7 Tips for Helping Struggling Writers

7 tips for helping struggling writers

Grace and I have long used a journal during our homeschool time. When she was much younger, she wrote just one sentence and dictated the rest to me. That worked pretty well.

All along, I have helped her to sound out her words and reminded her to put finger spaces between the words and add the capital letters and periods.

She’s in second grade now, and I think I’m helping a little too much. I think she should be taking on more of the responsibility for the writing (spelling, format, and punctuation), and that is causing a lot of friction between the two of us.

In fact, Grace and I are struggling to homeschool right now. It’s day 25 of the cyberschool’s school year, but we are just beginning lesson 8.

It’s not going well at all.

The easy answer to the problem is to go back to “helping” her with the writing part, but I don’t think that’s the right answer.

For the record, I don’t think Grace is unwilling to write. I think she’s unwilling to make a mistake (this is a common problem with exceptionally gifted kids), and she is overwhelmed by all the parts of writing. She can’t do it perfectly, so she refuses to try.

It’s a work in progress.

Today, I made her write 3 or 4 sentences in her journal (about a story we’d read together), and the only things we corrected were capital letters at the beginning of the sentences and periods at the end. I left all the spacing and spelling issues alone, fodder for another lesson far away.

The thing is that Grace can read at a level far beyond what she can write. She can spell orally far better than writing words. She can identify parts of sentences and edit written sentences but cannot construct her own.

I’m perplexed by all that, and I’m a little concerned that it indicates a dyslexia-type learning disability. I’m going to consult my experts on that.

Anyway, back to journaling.

I am forcing Grace to take more of the responsibility for her writing, especially in journal writing.

However.

I want Grace to continue to work on her composition skills independent of her handwriting and physical sentence structure skills. I want her to compose thoughts fluently – sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into pages – even if she can’t write them down yet.

I started with the struggle of writing words and sentences because I want to stress that we’re working hard on that, but I also want to stress that we’re not ignoring her higher order writing skills.

disclosure-REVIEW

7 Tips for Helping Struggling Writers

1. Begin with a compelling assignment or journal. I asked Katie Clemons, the wonderful creator of Gadanke journals, to send us a My Mom and Me journal because it is exactly the kind of thing that Grace craves – time to really connect with me. She asks to write in our journal almost every day because she wants time with me, outside of school time or even playing time.

mother-daughter journal for struggling writers

2. Help her to compose her thoughts. Ask questions if you need to. Our journal is good for this because it begins each page with a prompt or question. Talk through the question and help her to organize her thoughts into a few big ideas (what would be the paragraphs if she were writing it out herself). I will say that some of the prompts in My Mom and Me are too abstract for Grace, but she’ll definitely grow into them in the years to come.

encouraging struggling writers

3. Allow her to dictate to you. Do the writing for her. It is so important for her to learn to put her thoughts into sentences and her sentences into paragraphs and her paragraphs into essays, and if the physical act of writing is a problem for her, then take it out of the equation.

Most important, write exactly what she tells you. Don’t clean up the construction. Don’t add words or delete words. Leave her run-on sentences alone, same with sentence fragments. Just write her thoughts.

Helping Struggling Writers

As I mentioned above (extensively), you still have to work on the act of handwriting and the mechanics of writing sentences and such. But those two skills are entirely different from composing thoughts and writing, and you shouldn’t let the former limit the latter.

4. Ask questions. Ask a lot of open-ended, probing questions. What happened next? Then what? Where else? What else? The purpose of asking questions is to elicit more details for the story. Struggling writers often have trouble getting beyond the bare bones basics of the story. Asking questions prompts them to add more.

5. Compliment her. When you’re having a hard time with something, you want to hear that you’ve done a good job. Right? Find something in the composition to compliment her on. Find something that she’s done well, and tell her.

6. If you think she’s ready for it, have her copy part of the composition. Start small, just a few sentences at first. Help her pay attention to the correct spelling, mechanics, and formatting of what you have written. Copywork is really good for learning to write better.

7. The next step, after she’s comfortable copying what you’ve written and is gaining confidence in her own writing, is to create a word bank for her to use in her own writing. When she can refer to a list of words or phrases, she’ll feel better equipped to write her own sentences.

How do you encourage your struggling writers?

© 2013, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.

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Comments

  1. says

    Sometimes honestly I think it depends on their interest level of what they are writing. My youngest son struggles with writing but then last year wrote an essay in the car for an overnight science camp he wanted to go to that was so good that my husband asked him if he copied it off the internet. Of course he didn’t have internet on his iPad in the car so he was upset that his dad asked him that, but honestly writing is not something he likes to do. He’s much like your daughter with the reading though. Earlier this year, he read Dante’s Inferno. He picked it out on his own and told me all about it one day at lunch. I had no idea he was reading it. He’s 12. Not a book I would have thought a 12 year old would pick to read.

  2. Katrina says

    I also have an exceptionally gifted 2nd grader who struggles with writing. I have done a bit of research into dysgraphia (haven’t had a chance to consult any professionals yet). You might look into/ask about that. My daugther’s ADHD definitely adds another dimension to the equation. I feel you are very lucky to be able to homeschool. While I know that social interaction with peers is important for my daughter, I also know she gets bored so easily in public school. She is out of her classroom part of the day in gifted class, but I don’t think it is enough. I really wish homeschooling were an option, but unfortunately we need two incomes in this house.

    • says

      Thanks. I have recently put in an email to her instructional supervisor at the cyber school because I am concerned. She is just 6, but it is a persistent problem that seems to be getting worse. On one hand, it could improve with practice, but on the other hand, practice is a huge struggle. I hope we’ll get some answers.

  3. Kim Lankford says

    wow, thank you so much for posting this. My second grader is way above grade level in all areas except handwriting (in fact we skipped the 1st grade curriculum all together) We have tears immediately when I ask him to write a sentence or even a few words but yet I see him write all the time on his dry erase board or magna doodle, but something about writing on paper stumps him. He is terrified of the lines on the paper. He is vision impaired which adds to the problem since it is very visually taxing for him to focus on the paper and smaller writing and I am dictating a lot of what he writes. It was very reassuring to see that others help their kids write at this level. I love the idea of a journal.
    Thanks again

  4. says

    Your honesty reflects many moms’ concerns about their reluctant kiddos: “The easy answer to the problem is to go back to ‘helping’ her with the writing part, but I don’t think that’s the right answer.”

    Actually, I think that IS the right answer. And these seven steps are great! They’re incredibly important for reluctant writers, who just plain need more hand-holding. I especially love that you’re letting your child dictate as you write her words down. It lets her think of ideas without the fear or restriction of having to write them down herself. My own son was just like this. Writing his words and stories for him didn’t hold him back. When he was ready to come into his own, he did. Now, at 28, he’s an academic scholar, but at age 12? Not so much. LOL! Fortunately, letting him have a slow, steady start gave him time to develop the skills he needed.

    Right now, you’re modeling for her, and that’s what’s important. As she gets more confident, she’ll become more independent. One day, she’ll sprout wings and fly on her own. For the time being, keep helping her as much as she needs in order to feel successful, and you’ll both be so much happier for it!

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