Here's my freshmen's first writing assignment. They had twenty minutes to complete it.
The most influential person in my life, and what I learned from him or her.
The funniest or scariest moment in my life, and what I learned from it.
Focus on creativity, originality, and detailed description to make this a lively, memorable, and revealing glimpse into your personality as a writer.
My advanced students got this prompt:
First, think of something you really know well -- something you're an expert in. It can be a procedure (flying a plane, entertaining your baby sister, baking a cake, surviving in the wild, surviving in your high school) or an idea (philosophical, political, scientific, religious, educational, technical, etc.).
Assume that the audience for your essay will be this class -- a group of randomly assorted college students. They are intelligent, but not necessarily well-informed about your topic.
In the next thirty minutes, write an essay on your chosen topic that this specific audience can read and come away feeling confident that they could perform the procedure or explain the idea themselves.
Focus on providing detailed, well-organized information presented in an engaging and memorable style.