked below the comment box. (The check mark appears when students start typing.)

For our competitions, students also receive confirmation emails, which they can easily forward to teachers. And, as we celebrate many winners, finalists, and honorable mentions with each of our contests, teachers can send their own emails, tweets, and messages when one or more of their students are selected as finalists.

At The Learning Network, we want students to have a civil discussion about the issues of our time. We want them to have an authentic audience for their writing and ideas. We believe that the voice of students matters. Our comments section and regular contests are our way to achieve this. We hope you will invite your students to join our community of learners.

If you have any questions on how to start your class using The Learning Network, please use the comments section or email us at [email protected]


Previous Creative writing prompts | Chicago Institute of the Arts
Next Why Journaling Is The Best Form Of Self-Care + 10 Writing Prompts To Boost Creativity