?6 Strategies for Supporting Struggling Writers

If you teach a subject other than English, it can feel laborious to layer writing on top of your existing content. It’s so good for their overall thinking and literacy, though, so stay committed to doing it by adding whatever supports your students may need to get them going productively on it. You’ll see the pay off as their mastery of your content deepens and their writing skills improve!

These six strategies could be used individually with the particular students who need it or with the whole class to give everyone a jumpstart.

Talk it out. Starting a writing assignment cold can be daunting for anyone and lead to a lot of wall-staring. Try engaging in a conversation with the student about what they know about the topic, what terms and big ideas we’ve talked about in class, and what part they might write about first. If they get the ideas flowing first, they can concentrate on transferring the conversation into writing versus formulating ideas as they write.

Create a word bank. In science and social studies, the vocabulary and terms are basically the content, so having a word bank can be a good way to remind kids of key ideas. You can also require them to use a certain amount of the list in their writing. You might create the word bank for them or create it together with the student as you ‘talk it out’ ahead of time. When the students default to simpler language, you can point to the word bank and ask them to find the terms they could include to improve their idea.

Use a graphic organizer. Having some sort of organizer not only helps students generate ideas for what to write about, but it also should organize the ideas in such a way that they can directly transfer them into their writing. An outline is the classic example and adding some idea generation boxes above it can go a long way. If you create the organizer with the most struggling student in mind, you can still give it to the whole class and simply tell them to use whatever sections are useful for them versus having everyone do all of it.

Provide sentence stems. Sentence stems can give students a ‘running start’ on an assignment and for your ELL’s it provides some helpful phrasing they may not already have. If you’re not familiar, an example would be providing the opening phrase ‘One effect of pollution is…’ and then they complete the sentence on their own. Try not to use sentence stems for students who don’t need them, though, as they can lead to overly formulaic writing and inhibit the development of a students’ writing if they’re not at a very basic level.

Chunk it. If students struggle with writing, it’s probably not their favorite thing to do either, so tasking them with a lengthy writing assignment or a series of essay questions may overwhelm them. Instead, give them 1 piece of the assignment at a time so they can focus on that successfully first and then bring in the subsequent sections.

Adapt your rubric. Consider weighting sections of the rubric differently for struggling students or perhaps changing the expectations in some sections. Even just using a highlighter to note what you want them to focus on for each assignment can help scaffold the expectations and get them going in the right direction.

For more on supporting struggling students, check out Motivating Your Reluctant Learners.

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