This month, my friend and colleague, Megan Maxwell-Smith has written a brilliant guest post that I think will resonate with many of you. Megan, an online writing coach, shares four activities to engage reluctant students to write. Check out Part 1 of this two-part series here!
4 Activities for Engaging Reluctant Writers
Reluctant writers will experience more success and more confidence if you toggle the amount of organization, mechanical skill, and new content creation that’s required for writing activities.
Since there are so many components to the writing process—from coming up with ideas, to constructing logical arguments, to refining language and style—it’s also helpful to allow students to focus on building one skill at a time.
The following targeted activities allow students to engage their strengths and also use scaffolding for their weaknesses so that writing is more approachable and fun.
Activity #1: Add in More Structure with Frames
For some students, frames cultivate creative energy by removing the need to think about structural details.
How to Do It:
Create fillable templates that include spaces for whatever elements your students are working on, such as topic sentences, transitions, or analysis.
Activity #2: Take Away Structure with Free Writing
Free writing helps students who balk at structure or who find it difficult to turn off “complete sentence” mode for mind-map activities. It also helps students who need to tease out their thoughts and see what they already know, or those who write with many mechanical errors.
How to Do It:
Create a big idea question on the topic you want students to write on. Then, create sub questions that will help unpack the topic even further and inspire more thinking. Set a timer for around 10 minutes and talk your students through the freewrite, beginning with the big question and periodically adding in sub questions. Before starting a freewrite, cue students to turn off their own “correctness” police so they don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Additionally, let them know the additional questions are there for help, but students do not have to address them.
Activity #3: Take Away the Writing Altogether with Oral Brainstorming
Let your students focus on ideas, the seeds of writing.
How to Do It:
Write broad categories on slips of paper or half-size note cards. Put them in a stack or a bag so that students can draw one at a time. When a student draws a card, start a timer for one minute. The goal is for the speaker to say as much about that topic as possible in the time. The thoughts can include personal experiences and associations, but should not deviate from the topic.
Take the first turn in order to model the “free association” nature of this activity and show students they really should just say whatever comes to mind.
- US presidents
You can also include units of study you know students have knowledge of, such as the French Revolution, volcanoes, or the circulatory system. This makes for a fun group activity but can also be done one-on-one if the instructor alternates turns with the student.
Activity #4: Offer (Bad!) Samples
This is a great activity to practice revising, since most of us can’t resist the urge to correct what we think is wrong or clumsy.
How to Do It:
Offer students sample writing that stinks. I like to make up a character so that students feel perfectly free to voice their opinions: they’re not correcting someone they know and respect; they’re correcting Joe, a confused but well-meaning Icelandic exchange student who is still learning English.
Rather than focusing on actual errors, such as misspellings or grammatical slip-ups, offer writing that is awkward, terse, or under-developed.
This is best done as an open-ended, collaborative exercise. Ask students what they think doesn’t work about the writing. (They can point out what does work, too, if they’re so inclined.) Try to draw out as much as you can. If the answer is, “It sounds babyish,” ask “Why?” Model answers to this: “I notice that Joe kept using the word thing instead of a more specific word.” Or, “Joe used and three times in this one sentence! I wonder if there’s a different way he could have put that thought together.”
If using this activity with students who struggle with verbal communication, you can skip the description of the process and jump right to making changes.
Megan Maxwell-Smith is an online writing coach who specializes in making writing less stressful. She loves creating practical templates, outlines, and checklists so that students of all skill levels can successfully follow the writing process and adapt it to suit their unique learning styles. Her commitment is to helping students build skill and confidence in writing as they enjoy expressing themselves.