Encouraging Hesitant Writers

Because writing is essential to our students’ success after high school, we are excited to share resources, tips from teachers, and a love of writing here at Classroom Chronicles.

Tipton County English teacher and 2014-15 Tennessee Teacher of the Year finalist, Becky McBride, shares three ways she encourages even her most reluctant writers to get their thoughts on paper.

By Becky McBride

Becky McBride, Brighton High School English teacher

Writing takes courage. My students come to class hesitant to write, and it is my job to help students gain confidence in their writing skills and accomplish their writing tasks with pride.

Here are three strategies to encourage hesitant writers:

Get to know your students, and together, plan to write

Teachers must think through writing assignments with their students out loud. Some of our students have deeply rooted fears toward writing, so we must be sympathetic to our students’ needs. Once we make a connection with our students, our students will be more willing to tackle their fear of writing.

In today’s classroom, students are diverse in their learning capabilities, and I have found it to be highly effective for all learners when I model the desired behavior I want students to be doing.  In order for our students to achieve a specific writing outcome, we must be explicit in our instruction, and we must walk students through the process.  I have found that working with students to complete graphic organizers like a T-chart, Venn Diagram, and/or Work Web have helped set my students up for success.

Take Baby Steps

Students can become overwhelmed with huge writing projects like research papers, so I like to break each writing project into a group of steps that can be easily assessed with specific rubrics for each step.  Below are five steps I follow to break down the writing process.  I assess these steps individually at first, and in the end, as an entire rubric based writing project.

  • Step One:  Read and understand the writing prompt, and decide what the prompt is really asking the student to write. Students are more receptive when we complete this task orally as a group.
  • Step Two:  Develop a clear thesis/opening paragraph by restating the writing prompt and making inferences/assumptions about the topic at hand. Once again, I like to model the restating the prompt objective to help my students become more comfortable with beginning writing tasks.
  • Step Three:  Find supportive evidence that will substantiate the thesis.  My students (even though they are high schoolers) love to use highlighters when looking for evidence in text to support their claims.
  • Step Four: Develop supporting paragraphs that include the cited evidence.  Reiterate the need to prove the student’s thesis of the writing project.
  • Step Five: Conclude any initial thoughts with supportive information, and restate the noted thesis in the conclusion of the writing project.

Be Content Oriented

So many times, teachers love to use red ink to grade a writing assignment. While the students’ ideas may be strong, the grammar and mechanics are usually weak.  It has been beneficial to me and my students to hold off on the red ink, and merely examine the content closely. By using small groups or even student peers, we can correct the grammar and mechanics. This frees me up to offer positive feedback on students’ thoughts, feelings, and cited support.

Anne Frank wrote, “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” It is my goal for my struggling writers to embrace their past, yet press on towards a better writing future where their courage is reborn. These strategies appear to be working this school year—a simple phone call home just the other day revealed that one of my students brought home his writing assignment for his father to read…the student had not been so proud of an assignment since he was in the third grade!

Tell us why writing matters to you! Write your thoughts on this image, and share your passion for writing on social media using the hashtag #TNwrites.

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