When I first started teaching, my students didn’t like writing. “Ugh, do we have to do writing today?” they’d groan. But kids who enjoy writing write more and become better writers. So I was determined to help my struggling writers enjoy writing.
I developed the following three simple strategies to support reluctant writers. Over time, they helped transform my students into thriving and excited writers. I believe they’ll work for you, too.
1. Developing a Love of Writing
Many students don’t think they like writing because their previous writing experiences haven’t been enjoyable. The key to helping reluctant writers is to make writing fun so that they develop a love of writing. There are several ways to do this.
Focus on content over mechanics: Reluctant writers find writing boring and hard. They toil away at writing assignments only to have them returned covered in red ink. This can be very demoralizing to kids.
It’s easy to focus on grammar and spelling when grading because those mistakes jump right off the page. But when you grade a writing assignment, focus on the content of the piece. Has the student used an interesting lead, added details, employed transitions? If so, let them know. These are the types of skills that produce good writing.
Share interesting mentor texts: Get kids engaged in writing by reading motivating mentor texts. This offers students examples of good writing in each genre and helps them learn what a narrative or informational report looks and sounds like. As they learn about different skills (e.g., an interesting lead or descriptive details), they can mark them on their paper passage and then use the passage later as a resource.
Pick fun, engaging stories that students will relate to. When they see examples of good writing, they’ll be motivated to write better themselves. For instance, Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, offers good examples of dialogue and an interesting lead. I Wanna Iguana, by Karen Kaufman Orloff and David Catrow, is great for teaching opinion writing.
For informational report writing, you could use Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist, by Linda Skeers and Marta Álvarez Miguéns. This interesting story weaves together facts in an engaging way and includes a timeline and a bibliography.
Provide choice: When reluctant writers are allowed to choose their own writing topics, they’re much more invested in their writing. Choice makes writing easier, more interesting, and more fun for kids.
Topic isn’t the only way to introduce choice into your writing lessons. Kids can use different writing implements like smelly markers, felt-tip pens, and feather pens. You can also allow them to choose their writing paper and writing spot. They don’t have to sit at their desks to write.
Make time to share each day: Allow students to share their writing every day. It doesn’t have to take long. Simply have students turn to a partner and read their favorite sentence or one example of the skill they’re working on.
Share time can motivate reluctant writers to get the assignment done—they’ll be excited to share with a friend. When students feel their writing has a purpose, they enjoy it more.
2. Focusing on 1 Thing at a Time
Traditional writing assignments can be overwhelming. Mini-lessons help make writing assignments manageable for kids. Don’t try to teach them how to write opinion essays, for example, in one day. Focus on just one element of a good essay each day. Break your lessons down into bite-sized pieces.
With an opinion essay, the idea is to teach students how to clearly state their opinion, write an interesting lead, give reasons, give examples, use transitions between reasons, and write an interesting ending (while keeping an eye on paragraphs, descriptive details, spelling, etc.). Teach each of these skills on different days, with some even taking multiple days.
On day one, teach students how to state a strong opinion. The next day, help students craft an interesting lead. With the lead, instead of teaching them all in one day about multiple strategies to hook readers, break the lesson down into bite-sized parts and teach one strategy at a time. One day, teach them to use a question as a hook. The next day, show them how to use a quote or a surprising fact as a lead. Teaching only one thing at a time keeps writing tasks manageable for reluctant writers.
Students might write only two or three sentences each day. But over time they’ll create a more interesting masterpiece. This kind of structured writing process sets reluctant writers up for success and builds their writing confidence.
3. Providing Tools and Resources
Anchor charts: Use tools and resources to make writing easier for reluctant writers. Anchor charts provide helpful reminders—e.g., for an opinion piece, what belongs in the introduction (the lead and a strong opinion) and what doesn’t (reasons and examples), and examples of different writing skills. Post anchor charts in your classroom, or give each student a printed version to include in their writing notebooks.
Speech to text: The speech-to-text feature on iPads and Chromebooks is another helpful tool for some hesitant writers. This can be a real game changer for students who struggle with the physical act of writing.
Allowing students to use the speech-to-text feature helps them record their creative ideas and get the content down without the frustrating process of writing. They overcome the obstacle of a blank page when their words magically appear on the screen. It also helps kids who have extremely weak spelling skills. It keeps the focus of the writing lesson on the content, which is the most important part. The goal is for students to develop the craft of writing, and they don’t have to physically write to do this.
Revising and editing checklists: Finally, revising and editing checklists help support reluctant writers. Students can reference a revising checklist to double-check their writing and make sure they’ve included all the parts of the assignment.
Editing checklists help students find mistakes and polish their writing. While perfection should never be the goal, you do want to encourage students to make their writing look as good as possible.
One of the best ways to help reluctant writers become more confident writers is practice. I’ve created a set of 18 free editing and revising centers for grades 2 to 5 to help students practice a variety of writing skills in three different genres: narrative, opinion, and informational reports. Each center includes tips, examples, and practice activities, and there are two different versions for upper and lower elementary students. Please feel free to explore these.