This is a critical step for helping struggling writers construct ideas. Using tools like brainstorms or Focus Storms, help students quickly get as many ideas as possible. The blank page can be daunting to a young writer who struggles with coming up with ideas. Brainstorming is a powerful tool to help writers flush out all the ideas and then a Focus Storm helps them to organize and fine-tune their ideas. This is also helpful because it is a visual for students to see that they have lots of ideas. If students ever get stuck for ideas, they can refer back to their brainstorm and focus storm.
Strategies to Support Struggling Writers in Elementary
Have you seen this before? A student is up from his desk (again!) going to get a drink for the third time during the writing block. Another student is sitting quietly at her desk starting a blank piece of paper (trying to fly under the radar). And then you have a student claiming to be finished with the writing assignment, yet it is clearly incomplete and disorganized. Sound familiar? Well, all these signs point to struggling writers.
Just like our students, not all struggling writers are the same. Some students struggle with writing because they are stuck for ideas. You know the kid…the one who proclaims, “I don’t know what to write,” then shrugs and stares blankly at you. Those are also often the students getting up to get another drink of water and staring at a blank page. These students struggle with getting started and knowing what to write about.
Other students struggle because their writing is disorganized and lacks structure. These students will often write, but their writing is disorganized and hard to follow. They often claim to be finished with a writing assignment before it is truely complete.
Finally, another group of students struggle with writing because they feel disconnected from the assignment. They may feel it is not relevant to them or they may not have the background knowledge or expertise to write on the topic.
Genre and content knowledge
Genre knowledge means knowing how to use different types of writing. If the assignment is to write a story, kids need to know what goes into the genre of narrative writing. It has to include setting (who, where, when) and plot (what and why).
Content knowledge means knowing something about the subject you’re writing about. If asked to write a letter to a politician about pollution, kids need to understand what pollution is. They’ll also need to know how it affects people, animals, and the environment. And they may need to know what causes pollution.
What can help: Many kids pick up knowledge about genre just by being exposed to it in school through reading. Others may need more explicit instruction. For example, they may need to be taught about the difference between biography and memoir, or fiction versus nonfiction.
To do that, find good examples of each genre. Then compare and contrast them with weak examples or examples not in that genre. You can also come up with a list of common elements that all the good examples share.
Many kids have holes in their general knowledge about the world. That can hurt their writing. You can help kids build background knowledge through reading, field trips, and family outings. Talk about what kids are learning before, during, and after the outing. Just meeting new people and trying new things improves background knowledge, too.
How to Develop Elementary Students’ Writing Skills in a Fun Way
Young students, especially those in elementary school don’t benefit from long attention spans. In fact, a 2015 study found that adults have an attention span that lasts about eight seconds. Keeping your students engaged while teaching them better writing skills is no small task.
- Orally share ideas in groups before having students write
- Allowing your students to generate ideas in a group and brainstorm is an effective tool. If a student is stuck on an idea, hearing what others say can create inspiration. Additionally, if multiple kids are stuck on an idea, a group setting allows them to feel less alone from their lack of an idea.
- Allow your students to work on an assignment in pairs, groups, or as a whole class. Similar to sharing ideas out loud, this method gets your students to better think about how to structure an essay and share their writing styles
- A writing prompt or starter sentence doesn’t allow your student to claim they don’t know what to write about and forces them to begin while guiding them.
- Allow your students to free write for a few minutes and encourage them to ignore structure and grammar (for now). Free writing is an excellent tactic for getting the creative juices going.
- Give your students a topic choice
- Either let your students choose from a list of approved topics or give them the option to pick their own for approval. Often, students who feel invested in a subject are more likely to write more and try harder.
- Writing an essay for a grade isn’t always enough to get some students engaged, especially if they’re struggling already. Raise the stakes and give them a greater purpose by creating unique assignments. For example, have them write a blog post they have to share with the class or a travel brochure to their favorite destination.
- Whether in small groups or one-on-one, it’s vital for teachers to pay attention to each student and identify where they are struggling. When students feel disengaged, it may be because they think they lack the skills to do well. Make sure to target different areas for each student.
Just as in the classroom, teaching your kids writing skills at home is essential because it shows your kids multiple methods and ways to write. Writing at home also keeps what your child learned in school fresher in their minds. Remember the length of that attention span? Knowing how to help kids with writing isn’t always easy, so we’ve got a few helpful tips.
Create a space in your home where your child will feel comfortable doing homework and other writing exercises. When doing exercises with them, don’t be afraid to make it fun with crayons, colored pencils, and markers.
If you enjoy reading to your child, try and write a story together. By reading and writing together, you’ll help your child develop ideas more efficiently, which will translate to their performance in the classroom.
Improving young students’ writing skills may seem like a tall challenge, but by doing a little planning yourself and identifying the individual needs and issues of each student, you’ll be able to transform your classroom into a great writers workshop.