Reluctant writers can be a challenge in class but they come in all different shapes and sizes. There are many reasons why students may be reluctant writers and until you discover why they don’t wish to write, it is very difficult to support them. However, generally, reluctant writers fall into these four main categories:

  1. The Child who has a Fear of Failure.
  2. The Child who has Missing Skills.
  3. The Child who Lacks Focus.
  4. The Child who is Unmotivated.

How to Motivate a Child to Write.

‘But what do these children look like’, I hear you asking. There are some signs that can be easily spotted for each and once you have found the reason, it makes it far easier to support them in overcoming their difficulties and challenges.

Let me take you through each one by one and look at the symptoms of each reluctant writer and some simple ways of breaking down their barriers.

1. The Child who has a Fear of Failure.

This reluctant writer is a perfectionist and/or a worrier. Do you know a child like this?

Their symptoms may include not wanting to make mistakes in order to keep their page nice and tidy. They may lack the courage to take risks in fear of making mistakes, getting it wrong and possibly being in trouble.

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Having a low self-esteem of their own ability may also be an issue whilst some pupils may be comparing their own writing to others and not believing they can reach that standard.

So how can we help?

Helping a Child Overcome a Fear of Failure.

This child needs to either work on their weaknesses and fill in their gaps or find ways to overcome their struggles by changing their writing method. One simple strategy for these children is by making writing less ‘permanent’. When writing in pen, once it is down on the page it is there forever.

By asking children to use a whiteboard pen on a window, laminate or whiteboard, mistakes can disappear taking the anxiety away with them. Additionally, paired writers can be cleverly organised to ensure the paired children complement each other. A child who fears making mistakes is a great pairing with someone who is a little more carefree.

Providing children with opportunities to make corrections ensures that children understand they don’t have to get it right first time.

A clever way of developing a ‘risk-taking culture’ is to model making mistakes.

When conducting whole class writes, if you as the teacher makes mistakes (even if they are on purpose) you are sharing self-correction skills and the positive attitude that should come with challenging yourself.

Likewise, sharing real authors trials and struggles also helps those anxious children understand that even the best of us, find things difficult. JK Rowlings was turned down several times before Harry Potter was published.

2. The Child who has Missing Skills.

This reluctant writer may try their best and show great enthusiasm until they begin to write. Their gaps prevent them from achieving their best. Do you know a child like this? Their symptoms may include…

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Possibly being really good at telling stories and creating ideas but lack the skills on how to put them onto paper. Other ‘Missing Skills’ children may lack real-life experiences that they need in order to create ideas for their texts or simply find writing a physical struggle due to poor fine motor skills or pencil control.

Some children find spelling difficult which impedes their writing or low working memory skills may cause children to forget the sentence they were going to write.

What should we do?

How to Develop Writing Skills in Students.

This child needs to either work on their weaknesses and fill in their gaps or find ways to overcome their struggles by changing their writing method.

Supporting these children depends on what their weakness is. If it is spelling, let them use a word processor; if it is ideas, give them a storyboard with images and if it is handwriting, let them record their story instead.

Paired work again helps as the gaps can be filled by a cleverly paired partner. Place the poor speller with the great one. This child simply needs scaffolds and resources which will support them with whichever skill they find most difficult.

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3. The Child who Lacks Focus.

Child Focus Problems.

This reluctant writer is a daydreamer or likes to fidget. Do you know a child like this? Symptoms may include having difficulty remembering what they were meant to be writing due to being distracted easily.

Other children may not be able to sit still while writing. We all know the child who starts and finishes really quickly and rushes their work or alternatively takes the entire lesson to write the smallest of paragraphs.

What should we look out for?

Child Focus Problems.

This reluctant writer is a daydreamer or likes to fidget. Do you know a child like this?

Symptoms may include having difficulty remembering what they were meant to be writing due to being distracted easily.

