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7 Tips to Encourage Reluctant High School Writers

The following is a guest post submitted by my good friend, Kelly.

Do you have a teenager who struggles with writing?

Convincing teenagers to write when they would rather do anything else is a particularly tough battle. Why? Well, writing has to be done horribly over and over until it gets better, and it takes a long time until you get better.

#ds139 "Writer's Block"

Anytime I teach a writing class, I remind my students often that anyone who can talk or think can also write. Everyone has a voice. Learning how to get words on the page and becoming comfortable with using them is a challenge, but it's a challenge worth taking. Writing is a worthy task for everyone. This is the first step towards getting teenagers to write. If they know you want to hear what they have to say, they gain the confidence they need to say it. Once you have their confidence, try finding other ways to encourage them to write.

What Methods Should I Use to Help a Struggling Writer?

1. Read, Read, Read: Encourage your teenager to read everything: articles, blog posts, poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, comic books, novels. See how other people create with their words and take notes. Reading good writing is one of the best ways to improve your own writing.

2. Journal: My high school students would initially make grimaces when I talked about journaling. Teenagers hear, "Journal," and they think, "Pink Diary with a Locking Strap." Journaling is not a place for secrets. Journaling is for practicing, like warming up before a run. Journaling provides a safe place to mess up. If you need a place to start, read my post about journaling and types of journals to use.

3. Start Small: Many times students hear "500 Words," and they shut down before starting. By breaking down a writing assignment into smaller pieces, the writing becomes less intimidating. My favorite book about writing is by Anne Lamott. It's called Bird by Bird, and the title comes from a childhood story, where Anne's brother sat frozen at a table, faced with the enormity of a report he had to write about birds. Their father consoled the boy by saying, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird." Break down writing assignments. Instead of an entire essay, write a paragraph. A good one. And move on.

4. Try Different Genres: Play to your kid's strengths: Is he funny? Get him to write a song parody. Is she sensitive or artistic? Have her write a poem filled with imagery. Write a movie review. Build something and compose an instruction manual. Compare and contrast favorite video games. In other words, put the emphasis on good writing and less about the form.

5. Step away from the 5-Paragraph Essay. When you make the inevitable move to the composition, forget everything you were taught about the basic five-paragraph essay and go read this article by Ray Salazar. His premise: The five-paragraph essay is boring, which is why no one likes to read or write them. Teach structure. Please don't teach "Introduction, 3 Body Paragraphs, and Conclusion."

6. Make It Personal: Find ways to adapt all writing prompts to something of interest. Passion shows. When you can get your teenager to tap into those passions, the struggle for words is no longer an epic battle. Find ways to incorporate interests into compositions, using examples from history, science, music, or Dr. Who. Try incorporating dialogue to provide context. Weave together song lyrics or childhood memories. Let the passion loose while putting boundaries and structure on the actual words.

7. Find an audience: Not only do students write better when they write about their passions and interests, they also write better with an audience. You might consider letting your teenager start a blog or write stories for online magazines. Send a persuasive essay to a government official or a news organization. Don't write to hypothetical situations, and watch the writing and interest improve.

Model Good Writing Practices

Above all, nurture a learning environment in your home by modeling these practices. Read a wide variety of books and articles as a family. At the dinner table, share quotes from writing you appreciate. Keep a journal yourself, or better yet, start a journal with your teen, writing entries back and forth to one another. Write thank you notes. Write a tribute for a friend as a gift. Don't just talk about the importance of writing, incorporate writing in your daily life.

Kelly Wiggains blogs about everything From Literature to Living. An English teacher by trade, Kelly left the classroom a few years ago, but she still tries to convince those around her to read and write. She loves to connect her reading to the real world around her. Therefore, her blog is a place for book lovers and book skeptics alike, offering concise book recommendations, tips for reluctant readers, along with stories and observations about her life. She writes at KellyWiggains.com.

Photo Credit: Sharon Drummond via Compfight cc

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  1. I love all these ideas to get a student going that is just stuck and I know that is the intended audience for this post. So, don’t take this as a comment trying to go against what this post says.
    That being said….
    I find it important to note that sometimes practice practice is not enough. Sometimes there is a learning glitch or real problem. I’m dealing with that with my 11 1/2 year old. He is dyselxic and has dysgraphia as well. He is starting vision therapy and I’m doing Brain integration Therapy with him at home.
    SO, if you child is REALLY struggling I urge you to think outside the box that they might have a real issue that can be helped with therapy methods. That it might be something more than being lazy or unmotivated, but many of the children who have issues with this are labeled as lazy or unmotivated.
    For more information on that you might check out Dianne Craft’s book Brain Integration Therapy. Her website is http://www.diannecraft.org She has lots of youtube videos talking about this subject. OR search for a vision therapist in your area.
    Their is a difference between sight and vision. Sight is the ability to just see that an object is there. Vision is being able to process that information and do something with it.
    They say 1 in 4 children have an undiagnosed vision problem. and most of those their sight is 20/20. It’s not a matter of needing glasses for these children. They need vision training/therapy.
    My other 2 children did not struggle to learn to read and write the way my 11 1/2 year does.

    OK off my soap box. I just wanted to through that out there for someone who might have a bright but struggling learner that they might be thinking is just lazy or unmotivated…that child might have a vision problem. :)

  2. Heather,

    Thank you for this comment. I actually meant to add a disclaimer to address issues like dyslexia and dysgraphia.

    There is a difference, and I didn’t mean to exclude those dealing with learning difficulties.

    However, I do think some of the tips I offered could help parents think outside the box concerning writing assignments with their child with learning disabilities, too.