Teaching the Reluctant Writer

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Have you ever dealt with a reluctant writer? Sitting in the library one afternoon, I watched a homeschooling mom and her daughter at the next table.  The little girl had a writing workbook before her and her eyes brimmed with tears as her mom told her, “This is easy.  You are making a big deal out of a simple exercise.”  The precious girl was rigid with anxiety, and the stern furrow of her brow resolutely declared, “I can’t do this!”

reluctant writer, writing, homeschool, homeschooling

“Mom, why do I have to describe a pencil?  This is dumb.”  I could feel the little girl’s exasperation.  What was the purpose of describing a pencil?  After a few more minutes of back and forth discussion about the merits of the exercise, the little girl offered a shallow, half-hearted, oral description of a pencil and quickly slipped out of her chair to pick out a few books from the shelves.  I glanced up, and this time, Mom’s eyes were brimming with tears!

I reached out across the aisle  and explained that I was a homeschooling mom too, and I’d noticed the problem they were having.  “I’m such a failure!” she wearily sighed.  Boy, had I been there a few times in the past seventeen years!

I moved over to her table, and I shared what I’d learned about teaching the reluctant writer.  Not only was I encouraging her then, but honestly, just recalling this conversation this week has encouraged me because my daughter struggles with math anxiety!

Tips For Teaching the Reluctant Writer

1.  If we want our child to write, then we must model writing.  Children are great observers.  Why should they do what we have chosen not to do?    Every child must learn to be proficient at expressing himself both orally and in writing. It’s important to:

  • use proper English when speaking with our children, while avoiding slang terminology as well as sarcasm and crass humor.  Model kind communication and gentle tone.  This is the foundation upon which writing is built.
  • read quality literature aloud.  A well written book is a model to emulate.  Make sure your child is exposed to all types of juvenile literature.  Choose well written books containing big ideas and awesome vocabulary.
  • let your children see you writing thank you notes, birthday cards,  and both personal and business correspondence. Think about starting a family blog or a scrapbook chronicling your family’s life.  Model a good attitude with any writing that must be done.

2.  Don’t tell children fibs. Writing is not easy.   In fact, it is hard work!  It is a combination of many skills all put into play at one time.  To write a sentence, a child must:

  • create and process an idea
  • find the vocabulary he would like to use
  • decide the best way to express that idea
  • recall how to correctly and neatly form letters as he writes
  • use appropriate spacing between letters and words
  • know how to encode words correctly (spelling)
  • know how to punctuate
  • use correct grammar and tense

So be honest – writing is hard work!  It requires perseverance and lots of practice.  Consider a reward system to encourage that hard work.

Teaching A Reluctant Writer
This quote always gave my young writers giggles!

3.  Overcome your own fear of writing. (Or math, or science…whatever!)  Our children pick up on our fear!  Interestingly, Emory University recently found that some fear related memories may be passed down through our DNA!  If you want your children to overcome their fear of a subject, that means you must show them that you are willing to tackle hard things too!  If writing is hard for you, try learning with your child.   It is amazing what a little camaraderie can do for a child’s heart! Remember, if you don’t know the answer to one of their questions, it is okay to say, “I don’t know, but we’ll find the answer together.”

4.  Do not allow yourself to become frustrated or angry with your child for their reluctant learning.  Choose a path of calm compassion, but firm accountability.  Anger and frustration do not help your child learn, rather these emotions serve as roadblocks and obstacles.  If you or your child becomes frustrated during a learning experience:

A.  Encourage the respectful expression of feelings.  Stuffing anger and frustration is not healthy and will only enlarge an already sizable roadblock in the learning process.

B.  Do something physical for a few minutes.  Using a punching bag, chopping wood or jumping rope are healthy ways of releasing some of that negative energy.

C.  Take a break.  Sometimes ten minutes of fresh air and sunshine goes a long way!

D.  Help your child know that you are there to help them.  When your child has a particularly challenging assignment, feel free to adapt it or change it altogether to meet his or her learning needs.  Instead of writing about a pencil, try describing a favorite toy, animal or family member, for instance.  If they are particularly reluctant about a more involved assignment, break the project down into smaller steps.  Instead of announcing that they will be learning to do a research paper, instead ask them if there is something they’d really like to learn about.  Take a trip to the library for resources.  Once the resources have been chosen, have the the child write down several questions he would like answered.  Take a week to teach him how to take notes from keywords.  Then  instruct him how to create a note-card and give him the assignment of creating note-cards that would answer the questions he had.  You get the idea.  Breaking the assignment down into tiny steps, gives the child many opportunities to learn, “I can.”  His confidence will grow and the roadblocks will come down.

5.  Whenever possible, give your children a purpose for their writing, beyond completing a writing assignment.  Incorporate letter writing, blogging, cards, notes, scrapbooking, and emailing grandma.  Surprisingly, my 6th grade daughter’s writing has taken off since joining the Skrafty Minecraft Server.  I think she has improved because she has grown in confidence as she has chatted with young friends in-game.  In addition, she took a Skrafty Government class, and was required to write very short essay answers to some of the questions.  The class was great fun, and so the writing was inconsequential in her estimation!  (Skrafty is a child-safe Minecraft server that is well monitored by parents!) *Skrafty offers language arts classes too!

6.  Don’t allow children to give up.  It is okay to adapt, change or delay a lesson, but do not allow a child to give up or refuse your instruction without consequence.   My primary focus is always encouragement, but I have learned that I must allow the natural consequences of my children’s actions, do its work.  In our home, if a child refuses to work, (even out of fear) then he loses fun privileges until the work is completed.  Part of loving my children is training them to face adversity, trust the Lord and overcome.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” ~Galatians 6:9

“But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.”~2 Chronicles 15:7

With that said, I have to remember to use discernment.  Some children need more time to mature before they are ready for certain kinds of writing assignments.  It is important to consider a child’s developmental maturity before assigning original compositions.

6. Incorporate fun in using language.  Play games that encourage the use of language arts skills:

Rory’s Story Cubes

You’ve Been Sentenced

Word A Round Game

Best of Mad Libs

7.  Teach Thinking Skills – If you teach a child to think, he is better able to write.  Incorporate thinking skills into your language arts program.  We like discussing the big ideas in literature best, but we have also enjoyed critical thinking workbooks like:

Mind Benders Level 3 (Grades 3-6)
Building Thinking Skills® Level 2
Dr. DooRiddles B1 (Grades 4-7)

This year we’re going to try:
Smarty Pants Puzzles™ Level 1, Grades 3-12+
Daily Mind Builders: Language Arts
My Personal Curriculum Favorites for Reluctant Writers:

Jump In: A Workbook for Reluctant and Eager Writers (student workbook only) (middle school)

Writing, Grade 5 (Spectrum) (grade level workbooks – choose the level that is appropriate to your child)

Understanding Writing (K-12) Can also be found here.

Write with the Best: Modeling Writing After Great Works of World Literature (two levels – Volume 1/Grades 3-12 and Volume 2/Grades 6-12)

English for the Thoughtful Child, Vol. 1 (Volume 1 – Grades 2-5,  Makes use of narration/oral composition)

English for the Thoughtful Child, Vol. 2 (Volume 2) (Volume 2 – Grades 4-6, This book is a continuation of Volume 1, but moves into written composition as well.)

Do you have a reluctant writer?  Please share!  What has helped your child the most?

Grace and peace,

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