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How To Help Reluctant Writers

It is very difficult when a child finds it hard to write. Every sentence can be agony, every spelling mistake can feel like failure, every letter written the wrong way round is embarrassing.

Some children love to write, but for others it's the stuff that nightmares are made of. Even more so when you know that if they wrote, it would be amazing.

But remember, Writing is very complex. You bring together a number of skills when you write. Apart from the physical process which involves holding the pencil and sitting correctly, there are spelling to worry about, and what you are going to write, how a sentence is formed, punctuation and letter formation.

Wow, there's a lot to think about when your writing. Is it any wonder some children just don't want the hassle. To develop a writer, they need to know it's alright to make mistakes. grandson finds is difficult to write. He finds it difficult to form letters correctly. And he knows it. He writing is messy unless he really concentrates. And he knows it. And yet he loves his note-books and will write long list - anything from shopping list to what he is going to take on his magical adventures. He also finds concentrating on a task very difficult.

Reluctant Writers

So what is the difference between writing in his note-book, to writing a piece in his work book. Easy, in his note-book he is the audience and as long as he can read it, that's all that matters. When he is asked to write something in his workbook he feels that it is going to be judged, and judged badly.

Tiny has only been homeschooled now for just over a year. He has spent a long time at school comparing his work with others. He is a clever nine year old and he has formed an understanding that he is different to children of his own age. This has resulted in a chipping away at his confidence. Now the task at hand is to bring back his confidence and let him know its OK to make mistakes, its OK to sometimes write the letters the wrong way, its OK to sometimes get the spellings wrong.

At the moment he is enjoying Reading Express - which is part of Reading Eggs. He is working just below his level, but because he is able to do the work easily he is getting a lot of enjoyment out of it. On the spelling part of the program he is getting a lot of his spellings correct and really enjoys the spelling test at the end of each unit. But if I ask him to write those spellings out on paper, he has to concentrate so much on the writing to work out the correct spellings is way more difficult.

What can I do to help?

There's a lot I can do, but it will all take time. These are some of the things I have already tried or am going to try over the next few months.


Handwriting is still a big problem. He gets his 'a', 'd', and 'g' the wrong way round each time. He knows there wrong but his muscle memory is still taking over. He also finds the physical process of writing difficult. I try not to focus too much on the writing as long as we can both read it. Spacing between words is also an area of difficulty. Just gentle reminders are needed here as he is writing a sentence.

Make Lap-Books

For a lap-book you only have to put in short amounts of writing. You can make the lapbook as small or as large as you want. The good thing about lap-books is that you can always come back to them when the interest in the topic has faded. We currently have five lap-books on the go. They can all be added to at a later time when we find really exciting information about the topic.

He has made a short video to show you how to make a lap-book. Check it out.

Making his own Power Point presentations -

With this, just one sentence on a page with added images still has a great effect. And another bonus is, he is not writing on paper but typing out directly to the computer. He has made some fantastic e-books this way which we have printed out and put into presentation folders. He is developing his computing skills and learning more than just the topic he is working on. As his skills develop, there are so many others things that I will show him about using Power Point. There is the animation side of it, adding films and video clips and putting in speech buttons etc.

Mind - Mapping -

As you may already know, I am very keen on mind-mapping. I used it when I was teaching to great effect. It can be a great way for children to organise their thoughts. It is also great for planning story writing.

mind mapping is a great way to start a topic
Sea side topic mindmap

This is a mind map we made to go with our topic on Seasides. We were thinking about our holiday that was coming up in June. He helped us focus on the things we wanted to learn about.

Now we are back from our holiday we will be starting our next mind map on our Wonderful Me topic.

We also use mind-maps a lot to plan our stories. When writing a story, he writes one sentence and I write the next. We always have our mind-map to refer back to because stories usually take more than one day.

Writing Letters to characters -

This could be characters from favourite stories - or characters from topic work. This would be an opportunity to demonstrate how a letter should be set out. He loves writing letters to characters. Sometimes he will even write letters to real life people.

Writing e-mails -

We have set Tiny up his own e-mail account. This means I and other members of the family can send him e-mails, which then he replies to. Again, not paper based, but a way of building his confidence with words.

Speech Bubbles -

A good way of learning about speech marks is to first use speech bubbles. We read a story together and then he writes down what the character says next. We then draw a speech bubble around it. I have also drawn some large speech bubbles on plan A4 paper and laminated them so that he can use his white board pen and we play a game where I write what one character is saying and he writes the reply. (A good way of learning about speech marks is to start by writing in a speech bubbles, then rubbing the speech bubble away just leaving a small piece of it at the start of the speech and another small piece at the end).

Speech Bubble

Shopping list with a difference -

Write out a shopping list, but pretend to be a character. What would a giant have on his shopping list? What would Red Riding Hood need to buy from the shops?

Party Invitations -

This doesn't have to be a real party. It could be a pretend party. You could also link this to maths were you have to work out how many items you would need to buy for all of your guest.

Story Endings -

Read one of your favourite stories. Discuss whether you like the ending. Together, write down a different ending for the story. Again, do this together.

Birthday or Get Well Cards -

Nice artwork and a little writing inside. The best way I found to do this is to make the card but then write out the message on a different piece of paper. When they are happy with what they have written, stick the message into the card. This saves all the stress of mucking up the wonderful card they have just created.

Comic Strips -

There is nothing wrong with comics. They are also filled with very little text, and most of that is speech. Draw out a template (or you can get some online and print them out) and let them draw a story as a comic.

Wanted Posters -

Great fun. Make up a baddie character and then plan a wanted poster.

Wanted Poster

Story Starters -

Find some pictures that have a lot of detail and some kind of characters in them. Discuss the picture and ask 'What do you think is happening? What is going to happen next? What is that person/animal/monster doing? What are they thinking? Write these ideas down on a mind map together and you have a basis for a story.

Write in different colours -

You don't always have to write in plain pencils. Sometimes it's much more fun to write in different colours. Try writing onomatopoeia words ( Boom! Bang! Crash! Splash! Fizz! and lots more. When a word is formed from the sound the thing makes). These words are great fun to write. And they do need colours. Get them to write the word Drip - so that it looks like a drip of water, or the word Fizz with lots of ziggy lines. Do some yourself. Great fun.

Write like it sounds

Silly sentences -

Write silly sentences. If they want to use the word bum or fart, that's OK. It is after all a silly sentence.

Rhyming words -

Tiny loves finding rhyming words. He does not mind writing these down. It's even better when he writes one and I write the next one - and so on. We are building up a collection now. The next task is to use them in poems.

Pen-Pals -

Find a pen pal and write to them about their interest.

Slowly over time I know his confidence will improve and he will be writing more for pleasure. We still have to work on his presentation and handwriting, but that too will improve over time.

If you have a reluctant writer don't expect things to change quickly. Writing is difficult. And for some it's more difficult than for others.

Once he is writing more, then we will concentrate of the creative writing process. He can verbally tell some excellent stories. What we are doing at the moment when he wants one of his stories written down is simple. I write one sentence, that he dictates - and he writes the next sentence. It always seem though, that he gives me the really long sentences to write down and keeps the short sentences for himself.

Finally remember the learning environment we create for children. Writing is a complex process, bringing together a number of sub-skills such as spelling, syntax, vocabulary, fine motor control etc. To develop a creative writer, they need to know it's alright to make mistakes.

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