Helping Reluctant Writers


For many children, writing can be a daunting task.  When presented with a blank piece of paper and a writing task like “write a recount about what you did today”, they manage to squeeze out only 3 or 4 lines in 30 minutes.  I usually get the questions “how do I start?” or “how long does it have to be”, and then a bit of time-wasting whilst pencils are sharpened and rubbers are found.  There is evidence of lots and lots of rubbing out, correction and re-phrasing.  It shows lack of confidence and writers block and children don’t really get why their writing is so bad; they can’t tell you how to improve it.

So how can you help a child with weak writing skills?  The easy answer is to get your child to keep a diary or sit down and write a story every day, but even professional writers find this difficult to do.  And for the reluctant writer, this is equivalent to climbing a mountain.  Below are some practical and easy methods which work.

The Slow and Untidy Writer

If you have a child who is a slow writer and focuses all his concentration and effort into the actual art of writing, then this is stopping the flow of ideas.  So in this case, you could act as a scribe for your child.  The child dictates and you write their story for them.  The point is that your child gets his ideas on paper in a logical order, that it makes sense and that it uses his imagination.  Ask lots of questions to extend ideas and prompt for better vocabulary.  Encourage your child to add more details like adjectives and adverbs, and encourage him to formulate the full sentence in his mind before dictating it.  You will find that your child will have written much more than 3 or 4 lines and this in itself is a very good motivator to write more.

The Child Who Doesn’t See The Point In Writing

If you have a child who says “who’s going to read this anyway” or “what’s the point in writing” it means that they don’t value the art of writing.  They find it easier to just say it, and writing it down is wasted time.

Talk to your child about the importance of writing and why we need to learn to write. I think the writing process involves three stages of evolution.  First we write to communicate. Most children understand this and it’s how children start to learn to write.  They start by making lists and writing messages, even annotating pictures they have drawn. You could start off this as a daily activity.  Ask your child to write a shopping list, a birthday wish list or even a list of things to do.  There are more ideas on lists here.Set a good example by writing things on post it notes and leaving them about the house for your child to find. Children follow by example.

The next stage is the “writing to entertain” stage.  Who are they entertaining? Well at first it’s themsleves so they have to write about something that interests them.  I have a collection of writing prompts on my Pinterest and you can pick and choose one which will be suitable for your child.  One of my teachers picks interesting topics for her students to write about.  She teaches older children and often her essay titles are about issues which affect them. So instead of asking them to write a speech persuading their school to give money to a charity of their choice, she will ask them to write a speech to persuade their school to allow students to manage the school Instagram account.

The final stage is the “writing to express” stage. Expression takes time to develop.  It can be in the form of poetry, or just by the words and the tone of the writing.  You should be able to hear the writers voice through the writing.  It uses emotion and can be quite honest writing.  I have had reluctant writers who love to write poetry.

The Child Who Doesn’t Know What To Write

A child who writes the bare minimum and finds it difficult to add detail and interest in his writing is suffering from writers block.  They need guidance on how to pad out their writing and they need to know specifically how to extend their writing. They start writing without thinking about content and stumble after just writing the first sentence.

  • Brainstorming ideas and plots before writing can help unravel a child’s writing brain and helps to visualise the direction the writing is going in.  Brainstorming can be mind maps, spider diagrams, flow charts or even lists.

  • Checklists are also useful to remind children about features of different writing types and what they should be including in their writing.  A simple internet search will yield checklists for “recount writing” for instance.  If the checklist reminds a child to “say or show how a character reacted to an event” then the child is more likely to do so at each stage of the story.

  • Another method I use is to get the child to write a sentence followed by a question word to help extend the writing. For example the child writes “I saw a boy playing football”.  This could be followed by “who, why, when, where or how” to add in some detail.  Ask specific questions about your child’s writing:

  • How did that happen?

  • Did you react to that event?

  • What did you do?

  • Can you tell me more about…?

  • What are some other words you could use to describe…?

  • Where were you?

  • Why did that happen?

Once your child has produced their masterpiece, then avoid the urge to criticise it.  Writing is a personal process, a form of expression, so any criticism on the writing can feel like you’re criticising the child.  Always make positive comments and acknowledge improvements first before you pick on the bad bits.  I will finish with a few websites I use to motivate writers and provide inspiration.

Storybird -Storybirds are short, art-inspired stories you make to share, read, and print. Read them like books, play them like games, and send them like greeting cards. They’re curiously fun.  Storybird reverses the process of visual storytelling by starting with the image and “unlocking” the story inside. Choose an artist or a theme, get inspired, and start writing. Children can either write their own books using the pictures to inspire and create plots, or just as a prompt for a piece of writing.  In this case they choose a picture and just describe what they see in the picture.

21 Stunning Photographs With Meaning – stunning photos of a variety of subjects, including children, flowers, people, and more.  Each photo was selected not only for being stunning, but also for an underlying meaning that will be sure to brighten your day.  Hopefully, these beauties will inspire your child to create beautiful pieces of writing.

The Literacy Shed – this website has lots of cartoons and short films to inspire your child to write.  We use this as a starting point for writing, and one of the simplest tasks is to get the child to watch the video, and write a summary of the stroy line.  It’s a matter of simple recall, but don’t be surprised when your child says she can’t remember anything aprt from the first scene.  That’s because she’s not used to focusing on the storyline and just watching for entertainment.  As she practices more, she will remember more and more details.  Another  great feature of this website is that it has lesson ideas too, so if you wanted to do something more in line with the national curriculum, then theres plenty of material to work on.

But if you haven’t got the time or struggle to explain things simply to your child, get a professional to help.  Our fully qualified teachers can unlock the writing bug in any child!

At the initial assessment I can work out why your child is struggling with writing, then I can design a unique programme for him to follow.

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So book your child for a free assessment today.  Call Samina on 01582 402225

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2 comments on “Helping Reluctant Writers

  1. Pingback: Comprehension – Do You Get It? | Kip McGrath Luton Tutor's Blog

  2. Pingback: I Don’t Understand What I Read – How to Help With Comprehension | Kip McGrath Luton Tutor's Blog

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