Well, if I don't give my students permission to use their imagination, I get a bunch of essays about X-Boxes, iPads, skateboards, and Android phones.
commonplace writing prompt like “Everyone has a favorite toy. Explain why it is your favorite toy.“
They are not. Usually, I have to use toothpicks to prop open my eyelids.
Suddenly, I start reading essays about favorite toys like a robot that takes the author on trips to other planets, makes gourmet hamburgers, and turns bullies into bunnies or I read essays about magical board games that grant wishes or skateboards that take the rider back in time.
Then you change the way they think about the prompt. Say you give students the following prompt.
Indeed. But first, give your students permission to make up a special place where they would love to go. It could be an undersea cave, a magical forest, etc. To practice coming up with ideas, you could do a classroom brainstorming session to demonstrate how ideas form or you could do an individual lesson focused on idea formation and pre-writing. By sticking to idea formation and pre-writing, you can practice lots of different prompts without burning kids out writing essay after essay.
It is. If you are a fellow teacher, try it. You will be surprised by the results.