When you ask your student to compose a writing assignment, does your student:
A. groan as loud and long as their lungs allow
B. slump in their chair, slide off to the floor, and lie there face down like a slug
C. pick up a pencil and start eating it while vacantly staring at anything except the paper in front of them
D. pick up a pencil—then pick up another pencil and start practicing for their future career in a rock band
E. write the assignment
For some students, writing is no big deal. However, many others would literally rather do ANYTHING ELSE besides write a personal response or an original poem or an essay.
How can you, as a homeschool parent and educator, help such reluctant writers?
Once students hit high school, this argument sometimes works: “Just do the assignment and get it done because you’re in school and this is what you need to do right now, so just do it.”
But that doesn’t work well with elementary students and middle schoolers.
So what can you do?
Ultimately, you will have to discover what works best for you and your homeschool student. In the meantime, here are 7 helpful tips to keep in mind.
1) People first. Products second.
Make sure your student knows (and YOU know) that they are valuable and important even if their writing needs improvement. Some students resist writing because it is hard or they don’t do it very well. This may lead to their thinking that they aren’t smart or good enough, which will lead to their resisting writing even MORE because it makes them insecure. Let it be clear that your student is valued and important and good even if writing is hard.
2) Break it up.
If completing an entire assignment seems like too much to accomplish, the student may resist starting it at all. If they only have to concentrate on a small piece at a time, however, the work may not seem so intimidating. Breaking the assignment up into smaller parts to be done at different times makes doing the work much less of a chore.
The Essentials in Writing homeschool curriculum has this principle built into the textbooks already. It separates the steps of the Writing Process so that students won’t have to worry about writing an ENTIRE assignment when they sit down to work. They only have to think about one step at a time.
3) Mosey over yonder for a spell.
Take your homeschool student out of their normal learning environment for a session, somewhere that they aren’t used to doing school. The irregular environment may prompt the student to avoid the regular reaction of Noooooooo! Try a corner booth at a fast food joint, or Grandma’s dining room table, or a tree house. Pick somewhere different but not too distracting and then have the student write the assignment.
This won’t be an option for every writing assignment, but you really only need to do it once. If the student realizes they CAN get through a writing project, they may be less inclined to groan or deflate or space out when writing at home.
(Off-topic question: are you a “school room” homeschooler or a “kitchen table” homeschooler?)
4) Just give them a reason. Just a little bit’s enough.
No offense to anyone, but unfortunately, some homeschool students don’t care about their work because only Mom or Dad sees it, and it’s just Mom or Dad. Shake things up and give them a reason to care!
Tell them what they write will be shown to someone else—a grandparent, an older sibling or cousin, a teacher friend of the family, or anyone! Send a picture of the work to the EIW Curriculum Team on Facebook! (We love seeing how students use the curriculum!) Share their work with others. Make it matter if they do the work and do it well. If it matters, they may not drag their feet so much.
5) Live on the flipside.
Some people’s brains shut down when told to write. They believe they just can’t communicate their ideas on paper, but they can TALK about their ideas ALL DAY.
If your student is like this, let them talk! Work through the writing process verbally. Take the pen and paper away from the student and into your own hand. Write down what they say—exactly what they say. Don’t spruce it up, don’t correct anything—just write down exactly what they say. By doing this, you will demonstrate that the student CAN take their thoughts and put them onto paper. That is, they can write.
Show them it is possible. Eventually, they’ll be able to do it on their own.
6) Don’t buy into the “one-size fits all” mindset.
When kids get into high school and college, yes, they will need to write about what the teacher wants them to write about even if the student isn’t interested in the topic at all. That will require discipline and the ability to write even if the student doesn’t care or doesn’t want to.
But elementary and middle school kids aren’t there yet.
In elementary and middle school, we want to teach the kids how to write—not how to survive a boring class, not how to appease a teacher, not how to impress an SAT essay grader. No, at this point, we just want to teach them how to communicate with words on paper. Teach them using something they are interested in! Homeschool students will be more inclined to participate and practice if the topic is something they care about.
Create writing prompts specifically for your student. Focus on monster truck rallies, ballet, animation, the family dog, Disney movies, computer coding, or even Fo….Fo….Fortnite. (That was really difficult for me to get out. I don’t like Fortnite. But you know who likes Fortnite? Middle schoolers. Do you know who has a lot to say about Fortnite? Middle schoolers. Do you know who would probably readily write a letter or a paragraph or an essay about Fortnite? Middle schoolers.)
7) Cool merch.
This last tip may seem a little dumb, but for real: a fancy folder or notebook will make writing WAY more interesting for elementary and middle school students.
I know a pack of lined paper is a dollar and a plastic black folder is $.57, but if your student just does NOT want to write, why not try to bribe them with cool stuff? Yes, it’s a cheap trick (or, I guess it would be a more expensive trick—literally, at least), but it may be what it takes to get your homeschool student over the hump of reluctance. They may not like writing, but you know what they do like? Kai from Ninjago, or Moana, or llamas in hats, or NASCAR. Associate writing with something they like, and they may not pout so much when they have to pull out that particular subject folder.
Also, for your consideration, three words:
Every homeschool family will have to figure out what works best with their reluctant writer, for every student is unique. Until then, we hope these tips will help you and your student discover the way to excellent writing.
By Athena Lester
Head of Curriculum and Scoring