You’ll always have at least one reluctant writer in your classroom. Just getting them to put their name on a worksheet can feel like an uphill battle.
But as much as they might avoid it, the need to practice and produce sustained writing isn’t going anywhere. So how do you get them to write?
In this article we’ll share 5 strategies that get reluctant writers keen to tackle the blank page. But before we get into them, let’s first consider…
Why your student is reluctant to write in the first place
Before you can motivate them, you need to know the reasons why a student resists writing. They might be feeling:
- disengaged, unable to link writing to personal areas of interest
- embarrassed by difficulties with functional literacy (e.g. spelling and grammar)
- anxious over the pressure to produce something ‘perfect’
- stuck for ideas
Each of these issues requires a slightly different approach, so talk to the student first and ask what’s holding them back.
Once you’ve done that, you can use strategies such as:
Let reluctant writers choose their own topics
Use this for: disengaged students who are bored by writing activities.
A chance to write about their own interests can make all the difference, so create personalized prompts that let your reluctant writers do just that.
Once they’re confident, build on this by showing them how they can use generic prompts to write about the same topics.
This is much easier if you know the student, so take the time to build relationships with your reluctant writers and find out the interests that light them up on the weekend.
Write in authentic contexts
Use this for: disengaged writers who can’t see the purpose.
“Why am I doing this?”
That’s the question that leads many reluctant writers to give up before they begin.
But if you create writing tasks that are authentic – aimed toward real people and real purposes – it will feel relevant and worthwhile. You can:
- Have students run a class blog, posting on weekly topics for everyone to read.
- Upload students’ written assignments to an LMS or class blog, and give access to parents.
- Have students write real resources to be used by others (e.g. a school newspaper, or a guide for younger students).
- Have students publish reviews for books and films in the school library.
De-emphasize spelling and grammar
Use this for: students who struggle with spelling and grammar.
Let’s start with a caveat:
If spelling and grammar are the main teaching points on your agenda, then yes, you will have to focus on the nuts and bolts of writing.
But if your goal is to get reluctant writers filling their pages, exploring ideas, and writing for the sake of writing – consider putting it on the backburner. Make it clear that you’re interested in what they write about above all else and avoid circling every error.
This makes writing safer for students who are anxious about making mistakes. They can finally put their head and heart into it, without worrying about being pulled up for their “there/their/they’re”s.
As they develop the confidence to start writing more, reluctant writers’ spelling and grammar will start to improve, too. It’s a win on both counts.
Dive into the “act” of writing straight away
Use this for: students who think writing needs to be “perfect”, and students who struggle to come up with ideas.
The first words are often the hardest for reluctant writers. So hard, in fact, that often nothing ends up being committed to paper at all.
That’s why it’s important to get them writing before they have a chance to overthink it.
Freewriting is one way to overcome the stare of the blank page. Give students ten minutes to simply dump all their thoughts onto the page. No plan, no structure – just have them put pen to paper and see what comes out.
If this leads your reluctant writers to freeze, try the following:
- Tell them to rewrite the prompt or question in as many ways as they can think of.
- Ask them to describe the mental image that the prompt brings to mind (they could also start with a drawing).
- Provide a stem prompt (“ ‘Wait, you’ve got the wrong person,’ I said. But it was too late…”) they can follow on from.
Once they’ve flexed their writing muscles, making a start on the task won’t seem as daunting. And they’ll probably have picked up more than a few ideas in the process.
Use writing journals
Use this for: students who feel self-conscious about having others read their writing.
Journaling gives students a private outlet for their writing. No judgment, and no sharing (unless they want to).
And for students who constantly cringe at the thought of having other people read their writing, this might be just what they need to get comfortable.
You can support their writing and their broader learning if you have them use it as a learning journal, where they record:
- weekly goals
- reflections on the week’s learning
- challenges or areas they’d like to work on.
A final word on teaching writing
The best thing you can do to build reluctant writers’ confidence is to create a culture of writing in your classroom.
Encourage students to write regularly, share the results, and celebrate successes while being transparent about challenges.
All the above strategies will help, but if you need more support…
We’ve got you covered.
Check out our list of 100 writing prompts, or explore our range of literacy programs that nurture spelling, grammar, reading, and phonics skills that build reading confidence.