Total Language Plus is an innovative language arts curriculum focused on critical thinking and communication skills.

Tips for Working with Reluctant Writers

Tips for Working with Reluctant Writers

 Tip One:        Provide A Visual Reward

Picture the struggling writer:  He sits at the table, a blank sheet of paper in front of him.  He swings his feet back and forth, taps the pencil on the table, rubs his head and sighs.  Because he is a compliant child, he sincerely tries to do his assignment.  Because he is an energetic child, he wants to get it done so he can do something involving action.

 Thirty minutes later, he is finished.  He has labored the entire time, but those five sentences take up about one fourth of the paper.  Three-fourths of the page is blank, and his sentences appear insignificant against all that emptiness.  A few lines at the top of the page don’t “look” like much; they certainly don’t reflect the effort put forth to get them there.

Discouragement can be reduced by two simple tactics.  First, have him write on a half-piece of paper.  I’m not kidding.  Cut the paper in half.  Use the bottom half for the next assignment if you’re nervous about waste.  As an alternative, use composition books.  The pages are all ready smaller.  A smaller page has less “blankness” to fill.

Second:  double-space.  The title of his assignment should go on the top line.  Next, skip a line, then he should put “by (his name).”  Skip four more lines before beginning the body of his paragraph.  Then the paragraph should have a blank line between each line of writing.

These two strategies, using smaller paper and skipping lines, will provide a visually rewarding product.  Instead of a few lines at the top of a full sheet of paper, the writing is spread out, giving an appearance of more volume.

Tell your writer that you want him to double-space to give room for your comments.  If you give him a half-sheet of paper instead of using a composition book, tell him you are saving paper.  Both are true statements and will not detract from the encouragement this tip can promote.

He will still swing his legs back and forth, tap the table with his pencil and sigh.  But at least when he has done his best, the paper won’t swallow up his effort.  Visually, the words on the page will be more rewarding.

Tip Two coming soon!

Evaluating Writing

Evaluating Writing

As the parent or teacher, you already know to check your students’ writing for quality of content and mechanics.  What else do you look for? 

  • Is the writing concrete? Look for specific words (“farmer” rather than “man”; “raced” rather than “ran”).
  • Is it clear? Are there ambiguities or inconsistencies in thought or expression?
  • Is it concise? Check for unnecessary words (shorten “in the event that” to “if”).
  • Is it gracious? Christian writing should avoid rude or slang terms.
  • Does the writing contain good sentence structure and proper paragraph construction? Look for run-on sentences, subject/predicate agreement; paragraphs with more than one main idea.
  • Do descriptions involve all five senses?
  • Do homepage original stories have a resolution of the conflict in which the main character plays a significant part? Is dialogue age-appropriate?
  • Do essays flow well and express well-thought-out ideas? Are opinions well-stated and backed up with facts and illustrations? It isn’t enough to state an opinion; it must be fleshed-out with solid reasoning and enough information for the reader to fully understand.

Writer’s Planning Form

I added a new, down-loadable “freebie” to help students with their writing projects.  The “Planning Form” can be accessed under the “Free Stuff” button.

Many students like the structure the form provides.  It helps them organize their thoughts and gives direction for the writing process.  The first thing the form requests is a working title.  A working title can help a student focus on what his essay is about and avoid running off in tangents.  One difficulty writers face is choosing a sufficiently narrow subject for their topic; stating a working title helps overcome that.  The Planning Form also helps with self-editing by providing a check list of things to watch for.

Some students find the Planning Form useful, but not all.  A talented writer may not need this tool, but if you are teaching a reluctant student who has trouble getting started and produces sub-par work, the form can help improve his organizational skills and provide a framework for self-editing.

Even more success is achieved when both student and teacher follow the Planning Form.  It puts them on the same page, so to speak.  The student knows specifically what the teacher is looking for, and the teacher has a basis for grading the student’s work.

 I’ve been employing this tool in writing classes for years.  Occasionally students balk at using it, but until their skills improve I usually insist.  Let me know how it works for you.