Are your writers reluctant? Many students can be struggling writers until they grow confidence in their abilities. Keep reading for 6 ways to help those reluctant readers in your class.
Reluctant Writers Need Choices
First, your reluctant writers need to have choices within their writing time. When students are provided a choice, they are more engaged in writing. There are several ways to provide choices during writing time.
One of my favorite (and easiest) ways to provide choice during writer’s workshop is to offer students a choice of writing utensils. I usually prefer to have students write in pens. This way, students that spend forever on writing the same word and erasing for perfect penmanship get away from this practice. Using pens also eliminates issues with pencils breaking or needing constant sharpening.
Imagine a writer’s workshop day when you start the writing time by passing out glitter pens. Think of the excitement on your students' faces as they learn today they can use these to craft their stories. They will dive into writing time just to see the color of the glittery ink come alive on the page.
Another choice you can provide is the choice of what to write. Too many writing prompts used in the classroom can start to stifle student creativity. Reluctant writers especially will dig in their heels when it comes time to write because they just can’t handle another day where they are told what they have to write.
Teach the craft of the genre but leave the ideas of what to write up to the student. If they are interested in dinosaurs, why should they have to write about a historical figure in their nonfiction report?
Reluctant Writers Need Support
Sometimes students are reluctant writers because they are unsure of how to get their words onto paper. This can be especially true in lower grades. If a student is lower academically they might struggle with how to sound out their words. Writer’s workshop will be a tough time for these students because how do they write independently when they just can’t.
It’s important to evaluate your class on their writing abilities. When the majority of your class is at the same developmental level in writing, planning mini lessons becomes easy. Most of us know that this is a rare occasion. Think about what support you can offer to support the reluctant writers that might need more assistance.
If you are unavailable, perhaps you can pair up these students to have a writing buddy. I would caution not doing a writing buddy all the time as you don’t want the writing buddy to be doing all the work for their partner. With the right training though, a writing buddy can act as a support in helping the reluctant writer sound out words or put their sentences on paper.
Providing small group conferences of similar ability students, can also help provide reluctant writers with support. This gives you the opportunity to model one thing you want them to practice that day and watch them try it out. This small group could also continue their work together once the conference is done. In pre-Covid years I liked to have students move their seats during writing time to sit in their ability groups.
Reluctant Writers Need Tools
Do your students have the right tools for writer’s workshop?
I like to refer to the supplies students use as their tools. Somehow just changing to use the word tools gets more buy-in from students. Even better if these tools are only used during writing time and not other subjects.
As mentioned earlier, fancy writing utensils can be one of these tools. Other tools might be anchor charts for students to reference back to the lesson. Sometimes students are reluctant to write because they don’t understand what was asked of them. Other times they just need a little bit more explanation or a visual example.
One of my favorite tools is the writing folder. At the beginning of the year each of my students is provided with a writing folder (all color coordinated). These blue folders are used only for writing workshop and offer a way to hold all their writing, prewriting plans, and additional tools for support.
If you look inside my writing folders there are alphabet charts, blend and digraph charts, and a handwriting formation chart. Think about what the majority of your students might need. Is it a mini word wall? Phonics assistance? Handwriting help? These can fit nicely into page protectors in their folders for reference all year long.
Reluctant Writers Need Variety
Just like most adults, students also crave variety. While I am a huge fan of using systems in the classroom, having a system should not equal boredom. During writing time students should be given variety.
Variety can come in offering students a choice of what to write, what pens or pencils to write with, fancy papers or booklets, and a choice of where to write.
By not having everything the same each day (pencil, paper, place) your reluctant writers will be more engaged in writing time. Feel free to experiment. I suggest only changing one thing once a week.
Maybe on Fridays students will get to use fancy pens. The next Friday it might be a change in fancy paper but using pencils. Try out several different options and see what excites your students.
Reluctant Writers Need Alternatives
Reluctant writers sometimes need an alternative during your writing workshop. For this I mean to think about different accommodations you can offer instead of a pen and paper writing time.
Some alternatives you can use might be to have students type their stories, create an audio file of a spoken story, or use a text to type option. While these are not great long term solutions to students that struggle with writing, they can be great solutions for the beginning of the school year or used sporadically throughout the year.
Most schools now offer students 1:1 devices. If your students have access to a Google account, they can use text to speech within a Google document. In the past I have also had students record audio of their finished stories by using free programs like Audacity or Flipgrid.
Reluctant Writers Need Collaboration
Last, reluctant writers should be given time to collaborate and share with their peers. Consider having students work in groups to preplan their writing for the day before moving into independent writing. Switch it up and allow students to write in pairs sometimes as well.
Whatever you do, don’t forget the power of share time at the end of a writer’s workshop session. Sometimes having students see what other peers have accomplished during writing time makes them eager to have something of their own to share. It also provides a great time to showcase writing of different levels. I find that this can be a great push for lower ability students to start producing higher level work.