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Reluctant writers and how to help them

22.04.22

It’s awful staring at a blank page, or a computer screen, knowing you ‘have’ to write, but just not knowing where to start. For children, it’s a block with many causes.

Some children think it’s boring. And it’s no wonder, with computer games, TV and mobile phones encouraging short attention spans. Watching a child wriggle in their seat with a blank page and pencil is just excruciating. Stimulating enthusiasm is every teacher’s goal, before children even put pen to paper. I once saw a teacher colleague build a replica wardrobe with fake fur coats and snow to get her class engaged in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Making a variety of resources and stimuli available for pre-writing tasks is key to a brilliant writing outcome. As is providing scaffolding for writing through the use of graphic organisers and sentence frames. If we want children to grow into confident writers, they will eventually need to learn how to then choose and use these scaffolds on their own. 

The topic for writing is key as well. If you’re asking a child to write about something that they have no interest in, it’s going to be painful for everyone involved. In reality, it’s tricky to find a topic that will be perfect for every member in a class of 30, but teachers are experts and they know which topics work and which ones will fall flat on their faces.

“I don’t know what to write about”, is a common worry from children. Reading more is key, but clearly this is not a quick fix. It is true that avid readers often are good writers. They can pull up from memory plots and story structures to emulate. Encouraging children to not start at the beginning of a story, but write a short, descriptive paragraph, can help unlock this fear and send it packing.

Children can believe that their ideas are silly. This can be avoided if warm-up games, using silly language and ideas, are part of a writing strategy. And we must praise, praise, praise any ideas and value a child’s contribution - this is key in building confidence.

In one of my school classes, we gave the children jotters and regularly set a 10-minute task and said, ‘…just write about anything’. The key here was encouraging stamina - rehearsing what it feels like to keep writing without the worry of being wrong. It encourages our imaginations to run wild. However, some children even struggle with this, so providing them with a prompt can help, such as, ‘When Sarah turned around, she knew there was going to be trouble’. Using a 10-minute jotter can also help those children who say that writing hurts their hand. It increases muscle control.

Saving the most important thing until last – writing sessions should be fun; this means finding enjoyment in the process as well as being satisfied with the outcome.