How to Inspire Kids that Hate to Write

Posted by Erica Warren on

How I love to get challenging and difficult students, because they always help me to grow and find new, exciting pathways to learning. For the past few months, I have been working with a discouraged and easily agitated 4th grader that, "hates to write." In fact, he would shut down and spin into a tantrum when asked to hold a pencil. So, what can we do to reach students when they are disempowered and shut down to learning altogether?  Let me share some tools and strategies with you!
How to Convert Images and PDFs to Text Documents with Google

Why Do Some Students Struggle to Write?

Writing, like reading, is a very complex task that requires learners to multitask numerous skills. If any of these skills are weak or cumbersome, it can create a sense of cognitive overwhelm that can lead to a sense of learned helplessness. Academic learned helplessness is a perception that there is nothing one can do to overcome academic struggles. As a result, efforts dwindle and avoidance of the task can result to the point where failure is chosen over the desire to confront or work through the problem. It is a vicious cycle that reinforces itself, and it can be very difficult to break the pattern.

What are All the Skills Required to be a Competent Writer?

As mentioned, writing requires students to multitask numerous skills. These include:
  • Penmanship/Typing
  • Organization of ideas
  • Grammar
  • Sentence and paragraph structure
  • Word choice
  • Spelling
  • Punctuation

Teaching Writing

Here are a Number of Strategies that Can Help Reluctant and Avoidant Learners Embrace Writing.

  • Create situations where the student begins to associate positive experiences with their areas of difficulty. For example, weak fine motor skills that impact handwriting can be strengthened with coloring activities, mazes, and other fun, fine motor game-like activities.
  • Tap into a struggling student's interests to make the needed skills more enticing. If a child loves puppies, let them dictate to you a story about puppies. If they love Pokemon cards, have them design their own images and write their own text.
  • Do fun activities that strengthen visual processing and visual-motor skills.  I have a series of digital, game-like workbooks that exercise all the visual processing areas that are the foundation skills needed for reading, writing, and math.
  • Assist students by accommodating any weak skills.  If penmanship is weak, ask if you can be their, "executive assistant."  They can simply tell you what to write or type.  If they have difficulty spelling, provide them the correct spelling or allow them to use technology such as the Amazon Echo.  All they have to do is say, "Alexa, how do you spell animal?"  Finally, if they have trouble organizing a five-paragraph essay, provide the "formula" like the following Prezi.  
  • If a student is unable to organize his or her ideas, help to create a mind map, or use graphic organizers.
  • Allow struggling students to use assistive technology to help them with any areas of weakness. For example, if a student's penmanship is poor and labored, and they also do not have the keyboarding skills, allow them to use voice-to-text technology such as Voice typing on Google Docs.  In addition, if a student has trouble editing their own work, they can learn to use text to voice technology, such as the add-on, "Read" in Google Docs that will read text aloud.  
  • Write a long story together. Begin by letting the student dictate their ideas to you. Talk about the sentence structure and grammar as you go. Give them choices. For example, you might say, “We need a transitional word here. Should we use in addition, furthermore, additionally, or moreover?”  Slowly, pass on more and more responsibility to the student. Some options include: using Voice Typing, encourage them to type, have them find a better word by using a thesaurus, ask them to picture the scene in their mind, and then paint it with words so that the reader can see the same image...
  • Teach kids to use a thesaurus so that they can find new words that they can use in their writing.
  • Use fun writing games such as The 5 Ws Detective, Show Don’t Tell, and Show Don’t Tell 2.

collage of visual processing activities

What are Some Specific Strategies for Accommodating or Developing the Different Skills?

  • Penmanship: 
    • Accommodating: If the student has poor handwriting, allow them to dictate their ideas to you. You can act as their scribe or you can type the text for them.  
    • Developing: Once you have typed or scribed their ideas, they can always rewrite the text in their own hand.  This way they can just focus on penmanship.
    • Accommodating: Teach the student how to use voice to text technology such as Voice Typing on Google docs.
    • Developing: Find YouTube videos that demonstrate how to draw a student's favorite things.  I usually do the tutorials with them, so that we both end up with a drawing.  When I draw, I show them how I hold the pencil and gently demonstrate strategies on how to control their instrument.  When we are finished, I give them the option of coloring their image or my image.  
  • Typing: 
  • Organization of ideas
  • Grammar (Parts of Speech)
  • Sentence and paragraph structure 
    • Accommodating: Write together and offer a scaffolding approach.
    • Developing: Make sure that kids are comfortable generating main ideas and details by playing games like Hey What’s the Big Idea and The Main Ideer.
  • Spelling
    • Accommodating: Again allow students to use voice-to-text technology or a tool like the Amazon Echo to help with spelling. 
    • Developing: Offer an individualized approach.
  • Punctuation

What if I’m Looking for a Comprehensive Multisensory Way to Teach Writing?

Teaching Writing Skills - A Structured and Multisensory Approach is a comprehensive course for teachers, parents, and tutors that shares my own dynamic methods for students of all ages. The course offers video instruction and demonstrations as well as free downloadable games, materials, and handouts for your students. In addition, I implement and integrate a number of technology tools that keep the process highly organized, and I walk you through the process. You, too, can teach your students to be highly competent and confident writers. Come on over to my landing page to learn more.
Cheers, Erica

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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