With rising concerns over excessive screen time and the ubiquity of video calls, some might be led to believe the relevance of writing to everyday life is going the way of the dodo and Underwood typewriters.
On the contrary, writing and reading are just as common as they ever were! From communicating via text and email to posting on social media to commenting on a video, it’s almost impossible to go through the day without writing something. Not to mention that skills like essay or resume writing are still just as important.
This means that people who struggle with writing are less able to communicate with others, and being less able to communicate with others can lead to social isolation, fewer satisfying relationships and lower satisfaction with life in general. It’s crucial for children to develop writing proficiency, and that can be a major challenge for students who struggle with writing.
The best ways to help students who struggle with writing depends on the reasons why the students struggle with writing. Students may be “blocked” by fear of failure, or they may believe that writing has to be boring and can’t be fun; they may also feel insecure about how their work compares to their peers’ work. Your students may struggle for any number of reasons, but above all, the “one weird trick” to improve at writing is to simply write more.
1. Make a Plan
You can never go wrong with a well-thought-out and well-executed plan!
Assess the Starting Point
Every student’s situation is different. Assess their assignments from a previous year or have them write a short piece that you can use to gain a sense of their writing style and level of proficiency.
Look for Accessibility Needs
Some of your students who struggle with writing may have previously unidentified neurodivergent traits. They can greatly benefit from early interventions and your school’s accessibility resources. Follow your school’s process for escalating these situations so that parents can get their children exactly what they need to thrive.
Focus on One Thing
Learning different aspects of writing is easier if your assignments focus on specific aspects individually. For example, if you’re learning about similes, have your students write a short story that contains at least five similes.
Quality Over Quantity
Emphasize to your students that writing isn’t a race to see who can write the most or the fastest; the most important thing is that your students write the best possible pieces that they can.
2. Write More Often
This might sound obvious, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with an obvious solution, and all teachers know that the road to improvement is paved with lots and lots of practice! Adding an extra block of writing time during the week or incorporating more writing activities into other subjects are two easy ways to give young learners more opportunities to work on their writing skills.
3. Just Add Writing
You can find a writing activity to match any other activity for any other topic or subject; all it takes is a little creativity!
Reading and writing go together like peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, so put them together whenever you get the chance because you can’t possibly regret it! Writing activities to add to reading include the following:
- Writing poems that incorporate vocabulary words from the book your class is reading
- Writing a book report
- Predicting what will happen next in the book your class is reading
If you keep learning math, eventually you’ll get to math with letters in it (scary for young students!). Writing activities to add to math class include the following:
- Writing about their progress in learning math
- Converting regular math problems into real-life word problems
- Writing facts about famous mathematicians
It’s almost harder to do science class without writing than it is to add more! Writing activities to add to science class include the following:
- Writing the steps they’ll use to complete an experiment
- Writing a prediction about what will happen during an experiment
- Writing about what they learned from the experiment and how it related to the topics
Learning music requires a very different skill set than practicing writing, so applying the creative or analytical sides of writing will encourage students to appreciate music more deeply. Writing activities to add to music class include the following.
- Writing alternate lyrics to songs the class is learning
- Writing about the progress they’ve made in music class
- Writing facts about famous musicians
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4. Begin at the Beginning
Knowing where to start can be the hardest part sometimes—and it can be the hardest part all the time for some students! This is why we love the idea of teaching students multiple ways to pre-write and then letting them use the ones that work best for them.
Aspiring artists and illustrators will enjoy the opportunity to draw their writing plan in a storyboard format that will look a bit like a page from a comic book. Whether drawn in digital or traditional style, storyboards work best for narrative writings.
Less formulaic than a storyboard, graphic organizers give those who love graphic design an opportunity to shine. All your students need to get started is some blank paper and something to write with. A popular graphic organizer is the mind map, which includes many connections, not all of them immediately relevant to the writing piece.
Brainstorming can take a lot of forms, and one of its most common forms is the freewrite. By removing all expectations, young learners will get more in touch with their creative side. Over time, as this connection becomes stronger, students will be able to bypass any writing blocks that threaten to stand in their way and write wildly creative pieces without any time wasted on not knowing what to write.
5. Target Their Interests
Students love sharing their interests, as anyone who’s ever spoken to a child for more than five minutes knows!
