The Reluctant Writer: Writing Sundays #6

We all know those kinds of kids (or adults!). The ones that just can't start writing. "I don't have any ideas". Or, they start writing and then promptly stop with "writer's block".  Today's post is all about those kids. I hope you find something useful for your classroom.

I think we are all familiar with the writing process .  As teachers, we are trained to take students through the writing process to arrive at a piece of writing that is worthy of presentation.  I do not take my 2nd grade students through that process each time.  I spend the first half of the year teaching about the Write Traits through author studies and by using our Interactive Notebooks.  I also teach non-fiction type writing and poetry during that time. Some of it is published, some is not.

The prewriting stage is the most important stage for any student at the beginning of the year. This is where students can generate ideas for writing and start the planning process for their writing. 

Generating ideas to write is only half the struggle for those students that have a hard time writing. Getting those ideas onto the paper in some logical fashion is the other piece that some students struggle with. In my 20+ years as a classroom teacher, I've noticed that most students fall into the following types of writers:

I find the students that race to the end are equally as challenging in terms of teaching them the correct ways to formulate their writing, paying attention to conventions as well as style because by the time you get there, their writing is done!  Sometimes, it's like sewing where you have to go back and rip your stitches out which can also be frustrating.  But on the bright side, you have something to work with. With the reluctant writer, there is nothing there to build from which is why I wanted to talk about this today. 

This is not your everyday post about "here's how you can give students ideas to write about" kind of post.  Even after helping students generate writing ideas, students can still be stuck.  I think I may have stumbled upon why.

It's all about the brain.  When I did my Master's Degree in writing development of boys and girls many moons ago, I did my research in a 4th and 5th grade classroom.  It was back then that I discovered that girls tend to write about people and emotions and boys tended to write about events and actions.  While that doesn't sound like earth shattering research, it allowed me to think and work a lot with writers based on their ideas and styles and to differentiate where I needed to.  What was the most surprising was that boys identified the importance of proper punctuation and spelling more than girls.  That surprised me a lot since it was the boys who tended to balk more at fixing the errors or participating in practicing spelling. Many of the boys' papers in my research needed a lot of fixing compared to the girls' papers yet the boys identified it as important. What that tells me now is that students who need systematic ways to write (whether they be boys OR girls) need a pre-writing lesson that appeals to the way they think.  I have two daughters and one is a systematic, logical thinker and one is a global, emotional "go with the flow" thinker.  

One size pre-writing tasks do NOT fit all. 

(Photo courtesy of The Mind Unleashed )

When we look at the brain, we thought we knew that the right side of our brain was for imagination and the left side was for reason.  Newer research, it turns out, points to the left side and right side both helping us with imagination and reason.  (See the video:  Dr. Ian McGilchrist on The Divided Brain Ted talk. ) While the left side helps us more with the organization of writing and is "lifeless" according to Dr. McGilchrist,  the right side is more interconnected, evolving and "living".

So the reluctant writer doesn't lack imagination. He or she just needs the proper prewriting tools to get them going and the strategies for their learning style to keep the ideas flowing.  It might mean that he or she needs to be able to create a list.  Or, alternatively, it might mean that he or she needs to be able to get their "BIG" idea scaled down so it is more manageable to write.  What does that mean in a more practical sense for the classroom teacher? 

 It means that STARTING POINTS (pre-writing tasks) may need to be varied for the differing styles of learners.   If you teach the writing process using the Write Traits, you can teach students how to generate ideas using both a left and right brain task.

A good example would be:

Left brain thinkers:  create a list
Right brain thinkers:  create a web

Here are a couple of website pages from WritingFix that address the idea of right and left brain writers.  They have some great ideas to get your writers started depending on the way they think.  

When your reluctant student has started writing, how can you keep the flow going without frustration?  
The STRATEGIES for the CONTINUED writing process need to be diverse:  using dictionaries, writing offices, and anchor charts may help the predominantly left-brained thinker, but chatting about ideas with partners or using 5 senses may help the predominantly right-brained thinker more. It's all about being flexible as an educator and providing a variety of avenues for students to follow.

I have created a huge printables binder that might help you to stimulate some writing ideas with your students. There are generic templates for the whole year.  You can see this product in my TPT store here.  

(Thank you credits to: Scrappin' Doodles, Educlips,  Whimsy Workshop Teaching, KG Fonts, Graphics from the Pond)


  1. Fantastic blog post. I'm so excited to talk to my students about the different ways our brains work and to help them understand that if they're stuck, there are things they can do about it. As a writer I know how scary it is when facing an assignment or task and feeling stuck. This post gives specific strategies I can teach them to get the creative juices flowing again. Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much Kelly. It is an awful feeling when you are stuck and I just love to try and help people get unstuck.
      :) Shelley

  2. Love this Shelley - I will be pinning so others can benefit from this great information!

  3. Thank you for these ideas! I have a bunch of reluctant writers in my room, one of whom is gifted/learning disabled and I am always looking for ways to get them writing.

    1. Megan, those are the students that OFTEN have troubles writing don't you think? They just get so stuck. Maybe it's because their brain just works a little differently. Thanks so much for visiting my blog today!

      :) Shelley


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