These writing strategies for teachers come from a common pain point… many kids are reluctant to write! Writing is a form of creative expression but also requires the mastery of certain skills. Writing is both simple and complex. It builds upon skills that evolve over time into published pieces that seek to inform, entertain or persuade the intended audience. These are not easy concepts to teach!
Some kids take off with writing from the moment their pencil hits the paper. It’s their passion and time to shine! For these kids, the goal is to challenge and expand their skills as they continue to develop their craft.
For most students, writing is faced with dread.
Many kids struggle to think of an idea or construct a complete sentence. Many struggling writers find it a long and daunting process full of confusing rules. These students may have developed low self-esteem over time and may shut down when it comes to writing. A blank page creates anxiety for these students.
Below are tried and true writing strategies for teachers and parents to help the struggling writers. The strategies will help them build confidence as they grow as writers.
1. Assess the starting point with a writing sample.
Collect a writing sample so that you can prioritize what skill your student needs to work on first. This writing sample can be used as a comparison until they have mastered a targeted skill. This writing sample can be used to encourage your writer and build their confidence as you show them how their writing has improved with time and practice.
Continue to collect writing pieces that serve as starting points to guide your lessons. This is personalizing instruction at its best that builds upon strengths and identifies areas for improvement.
There are many writing rubrics available online (check Teachers Pay Teachers) that can be used to assess writing over time. Ongoing assessment is critical to diagnosing and adjusting instruction to support struggling writers.
2. Start with a “quick win” writing assignment.
Encouraging struggling writers with an easy writing piece shows them that writing doesn’t always have to be difficult and it is possible for them to do it!
An opinion piece can light a fire in the student as they try to prove their point. The writing process becomes less daunting if students of all ages have a template or easy topic to achieve a quick win.
3. Focus on one specific writing element or skill in each piece.
It’s too much to ask a writer to remember and do “all the things, all the time.” To help your students hone in on their writing abilities, only focus on one skill at a time for each piece they write.
Pick punctuation for one piece, using colorful words in another, etc. Over time, they will be able to grow these individual skills and start to use them without being prompted so that you can continue to teach new skills they can add to their writing toolkit.
4. Offer topics, a topic sentence, or sentence starter.
If your high school student (or any age student) has trouble coming up with ideas for what to write, giving them a starting point might be the best way to get those creative juices flowing. It can be hard to narrow down what to write about because the possibilities are endless! To help those who really can’t come up with any ideas, give them some topics to choose from, or a topic sentence/story starter.
One of the most difficult parts of writing for struggling students is knowing where to start, especially because there is a limitless number of topics to choose from! This can be especially difficult for high school students who have multiple parts to a prompt that they need to address.
Using a writing sample gives them a starting point and can help them make a plan of where to go next. By seeing how other writers approached the topic, they will get some ideas of how they can approach it as well!
5. Read aloud every day and point out good writing!
Many people forget the importance of reading, but even worse, they don’t realize that the two are interconnected! Help them think like an author. Point out examples of great imagery in a novel, or how a character is built over the course of a story. These little details are what take a piece of writing from good to great!
6. Prioritize writing quality over quantity.
A beautifully written paragraph is better than a poorly written five-page essay. Break down writing concepts and focus on improvement over perfection. Once they have these skills down in bite-size pieces, then it may be time to test their skills with a larger piece.
7. Teach kids how to pre-write by brainstorming, using a storyboard, or a graphic organizer.
Give your students tools to help organize the writing process. These tools, such as a storyboard or graphic organizer, will help them complete writing tasks in a logical flow.
This article in Edweek also highlights the importance of tools for writing instruction, including graphic organizers and writing frames.
In order to strengthen this skill, teach the basic concepts of pre-writing and brainstorming to begin the writing process. Then, once they have some ideas down, they can use tools such as a storyboard or graphic organizer to make sure that all of their ideas are thoughtfully organized.
8. Model the process of taking their writing piece to the next level.
Once they have written a complete piece, don’t stop there! Encourage your kids to improve on their work. This would be a great opportunity to model the process of taking their writing piece to the next level with thoughtful feedback.
Some students do not want to return to a “published” piece of writing. For these kids, you could offer some choices to take the writing to another level by adding illustrations, creating a sequel, turning the story into a graphic novel, or any other embellishment that would allow them to fully develop a topic.
9. Provide ongoing written or verbal constructive feedback.
Your student wants to know that you actually read their work, and providing thoughtful feedback is the best way to show that you did!
Thoughtful feedback can encourage the student to think deeper about their writing and can also highlight their achievements. It can help build their self-esteem and can be used for reference with future writing assignments.
10. Explore different genres of writing.
There is so much more to writing than informational research papers or personal narratives! Switch up the genre and allow your students to explore and write in a variety of ways. They may find that there is a particular genre that they really love writing about, but would never have known if they didn’t have the chance to try. Your reluctant writer may enjoy creating a comic, a list or even a recipe! All of these are
Comics, lists, recipes, plays, song lyrics and more are all valuable experiences to practice writing skills.
Don’t forget about poetry! Poetry is written expression that highlights rhythm and cadence. It provides a chance to share and enjoy the way words can work to evoke a feeling or create strong imagery. Teaching poetry should be a part of writing instruction at all grade levels.
Writing is a skill that students will use the rest of their lives. If you have struggling students, use these strategies for teachers to help students become confident writers. Sometimes, all it takes is extra guidance through the writing process to help a student be successful.
Whether you are helping them get their writing started with topic starters and brainstorming or helping them make changes and giving feedback, the best way to become a better writer is through continuous practice.