Teaching Reluctant Writers

Do you have a child who doesn’t like to write?  I’m not talking about the handwriting aspect, although if there is a difficulty with the mechanical skills needed for writing then that should be addressed. The type of reluctant writer I’m talking about is the child who CAN write but just doesn’t want to and writes in a minimalist fashion.  This type of reluctant writer has no difficulty with penmanship but still responds to written tasks using the fewest words possible.  He prefers close-ended questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” and will respond with the simplest, shortest answer with no elaboration unless you insist on more output.  My son was so practical and writing-avoidant that he even abbreviated his yes/no answers as “Y” and “N” rather than writing the words out.

An unenthusiastic writer does not necessarily have difficulty communicating orally.  In fact, you may be working with a student who likes to talk and will go into great detail when they are discussing a topic with you.  If this was your only experience with a child and you were asked to pick out her writing sample you might be hard pressed to connect the verbally-expressive student with the sparse amount of writing she produced.  This same child who can use wonderfully-descriptive terms and lengthy utterances offers up short and simple noun plus verb sentences in writing.

I’m sure there must be a long list of reasons why a child is reluctant to write.  If you can figure out the reason for your child’s disinclination you may be able to address the issue in a way that makes writing tasks more appealing, or at least more tolerable.  I have not found any one solution that flipped a switch and made my children eager to write, but I have had a modicum of success with a number of strategies I’ve tried over the years.  Perhaps my suggestions will inspire your own creative ideas to help your student be less resistant when it comes to written work.

My children, especially my son, loved to doodle and draw pictures but dreaded having to write full sentences.  Sometimes I allowed the children to dictate their ideas to me as I wrote down their responses.  Other times I would alternate writing one sentence and having them write the next sentence.  This is fine to do now and then, but I didn’t want to get caught up in doing too much of the writing because they were the ones who needed to learn how to get their thoughts down on paper.  Because of that I didn’t use this strategy daily, but it was especially helpful when my struggling learner was having a particularly hard day and needed a little (or a lot) of extra support.

Another strategy I used was to buy paper that was blank on the top half and had lines for writing on the lower portion of the page.  That way, my children could do what they loved doing along with what they had to do for school.  They could draw pictures to illustrate what they were writing about and it was like having a built-in reward for completing their work.  It seemed to help my learner who had some challenges because it was not as intimidating to think about writing a few sentences to fill up half a page as it was to imagine writing a full page.

At other times I would pull out the special markers, crayons, gel pens, and colored pencils as a way to add some fun to the writing tasks.  Just mixing it up now and then seemed to help motivate my children, and the novelty of a new pen or glitter crayon helped ease their writing reluctance.  My daughters especially went nuts over blank journals with black paper that looked amazing when they wrote on it with their neon gel pens.  My son was fascinated with the rainbow crayon and the way his writing changed colors as he wrote.  With the popularity of scrapbooking, just think about all of the options in paper designs that you could get for your child to use for special writing assignments.  You could even take a field trip to the store and let each child choose his own paper for an individualized touch.

Many teachers find it helpful to give their students writing prompts just to spark their interest and get the creative juices flowing.  The prompt could be as simple as, “If you could invent anything, what would it be?” or as involved as telling a short story and having the child write how she thinks the story should end.  Sometimes the writing prompt addresses a specific skill such as sequencing events, and will have the student describe something familiar such as all of the steps involved in making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  For the child who never seems to be able to think of what to write, prompts can be just the impetus needed to get the ball rolling – or the pencil moving, in the case of the disinclined writer!

When it comes to teaching reluctant writers, you will need more than one strategy at your disposal to get your students writing.  Try the ideas listed above, and keep in mind that some students will be more willing to write on a computer and will thrive with basic keyboarding skills.  For some, maturity will make all the difference, but until then think of ways to make writing fun or at least more interesting.  If you have an orally-expressive child, perhaps he can help you brainstorm ways that would make writing tasks less unappealing.  If your child thinks a four-color pen seems more engaging than a plain pencil, go for it!  The goal is to get the child writing, and you will have plenty of opportunities to fine tune his efforts as his writing skills develop.

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