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5 Reasons for Why Your Child Hates Writing Assignments -- and How to Solve Them

Dec. 6, 2016

All it takes is a little creativity, patience and a whole lot of practice.

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As a former college English instructor and a writing tutor, I've seen it all in terms reluctant writers. From “my mom thought it was junk mail and put my essay in the paper shredder," to the student who rips up an almost finished essay and throws it across the room, I know that even the mere thought of a writing assignment can cause kids to freeze up, stress out, and come up with a million excuses.

Writing, like anything else, is a muscle that needs to be worked—and with a little commitment, anyone can improve. It's just a matter of teaching some tricks of the trade, boosting self-esteem, and practicing

Here are some of the top complaints I've heard from students over the years, and some tried and true solutions.

1) “I Don't Have Anything to Say"

Kids often have plenty to say on a particular subject in conversation, but when faced with the blank page, they become completely unable to move their pens. Just writing an opening sentence feels impossible.

Solution: Brainstorming

It's best to step away from the actual essay writing in these cases, and do some thinking first. Open-ended questions like, “What do you already know about this topic?" and “What do you want to know?" can get the juices flowing. Much of this can happen verbally; you can teach your child how to commit these ramblings to paper, either as notes, or as part of a formal outline. Visual learners may start out with “story maps," which graphically organize their essay.

2) “I Won't Be Able to Make It Perfect"

Lots of kids feel pressure to render perfect essays on the first try, not realizing that almost no writers are able to pull that off.

Solution: Freewriting

Give them a notebook, or a piece of scratch paper (so it doesn't feel like anything “official"), and let them just spill some thoughts on the page about their topic. This alleviates the pressure to come up with a finished product on the first try, and will usually generate some ideas that can be included in the final product. For kids who simply do not want to write down a word, you can have them draw their ideas, record their ideas into an iPad or other recording device, or act their ideas out as a dialogue or skit.

3) “It Takes Too Long"

Many kids feel writing takes an inordinate amount of time and focus. They wish writing had one quick answer like a math or science problem, and they feel impatient as soon as they sit down to write.

Solution: Break it Down!

If kids feel they must write an entire essay in one sitting, it can absolutely feel overwhelming. But essay writing should not be presented that way, and should always be seen as a multi-step process. Break the essay down into manageable units (usually “Intro," “Body," and “Conclusion" or some variation of that formula), and then spend one writing session on each chunk, rather than completing the essay in one or two jam-packed hours.

4) “Writing Is Boring!"

One of the biggest complaints kids have about writing is that it isn't interesting.

Solution: Creative Writing Side Projects

Do creative writing projects on the side—unrelated to assigned work—to help students fall in love with writing. Have them write in the voice of their favorite TV character, or write mini-memoirs. Teach them that writing is not just "on-the-page." Engage students in all the media venues that incorporate writing (theater, music, internet, advertising, etc.), and have them try their hand at these forms of self-expression.

5) “I'm Not Good at Writing"

Even being told once that you aren't good at writing can leave a lasting impression.

Solution: Build on Strengths

Probably the most important way to help boost the self-confidence of a reluctant writer is to find points of personal connection. In my years as a tutor, my primary role was a cheerleader. Just having one person (and sometimes it's best when this isn't a family member!) who is there for every achievement (and stumble) can make a world of difference. One way to connect is to take things “off the page" and talk about a child's personal interests, then find ways to transform that into writing they can feel proud of. For example, if a child expresses a love of sports, but hates writing, have them write commentary on the latest football game. Encourage them to share the commentary with friends and family, and watch them light up when they realize that what they wrote is meaningful and exciting to others.

What have you done to help a reluctant writer? Share below!

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