Theodor Seuss Geisel won a $50 bet by writing a book, Green Eggs, and Ham. The bet was to write an entertaining children’s book restricted to fifty unique words.

Make expectations clear and use restrictions strategically when designing classroom writing tasks.

By nature, I dislike constraints. As educators, we work with or against constraints every day (that’s why I subscribe to the maxim “ask forgiveness, not permission”). As with most aspects of life, constraints need to be balanced. Too many can hinder, and too few can overwhelm. Confession: I’ve seen the best work from myself and my students when setting up well-developed constraints. How do we get the rebellious student to subscribe to the idea of working under constraints? Attitude has a lot to do with it. Students sense when your objectives lack authenticity, meaning, or feel forced without consideration for their needs. Instead, present constraints as a puzzle without repercussions – a challenge intended to exercise creative muscle.

Well-balanced, thoughtful constraints can support a student’s growth as a writer and impact their learning. Here are a few practical ideas:

  1. Timed Trials: Use and set a specific amount of time for students to respond to a prompt without repercussions. Give students an engaging topic and set them up like it’s a foot race. Let them get accustomed to the pressures of timed writing now because someday they might have to share their thoughts within a limited deadline! Remember, no repercussions! This time is intended for students to experiment with their writing styles and voices.
  2. Topics: Narrow topic choices and get students to step out of their comfort zone from time to time. What do students WANT to write about? What do students NEED to write about?
  3. Wording: Instead of requiring a minimum (or maximum) amount of sentences, require students to write a minimum amount of words. Also, you could restrict them from using certain words (especially overused words).
  4. Literary Devices: Same as above: require students to step out of their comfort zone by experimenting with a variety of literary devices they might not be accustomed to using every day.

More Advice from Writers

Read the essays attached to the article 10 of the Greatest Essays on Writing Ever Written by Emily Temple.

Works Cited

Mikkelson, B., & Mikkelson, D. P. (2007, July 12). Did Dr. Seuss take a dare he could write a book using fewer than fifty different words? Retrieved May 16, 2014, from