Are your students reluctant writers? Do you have reluctant writers who either write terrible stories, or hate writing altogether? I used to have to pull teeth to get any decent narrative writing out of my kiddos. Whenever I announced we were going to write about something, they’d moan and groan, and (I hate to admit this), I’d sometimes just neglect creative writing altogether. But over the years, I learned some strategies for reluctant writers to get my students’ creative juices flowing and turned my reluctant writers into awesome authors. Now I love to teaching narrative writing, and the students are actually begging to write! I’m going to share 9 tips that have worked for me and I think will work for you too!
LET’S SET THE STAGE FOR TEACHING NARRATIVE WRITING!
When I begin a writing unit with my kids, I like to set the stage for writing. When we were writing Christmas stories, this is how I set everything up. I made a bulletin board with the elements of a Merry Story, and word lists. There were copies of the lists available for each student to put in their writing folder. Tubs filled with cards to choose from helped “jump start” the writing process and gave them some great ideas for writing. There were also fun writing papers, pencils and erasers they could use. When all the kids came into the room and saw the center, even the reluctant writers were instantly curious and began to get excited about writing.
NINE TIPS FOR TEACHING NARRATIVE WRITING
#1 GIVE RELUCTANT WRITERS CHOICE
Reluctant writers like choice in what they will write. Personally, I hate to give the same writing prompt to the entire class. A great alternative, is to select a theme like, fall, fables, scary stories, etc. and provide the kids with different settings, plots/problems, and characters to choose from. Not only does it help the kids feel like they “own” their story, but you don’t have to read the same story written 25 different ways. Each student will create his own unique story. The kids may not like all the plots, but they are sure to find one they think is interesting.
#2 GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS PROVIDE SUPPORT FOR RELUCTANT WRITERS
Awesome Authors plan before they write. Students often struggle with writing because they are told to just “start writing.” I like to give students 2 graphic organizers when planning their stories. The first includes the elements: Setting, Plot/Problem, Characters, and Solution. The second includes a summary of what happens at the beginning, middle, and end of the story. These graphic organizers allow the students to think about their stories and create a planned outline before they actually begin writing.
#3: HAVE RELUCTANT WRITERS WRITE ABOUT SOMETHING THEY KNOW
Your students will have lots of say if they get to write about something they know about. Depending on the topic, it sometimes takes time to help students develop the background knowledge necessary to write a story. This is especially true when you’re writing stories in science or social studies. When you let the kids select problems/plots they are familiar with; they will often write better stories. That is not to say that you shouldn’t ever have your students write stories about living in a different era or during a historical event, etc. But, when you are first getting your kids turned on to writing before they are really great writers, it is easier for them if they write about events they are familiar with.
#1 GIVE PROMPTS THAT INCORPORATE HUMOR AND/OR FANTASY
Kids love humor and fantasy. So, why not give them humorous plots to write about like being chased by a scarecrow? Or maybe something that is completely outrageous like raining acorns or finding gnomes living in a pumpkin in your garden? I love to watch the kids giggle and get excited when they have funny plots to write about. Of all the tips I am sharing, humor seems to be my number one tip for motivating reluctant writers.
#5: PROVIDE WORD LISTS AND CHECKLISTS AS SCAFFOLDS FOR RELUCTANT WRITERS
Word lists are so helpful for beginning writers. When writing narratives, kids will write “and then” over and over again in their stories. By providing a list of transition words and phrases, students can add great transitions to their stories. I want my kids to write interesting stories. So, I provide word lists for vivid verbs, sensory words, and seasonal words if we are writing a seasonal story. Finally, it’s good to have a writing checklist the kids can refer to before submitting their final story. Checklists help them remember to include all the elements of their story. If they left someone out, they can simply revise their story.
#6: RELUCTANT WRITERS NEED CONSISTENCY
Especially when working with younger students, beginning writers, or reluctant writers, it’s good to use a consistent format for writing. This is particularly helpful because you don’t have to give directions over and over again. Once the kids are familiar with the format, you can introduce a new theme for writing, and the kids know what to do. It makes your life so much easier! Later, when they have mastered your format and are well on their way to becoming awesome authors, you can modify the format and don’t have to provide as much support.
#7: MODEL, MODEL, MODEL
Model, Model, Model. Great writers don’t just learn to write by themselves. They learn to write from other writers. When first teaching students to write a story, you should model writing a story for all the kids to see. You can model the process of selecting a plot, setting, and characters and completing the graphic organizers and finally writing and revising my story. One thing I think is particularly important to do when modeling writing is to “think out loud” so the kids know your thought process as you are writing. It is also good to explain your reasoning with word choice. Why did you describe the character in a certain way, or why did you choose a specific transition word? This helps the students see how to “think like a writer.” and they will begin to use the same thinking strategies you model in their own writing.
#8: GIVE YOUR AWESOME AUTHORS FEEDBACK
One of the most important and beneficial things we can do if we want our kids to be Awesome Authors is to give them feedback. Not just notes on their story, which is maybe all you can do at times. But, sitting down with a student individually and discussing his story, and giving constructive feedback is critical to improving student writing. When giving feedback, first focus on parts of the story I felt were good. Always start your story with a compliment like, “You really pulled me into this story. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.” Or, ” I loved your choice of words when describing the scarecrow in the story.” Then I like to ask the student what his favorite parts of the story are and what he feels needs improving. Notice I do this before I ever give any constructive feedback.
When I do begin giving constructive feedback, I like to focus on just one or two areas to discuss such as word choice, voice, or sentence fluency. Don’t try to pick the story apart and find every sentence that could be improved. Also, ask for the kid’s input while you are discussing an area that needs improving. When you take the time to conference one on one with a student, solicit their input, and give praise and positive feedback, your students will blossom as writers.
#9: PROVIDE AN AUDIENCE FOR YOUR STUDENTS’ WRITING
So many times, our kiddos write stories, and no one except the teacher reads them. When your students write for an authentic audience, they will put more effort into their writing. Audiences are pretty easy to come by. The kids can go to another class and read their stories. Also, you can bind them into a book to put in the school library. I had a website in my classroom, and each kid had his/her own page where we took pictures of projects and posted their stories. They loved it because their parents and grandparents could read their stories online.
One year, my students wrote and illustrated their stories, and we bound them into books. Each student had five copies of their story, and we had a book signing party at a local bookstore. People bought the books for $2.00, and we used the money to purchase more books for our class. The kids thought it was great to autograph their books for the buyers. Parents were great about buying books from other kids, not just their own. By the end of the evening, we were sold out. We took tons of pictures, and the community was so impressed with the stories the kids wrote. The local newspaper even wrote an article about our project which made these awesome authors so proud.
I’m not saying have a book signing at a local bookstore is for everyone. But, I will assure you of this. Kids will always put more effort into their writing when they know someone besides the teacher is going to read it
LET’S SUM IT UP:
Let’s face it, we all have reluctant writers in our classroom, and it’s a challenge to get them to write. But if we offer them choices, give them supports such as graphic organizers and word lists, use humor and write about what they know, we can see a drastic change in their attitude toward writing and the quality of their stories. By using a consistent format we don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time we introduce a writing activity. Along the way we need to make sure that we as teachers model writing and our love for writing, give constructive feedback, and provide authentic audiences for writing the students produce. If you incorporate these strategies into your writing program, you’ll see your students transform from being reluctant writers to awesome authors!