People like to engage in activities that have something to do with one of their interests, and the level to which they’ll engage increases based on how interested they are in the topic. If you haven’t yet, consider adding a freewriting period to your weekly class schedule.
During this time, ask students to write for 10 minutes about any topic they choose. This also works as a Monday morning activity that helps students ease back into the week and refocus on their education and personal development.
Some students may have experienced their mind going blank when they’re given zero direction. To avoid this, if you see any panicked looks or blank stares in the room when writing is about to start, give an alternate writing prompt for anyone who can’t think of what to write.
Young learners are excited by the opportunity to explain things and share new information. Put this excitement together with the lesson-reinforcing power of teach-backs, and you have a foolproof plan to help students who struggle with writing.
As a capstone for a themed learning week or a complex lesson in social studies, geography or science, have your students write explanation papers covering the main parts of the topic, including what they enjoyed the most and least about what they learned. Whether or not they feel like an expert on the topic yet, they’re unquestionably the expert on their own opinion of the topic!
7. Switch Things Up
Students who have trouble writing as a result of neurodivergent traits that affect their attention to detail can improve their writing by trying to write in different ways. Writing can be done the old-fashioned way or typed on a computer; typed pages can be read and edited on the computer or printed out as a hardcopy—or the file can be viewed on another device, like a tablet, or the font can be changed.
Altering the way the writing looks will help students identify and correct errors more easily because the brain gets used to taking mental shortcuts for things we see a lot (like a document we’re writing). Changing the look of the document is one way to trick your brain into thinking it’s looking at something new, helping to avoid overlooking errors.
You can help motivate your students with one of our FREE classbook publishing kits! We offer both digital and paper versions of our kits so that you can decide which option fits best for your students.
8. Give Feedback
The terms “critical” and “criticism” have undeservedly bad reputations. To view something critically is to engage with it deeply, seeking meaning and understanding. When criticism comes from the desire of a piece being the best possible version of itself, that shows respect to the creator.
You can help your students who struggle with writing by providing feedback often, focusing on goals that are specific and measurable. Complimenting them on the progress they’ve made is an excellent way to help them keep their goals top of mind and to reinforce their focus for continued improvements.
9. Share Good Writing
There’s a reason for the cliché about good writers being voracious readers—it’s true! One of the best ways to learn how to write is to read well-written books or articles. For students, it can be helpful to point out especially good writing when you’re reading a story aloud.
You can increase your students’ engagement with the book you’re reading by asking them to take note of any words or phrases they like, compelling imagery or character descriptions, new words that they had to look up or types of stories or characters that they enjoy.
10. Provide Incentives
Not all incentives are tangible rewards: some are social rewards like validation, affirmation, encouragement and appreciation. Sometimes giving students the opportunity to share their writing with the rest of the class can be all a reluctant writer needs to get the words flowing.
If the satisfaction of sharing their art with their peers isn’t enough to get past their reluctance, you can also try tangible rewards as well. Progress charts, stickers and other small prizes can be fun for the whole class and provide just the incentives your students need.
11. Remind Them Why They Write
Any of your students who have their eyes set on a career as a content creator or an influencer may be ahead of the pack when it comes to understanding the importance of an audience. Of course, they don’t need a full marketing plan that analyzes the preferences of their ideal audience. They just need a general idea of who they want to read their piece.
The audience they imagine writing for can be their parents, a friend, the whole class or even a favorite action figure or treasured plushie. Establishing an audience can help students who struggle with writing overcome writer’s block by encouraging them to determine the best way to engage their chosen audience.
12. Turn Your Students into Published Authors!
An easy (and fun!) way to get your struggling students excited about writing is to publish a classbook! The prospect of having their writing and illustrations published in a hardcover classbook may be just the motivation your students need.
Publishing a classbook provides several benefits to both you and your students, but most importantly, it enhances creativity and encourages collaboration between your students. Every student will submit both a writing page and an illustration page, so all your students get to contribute equally.
It’s an easy process. All you need to do is sign up for one of our FREE classbook publishing kits, and we’ll help you turn your young learners into published authors. A classbook anthology of your students’ writing will be a meaningful keepsake and time capsule for your classroom, and parents can order copies, too!
You can also check out our blog and online Teacher’s Lounge for more writing activities, lesson plans and teaching strategies. We hope that the strategies discussed in this post will help you guide your students who struggle with writing and navigate them towards a path of success.