Other children may not be able to sit still while writing. We all know the child who starts and finishes really quickly and rushes their work or alternatively takes the entire lesson to write the smallest of paragraphs.

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Ok, so what’s the fix?

How to Help a Child Focus in the Classroom.

This child needs assistance focusing. You need to discover what is distracting him/her.

It could be a classmate, the environment or something different. Not every child is designed to learn and be creative in a classroom, on a chair; and not every child is designed to learn and create in 60-minute lesson slots.

This child needs strategies to refocus and remember what they were meant to be doing in the first place. Storyboards and audio recordings of their ideas can help them to refer back what their ideas were before they were distracted by the pigeon on the playground.

Timers and time limits also give the children a great sense of urgency. By tasking them to complete a sentence every two minutes, you may just find you have five of them after a ten-minute activity.

Makes Links to Student’s Own Interests.

Linking writing to an interest or hobby also helps these children. Most children have something that hooks them.

They can’t concentrate for ten minutes in class but told you they spent three hours at home last night playing Xbox.

Time for a rethink…

Find out what they were playing and incorporate it into your lesson plans. There is also a whole new approach out there called ‘gamification’. I am not lying, google it!

Actually…I’ll do it for you at the bottom of this article (there’s also a TED video on Gamification…you’re welcome!)

Gamification in Education.

Gamification is where you turn lessons into a game like sequence, introducing various ‘missions’ to complete before you meet the big bad boss at the end of the lesson and defeat him with the best subordinate clause you can think of…

I’m sure your gamification ideas will be far better than mine, but I can see how it would work for these children who just need a bit of extra inspiration to help them focus.

Wait, there’s more…

4. The Child Who is Unmotivated.

This reluctant writer struggles for ideas and can never think of how to start or what to write next.

This writer could lack life experiences or imagination to draw ideas from or does not read regularly and so lacks example texts to use for ideas. An unmotivated child may not build upon basic story structures or sentences or repeats sentence openers by always beginning with ‘the’, ‘he’ or ‘I’.

Without experiences, a child can lack ideas for their writing. It is so important to give pupils these experiences.

This doesn’t necessarily mean through school trips; amazing adventures can be had from the comfort of your classroom or school. A bit of imagination and role play can go a long way.

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How to Motivate Students to Write.

Events and lessons can provide children with memories to draw from when writing their own texts. Technology can also provide useful tools to give children memorable experiences. I have recently created a vlog onmy five top virtual reality field trips you can take if you are looking for some inspiration.

When a child is lacking ideas, images and videos can help support children in gathering new and fresh ideas. Equally, a gallery walk, in class, can allow children to wander around and ‘borrow’ other children’s sentence ideas to use in their own writing.

Search Twitter for Authors.

Additionally, talking to real authors may seem impossible, but get on Twitter and contact your children’s favourite author and you will be surprised at how many replies you actually get.

Imagine the power of telling your children that the author they have been basing their writing on is going to read them and share the best one. Other ways of publishing writing to the public, through school newspapers and blogs, can also give that extra motivation some children need.

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Ben Cooper
I started my career after graduating from the University of Cumbria – Lancaster Campus where I studied Art and Design with Primary QTS. After graduating, I moved back to my home city of Manchester where I taught in an inner city school across KS2. It was during this time I developed a passion for Teaching and Learning whilst leading PE, inquiry-based learning and Apple device implementation. It was during this time that the website LiteracyWAGOLL.com was created and established. I then moved overseas in Dubai where I worked in a large through school as a class teacher, Head of Teaching and Learning and Head of Upper KS2. I am now Assistant Primary Principal and Head of Teaching and Learning. I am an author and creator of the expanding WAGOLL Teaching blog and vlog on YouTube and continue to develop the LiteracyWAGOLL website with a growing number of resources and example texts. I have also written articles for various Teaching Magazines including TeachPrimary and create my own digital WAGOLL Teaching E-Magazine.