Activities & Lessons
On February 14, sweets, cards, and gifts will be exchanged across the U.S. as people celebrate Valentine’s Day with their loved ones and friends. To help celebrate with your middle school or high school class, we've written 25 Valentine's Day writing prompts based on our favorite literary classics.
Despite the theme of the holiday being one of love—romantic or otherwise—the history of Valentine’s Day hints strongly at another subject matter: tragedy. The namesake for the holiday is attributed to several possible Catholic saints who were put to death, including a Roman priest and the Bishop of Terni, both of whom performed secret marriage ceremonies and were subsequently beheaded.
Considering the martyrdom of St. Valentine (both of them), perhaps it's appropriate that much of the middle school and high school required reading that has to do with love also has to do with tragedy. While the most obvious example of a romance that ends in calamity is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, there are several books and plays introduced in Grades 7–12 that have love as a central theme. The books below are all generally introduced as high school reading, but the prompts you choose will also vary by class reading list.
Use the Valentine's Day writing prompts below to inspire your students to delve deeper into relationships between characters who love each other. The spectrum for love need not be limited to that between romantic partners and can include love for family or friends as well. And for the sake of Valentine’s Day, we’ll leave out the tragedy on these ones.
Valentine's Day Writing Prompts
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
1. One important aspect of any relationship, romantic or otherwise, is communication. How might the story of Romeo and Juliet have changed if they had access to the technology of today? Analyze how one form of new technology may have affected a pivotal scene in the story.
2. Search for a quote about love in Romeo and Juliet. Who is speaking and who is it about? How is the character summarizing their feelings on the emotion? How does it compare to similar quotes from other characters?
3. The love sonnets that Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet each consisted of 14 lines of poetry written in iambic pentameter. Review one of the sonnets in the play and write one of your own. Avoid clichés when describing the object of your affection. If you prefer, you may write about a platonic love, or else write in the style of a comedy rather than a drama.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
4. Analyze the following quote: “I would ask you, dearest, to be very generous with him always, and very lenient on his faults when he is not by. I would ask you to believe that he has a heart he very, very seldom reveals, and that there are deep wounds in it. My dear, I have seen it bleeding.” —Lucie Manette, A Tale of Two Cities
What does this quote reveal about Lucie’s character? How does Lucie demonstrate empathy, and how does that empathy in turn help to shape the story and characters she comes into contact with?
5. The central romance in A Tale of Two Cities is between Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay, both of whom represent ideal or respected character traits. These traits are often those that Sydney Carton laments lacking himself. However, by virtue of being virtuous, both Lucie and Charles lack the depth of character displayed by some of their other, more flawed peers.
Rewrite either a dialogue, scene, or description of either Lucie or Charles. You may change their physical description, how they speak, or how they react in certain situations. Is Lucie still traditionally beautiful? Does Charles suffer from insomnia? How would their rewrites affect the relationships in the book, especially the one between Lucie and Charles?
6. Write a paragraph about the symbolism and significance of the “golden thread.” How does the symbol contrast with the image of knitting in the story?
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
7. Oftentimes, stories imply that a romantic relationship is required to live a happy life. How does Janie’s story subvert this notion?
8. How do Janie’s toxic relationships in the novel result in the development of her own self-love and self-actualization? Make sure to touch on all three of her relationships.
9. How does the hurricane that causes Tea Cake’s death test Janie’s love for the divine? How does her faith compare with her love for Tea Cake?
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
10. Analyze the following quote: “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff!” —Catherine, Wuthering Heights
How does Catherine use simile and analogy to describe her differing love for Linton and Heathcliff? Is one love arguably greater than the other, or are they both of equal consequence?
11. Compare and contrast the relationship between Catherine/Heathcliff and Young Catherine/Hareton. How are the relationships similar? How do they differ? Make sure to pay attention to themes like change and nature.
12. In what ways does Nelly Dean express her love for those that she has cared for? How does her maternal love compare to the love that the other characters express toward each other? Make sure to use quotes and examples to support your claims.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
13. In her quest to be loved, Jane Eyre attempts to strike a balance between romance and sacrifice of self. How has her childhood and young adulthood shaped her hopes for the future? How have characters like Mrs. Reed and Maria Temple revealed to Jane what she does and doesn’t want in a relationship?
14. How does expectation come into play in the relationship between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester? How does that expectation evolve throughout the story? Make sure to touch on themes like gender roles.
15. How do the gothic elements affect the romantic developments in the book? How does the darker subject matter contrast with or complement the relationship between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester?
Poems by Various Authors
16. Choose from the following poems on love and have your class analyze the tone and subject matter. Have them write a poem of their own about any of the following: romance, family, platonic love, lost love, or aspirational love.
- "Flirtation" by Rita Dove
- "Venice, Unaccompanied" by Monica Youn
- "Touched by an Angel" by Maya Angelou
- "Valentine" by Lorna Dee Cervantes
- "We Never Know" by Yusef Komunyakaa
- "I Loved You Before I Was Born" by Li-Young Lee
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
17. The original title for Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions. Describe how some of the first impressions in the book affect the budding relationships between the characters. How do these impressions compare with the idea of “love at first sight”?
18. How do you think the requirements for marriage and social standing in Pride and Prejudice warp the romantic notions of the characters? Back up your thesis with examples.
19. Familial relationships have a large role in Pride and Prejudice alongside the romantic prospects at play. Choose a character in the Bennet family and write how they might have behaved in a modernized setting. How might Mrs. Bennet’s goals for her girls have changed if women could own property? Would Lydia have been considered as wild and foolish by her family members for running off with Wickham? If marriage to a wealthy man was not required of them, would some of the Bennet sisters have chosen not to marry at all?
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
20. David’s beliefs about masculinity take a toll on both himself and his relationships throughout the story. Can you identify a time when your idea of what was feminine or masculine shaped your views on an individual or on yourself? How have these ideas affected your own relationships with others?
21. Analyze the following quote: “And I realized that such childishness was fantastic at my age and the happiness out of which it sprang yet more so; for that moment I really loved Giovanni, who had never seemed more beautiful than he was that afternoon.” —David, Giovanni’s Room
How is the idea of youth tied to the idea of love in the book? How do David’s own repressed childhood wants perhaps manifest in the language used later on in the story?
22. Describe the relationship between David and his father. How does the dynamic between them shape the story? How might the story be different had David bonded more with Ellen?
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
23. Read the following quote: “He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy.” —Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby
Nostalgia is an important part of any relationship. Fond memories of the past can provide comfort when challenges arise, but they may also warp the way we see people who have changed over the years. How has nostalgia colored the way Jay Gatsby sees Daisy Buchanan? How does it affect his love for her?
24. Our expectation for what love should look like is often unrealistic, and perceived success does not necessarily lead to happiness. How does Jay Gatsby’s love for Daisy Buchanan relate to the American Dream? How does the significance of the “green light” tie into this idea?
25. Despite the marriages, affairs, and relationships in The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald seems to imply there are stronger forces than love at play. What motivator in the book trumps love, and how does it affect the story? Back up your claims with examples.
Need some creative Valentine’s Day ideas for a younger group of learners? Take a look at these Valentine’s Day classroom activities for your classroom.