I can’t be the only one who has approached a writing assignment and felt like I had absolutely nothing to say about the topic, right?
One time, for a college course, the final exam was an in-class essay answering the simple prompt, What did you learn in this course?
My answer? “Nothing.”
The course had truly been a bad experience with sub-par instruction from the teacher, and I had been able to skate through all the assignments without really ingesting anything of lasting impact. I’m not ashamed to admit this, for not all classes are worthwhile or life-changing.
But unfortunately, I still had to answer the prompt, What did you learn in this course?
I could have written, “Nothing. You’re a bad teacher and this class was meaningless,” which is honestly all I had to say. But then I would have failed the final. I had to think of something to fill at least five paragraphs in order to call my response an essay. And I did. It wasn’t easy or fun, but I did it.
As much as I would love for students to write about things they are passionate for, the sad fact is everyone will encounter writing assignments they just don’t want to do. Either they aren’t interested in the topic, they truly have nothing to write about, or they simply draw a complete blank when looking at the prompt. What are students supposed to do in these situations?
Here are five homeschool writing tips for what to do when you think you have nothing to say.
They can take some time to write down anything and everything that comes to mind when they read the prompt or think about the topic—even the random thoughts. Don’t think them. Write down the random thoughts. This may prime their brain to help them find something to say.
For example, if the student is asked to write a compare/contrast paragraph about cats and dogs, but the student just does not care one iota about pets and has never had a pet and never wants a pet, what are they supposed to write about? The student can brainstorm for a bit and realize that they’ve seen movies with dogs, and there’s comic strips about cats, and their uncle has a German Shepard, and lions are cats and they’ve seen The Lion King—and eventually they may come up with enough ideas to start writing.
Some assignments ask students to respond to something else, like a poem, article, or someone’s opinion. In these cases, when students can’t think of any response to the material, they should try reading the material again. Revisiting what they are supposed to respond to might help them come up with something to say.
Students don’t have to face the world of academia alone! Sometimes, to get the writing juices flowing, talking about the topic with someone else will help them come up with ideas of their own. Does a parent or sibling have an opinion on the subject matter? Does a friend have any ideas about what to write? Talk about the assignment with someone else, and then take that discussion and put it onto paper.
Hear me out: Students will not have first-hand experience with everything, and they certainly won’t be interested in all topics; so sometimes, the only way they can get through an assignment is to pretend they care about it. Sure, ideally, students are invested in their education and everything has a purpose and all that jazz, but I’m being real here. Sometimes, you have to fake it to make it.
For example, a student may be asked to relate the theme of a poem to their own life. However, the student doesn’t like the poem, doesn’t care about the poem, and can’t think of one single way the poem relates to their real life. How are they supposed to get through the assignment? Pretend they care about the poem, pretend it means something to them, and just fake their answer so they can get past this particular assignment. Everyone has to do this sometimes. I’m a writer and I love writing and I had to fake it sometimes in school just to be done with something.
Hot tip: This is especially true of SAT essays. The people grading those responses don’t care if what students write is true or not, as long as it’s well written.
This is probably my least positive suggestion, so feel free to skip it entirely, but I have to speak my mind. Thinking especially of the older students out there with college on the horizon, sometimes the only answer they can put to a question is the answer they know the teacher wants. When all other options fail and a student still can’t think of what to write, they can just write what they know the teacher wants to hear. They’ll get a good grade (if they write well enough to cover their apathy), and the assignment will be over.
Remember my story about having to write a What did you learn? essay about a course I hated? This right here was how I survived that. I knew what the teacher wanted to hear, so I wrote that down. Yes, I was basically lying because I didn’t learn anything at all in the class, but I got through the final. And I got an A. And I never have to write that paper again.
Now go forth and write!
Everyone has times when they just can’t think of anything to say. I hope these tips help your students face those times with more confidence.
By Athena Lester
Head of Curriculum and Scoring