Empowering Writers

10 Tips to Teach Writing to Reluctant Students

No one is born knowing how to write or how to teach writing. Even after getting a bachelor’s degree, you may not have encountered any instruction about how to teach writing. So it’s perplexing that teachers are expected to know the best way to guide students — especially reluctant ones — in writing narrative, expository or argumentative essays. Here are 10 tips to turn reluctant writers into eager ones. 

While You’re Teaching

how to get reluctant students writing

1. Teach skills in isolation.

Each genre of writing has its own unique set of skills and features. In narrative writing, one of those skills is elaborative detail. In expository writing, it’s broad yet distinct main ideas. Break down the process for students and uncover those skills and features. This takes the mystery out of writing.

2. Develop ORAL language before ever putting pen to paper.

We have a saying here at EW- “Students cannot write that they can’t articulate.” Allow plenty of time to discuss ideas, thoughts, and suggestions, either with a partner, in a group setting, or as a whole class. Remind students that they’re not being judged on how they feel about a particular subject; rather, it’s about how well they can articulate that feeling.

3. Choose 1 graphic organizer for each genre of writing.

There are many options when it comes to graphic organizers, but by choosing just one per genre, students can internalize a pattern that they can use when writing in that specific genre. Don’t throw 3 graphic organizers up on the projector at the same time unless you’re trying to compare them to each other. It’s best to teach each genre individually first and then, if you want, compare their structures after.

4. Break writing into manageable chunks.

Authors and writers often write in sections: a block of dialogue, a description, or a main idea paragraph. Rarely do they write in one, long blur. For example, ask students to write ONLY an introduction paragraph for an argumentative essay about why Sport XYZ is the best sport. No more, no less in 5 minutes.

5. Model what you want them to produce.

Students need to see how the process of writing works, model the skill that you are working on. Let them “hear” the thought process of the author as you verbalize what goes through your mind as you choose your words. Modeling creates an environment where students first see a written sample come to life and then feel secure in their own work. Allow them to borrow words/phrases from your model as they learn through imitation.

6.  Allow time for art or research.

Some students need to visualize their writing or see things in color! By giving them an art or research project, it can help writing come alive and gives them ideas for their piece.

When It’s Time to Write

You’ve presented your lesson plan, you’ve modeled the skills, now it’s time for guided practice. Keep in mind that you may be the first teacher with whom your students are having a positive experience learning how to write. Here’s how to help those students who are still reluctant to get going!

7.  Give students half a sheet of lined paper instead of a full sheet.

The full sheet can be overwhelming to some students. They often feel better knowing they don’t have to fill up so much blank space.

8. Offer sentence starters.

Think of this as an icebreaker! They offer a way to jump into the writing process and allow students to frame up their ideas while also adding sentence variety and voice to their writing. Some sentence starters include:

  • Did you know….
  • It is interesting to know ….
  • Without a doubt ….

9. Select a timed writing piece.

Students are much more successful when the teacher directs the timeframe for writing a full piece (just like it’s easier for them to commit to filling one-half of a piece of paper than a full one). It’s more mentally manageable for students to know they have 15 or 20 minutes to write than to just be told, “Write until I tell you to stop.” The clear deadline gives the boundaries they need to work within and directs their focus.

10. Celebrate all efforts.

Students will take more risks in writing when they know you will support their efforts. Look for what is good in their writing nd give specific feedback, based on your instruction, to improve ONE skill at a time. Not all writing assignments need to be graded. You can offer skills-based feedback to make the learning process constructive.