Of the many hurtles writing students need to clear on the journey to becoming better writers, for some students, simply getting the words onto the paper is the biggest hurtle of them all. They are incredibly similar to a cautious toddler considering jumping into a pool for the first time, carefully measuring their approach. And remeasuring. And finding another angle to remeasure. Thinks about dipping in their toe. Steps back. Reassesses. Repeat.
For some students, it takes an enormous amount of coaching to take that first step – getting that first sentence written. Sometimes they are hyper-focused on the details and aren’t sure where to start writing. Other times, they don’t know how to start their sentences, or even what they are supposed to talk about! They need to be guided in the direction that fulfills the purpose of the assignment.
Using new techniques, prompts and other guidance, students can begin writing in no time. Whether writing a fictional piece or responding to a non-fiction prompt, following the tips outlined below will help your child get over the initial fear of writing.
The first step to improving writing is working to change the student’s attitude towards writing. If a student exhibits hesitancy with writing, most likely they are having negative thoughts about it. They might think, “this is hard,” or “I’m not good at this!” We want to encourage the students to think positive thoughts about writing. This end can be achieved by introducing students to fun word and writing games and activities. The purpose of the activities are to get students comfortable working with words and language in a non-judgmental environment.
Changing a child’s attitude towards writing means to simply get them comfortable transferring their thoughts to the paper or screen. In general, this means not passing judgment on grammar, mechanics, spelling or any other convention when you review the writing with your child. In the beginning of a new writing journey, as long as your child is writing some information- any information- on the paper, praise their effort.
Journaling is one of the best methodologies for build comfort writing. Having your child journal for a set amount of time each day or every other day will, eventually, instill confidence in your child when it comes to putting pen to paper. Finding funny, outrageous or interesting prompts will help your child relate and be excited to respond. Even better, if your child suggests a prompt, let them run with it.
Once a student has a higher comfort level with writing, the second step is getting them thinking and engaging with the “Pre-Writing” step of the writing process. By introducing students to graphic organizers and questions to prompt their thinking, we are providing them with the means to gather all the information they will need when they begin drafting.
An added benefit is that the Pre-Writing step should continue to help build confidence as, again, grammar and other writing technicalities do not matter. All that matters is that ideas are generated.
One specific method I like to try if a student is hesitating with writing a story is the technique visualizing/ webbing. Below are the steps taken to brainstorm about the features and characteristics of a character.
- We take a blank piece of paper and in the center either write the character’s name, or write “character 1” and draw a circle around it, eventually choosing a name. Either the student writes, or the student dictates to me and I write.
- Then, the student needs to draw lines connected to and extending from the first circle. Draw circles at the end of these lines.
- Then I tell my students to close their eyes and visualize their character. Picture the character walking down the street. What would they be wearing, what would they look like? What kind of attitude would they have? As they feel secure in the details, they should start to fill in the circles with details about the character. Name it.
- Create another web about another character; or perhaps about the same character but this time focus on their conflict instead of the way they look and their personality.
- After a significant amount of the story has been webbed out, take this information and turn it into sentences.
After students have compiled more than enough information, the third area in which students need assistance is formulating those details and facts into sentences. This can prove to be a difficult task for new writers.
Focusing the student’s attention on the purpose of the writing as well providing them with sentence starters and transition words are a great way to ease new writers through their first written pieces. Some sentence starters include:
- “(Character 1) (mode of transportation) to (place), thinking about…”
- “(Character 1) knew she had a problem when she/they saw.”
- “(Character 1) was happy to when he saw…”
Try to find ways to tell the story that the child outlined in their pre-writing activities, and just start the sentence for them. Have the child continue until they have the beginning middle and end of a story. The next step is then to revise the work, but I suggest that to be a separate sitting.
Like anything else, in order to get better at a skill, one has to practice. With that in mind, parents who want to see their students improve their writing should have them journal or play word games and/or read for at least 10 minutes a day. For added improvement, parents could have students complete one or two short stories a month.
What tips do you feel worked best for getting your child to write more? Please feel free to comment below.