George Lucas Educational Foundation
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3 Strategies to Fire Up Hesitant Writers

Young writers often feel blocked by the act of writing itself. Use these ideas to help get their thoughts flowing.
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Editor’s Note: A version of this post first appeared on Techie Teacher and Character Coach.

“But Miss Parrish, I can’t think of anything to write!”

Haven’t we all heard similar lines in our classrooms? We see hesitant writers sit with pencils in their hands and paper on their desks, almost as if they’ve been handicapped by the task we have set for them.

How is it that some students have so much to say when talking, but when a pencil is put into their hand they suddenly hesitate, struggle, and have nothing to say? How can we help these hesitant writers eliminate the barrier that suddenly appears when they’re asked to write?

The answer is to have them produce ideas without writing at all. That’s right, the way to get hesitant writers to produce as much writing as they do talking is to have them do exactly that -- talk.

Strategies That Work

1. Student Talks, Teacher Writes

  • Have your student stand up while you sit at the desk.
  • Pick up the student’s pencil and say, “You talk, I’ll write.”
  • This usually catches students off-guard -- it takes them a moment to realize this is a real option.

2. Audio Record It & Then Transcribe It

  • Identify a way your students can record themselves speaking their essay rather than writing it. This could be a tape recorder, a digital audio recorder, a computer with a microphone, or an audio recording feature on a phone.
  • Hand the recording device to your student and say, “Step out in the hall and recite your essay using this.”
  • They can then play the recording back and write down their words.

3. Audio Transcribe It

  • Pick an app or tool that transcribes speaking as text. Some options: PaperPort Notes, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Dictation Pro, VoiceTranslator, or the text-to-speech tools that are built into many smartphones. Try one of these on your phone, tablet, or computer.
  • Tell your students, “Go ahead -- speak your paper.”
  • After speaking, the students can email themselves the transcribed text and work on the draft from there.

Communication Before Craft

The sooner students (and teachers) see that writing has nothing to do with a pencil, a piece of paper, or a keyboard, and is simply communicating, the sooner they will start making incredible progress. Barriers will come down. The hesitation of putting the pencil on the paper to write will go away. In my view, writing is simply communicating through pencil marks rather than through speech.

Our concern is not whether a student communicates through a pencil and pen, keyboard, chalkboard, audio transcription device, or other means. Our real hope and goal is for individuals to capture their high-quality thoughts and convey them effectively to others. The strategies here break down the barriers between a student’s mind and their audience. These strategies free up thinkers to express their thoughts without the hesitation that makes some students’ minds go blank as they pick up that pen or pencil.

How have you helped students write without putting pen to paper (or pixel to page)?

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reha's picture

I really like this it really helps the students write thanks!

Christina Gil's picture
Christina Gil
Former Classroom Teacher, Current Homeschooler and Ecovillager

My best tip is to always always always always start with some kind of pre-writing. I'm a fan of freewriting, but also brainstorming, discussions, debate, close reading, primary sources, research--or all of the above! I tell students that they shouldn't sit down to write until they have so much to say that they can barely keep up with their thoughts.

chamathews's picture

I really like this idea because most children lack getting their thoughts on paper correctly so they tend not to like writing. When the student talks and the teacher writes it lets the child know that the teacher is there to help develop those ideas that they have in their mind. Audio record is something I really liked because students can say it but not write it. After hearing what they already said they can put their thoughts on paper. I think will use these tips in my classroom. I will also add in free writing. I think it important for children to sometimes write down their own thoughts.

mabelcelia's picture

Interesting topic! I think writing is really an important skill. There are so many things that our students can say or make their voice be reachable to all kinds of audiences. But for a reason or another, they are afraid of writing. It's not they don't have anything to say it's mainly because of the conventions of writing. We, as teachers, need to reteach our students that their thoughts are more important than their grammar mistakes.

Bea Talcott's picture

wow I have done this for one of my students they seem to be able to say more when you are writing it down than them doing it themselves the play back thing is a great idea need to get some recorders.

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