Has this ever happened to your student?
They put off their writing assignment until the last minute. When they finally do sit down to work on the assignment, they’re fidgeting in their chair and groaning about not knowing what to write.
Maybe they scribble down a few lines, but after several minutes they erase everything. They just can’t seem to find the right words to continue.
Warning alert: your young writer is suffering from writer’s block.
And they’re not alone. Even many famous writers have struggled with creative blocks at some point in their careers.
The famous writer Franz Kafka once lamented in his journal,
“How time flies; another ten days and I have achieved nothing. It doesn’t come off. A page now and then is successful, but I can’t keep it up, the next day I am powerless.”
Thankfully, writers have invented many different methods to help them get back into a creative flow.
As I shared in my previous article, one of those ways is to use writing prompts. Writing prompts are a great way to help young writers spark their imagination.
Another strategy is to break a writing assignment down into small steps so that the young writer will not be overwhelmed. Give the student a short, timed writing session over a series of days in which they work on one of those steps at a time (for example, first writing an outline, then writing the introductory paragraph, etc.).
This will help them learn how to plan out big projects, an invaluable skill for high school and college and the business world.
But, even with those strategies, a student might still struggle.
That’s where the “Writing Out Loud” method comes to the rescue.
This is a super simple method that requires a little patience and guidance from the writing teacher.
Here’s how it works.
Step one: identify what the student is struggling with.
Sometimes it could be something as simple as not understanding the assignment. Once this is cleared up, they’ll be writing away. If, however, it’s something more complex (for example, they don’t have any idea how to write their first sentence), you can proceed to step two.
Step two, ask them guiding questions about what they’re struggling with and have them answer out loud.
For example, let’s say they are struggling to write the first paragraph of their memoir essay. You can say, “Ok, how would you begin telling the story? You can use a phrase like ‘It all started on the day…’ Repeat that and fill in the rest of the sentence out loud.”
Step three, write down their words on a separate piece of paper.
For young writers, it can be difficult for them to formulate their thoughts and then immediately jot them down. They can quickly forget what they just said. Show them what you’ve written, ask them for their feedback, and use guiding questions to help them make it stronger. For example, you could say, “Can you think of an adjective you could use to describe the day? What was the temperature like?”
Fourth and finally, when you and the student finish editing the sentence or sentences, have the student copy them down on their own paper.
This method does take a little extra effort on the part of the teacher, but it is an excellent way to prevent students from becoming frustrated and to help them think more deeply about their writing.
Eventually, they will not need your guidance and can graduate to the “Writing in Your Head” strategy where they think about their writing independently. I’ve discussed this strategy more in my video here and in a video on the 8-step Essay Writing Process (for high school and college age students).
I use this strategy with my own writing. Whenever I’m struggling with writer’s block and unsure how to craft a paragraph or a sentence or even before I begin a writing project, I’ll step away from my computer and find a quiet room where I can sit down and think through what I want to say. Many times I’ll start formulating the sentences in my head. I’m sure there are some writers who like to formulate their sentences out loud.
That’s exactly what the young student is doing when they tell you their sentence out loud before writing it down. After all, for young writers, telling a story out loud is much more natural to them than writing it down.
I hope this strategy helps you and your students! I’d love to hear if you have more methods to help young writers overcome writer’s block.
On the Bookshelf: Inkwell Scholars Reading Recommendation
Don’t you love beautifully written and illustrated books that are also educational?
Paddle to the Sea is a 1941 Caldecott Honor Award Winner. Written and illustrated by Holling C. Holling, it tells the story of a “young Indian boy [who] carves a little canoe with a figure inside and names him Paddle-to-the-Sea. Paddle’s journey, in text and pictures, through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean provides an excellent geographic and historical picture of the region.”
This is a wonderful book to read aloud. If you enjoy this book, be sure to check out the other titles the author has written. Here is a link to borrow the book for free on Archive or you can get a copy from Amazon.
Another fun book that follows a character’s journey is The Travels of Monarch X by Ross E. Hutchins with illustrations by Jerome P. Connolly. It follows the course of a Monarch butterfly from Canada to Mexico. This one is currently out of print, but you can buy a used copy from Amazon or read it for free on Archive.
Paddle to the Sea and The Travels of Monarch X were two of my favorite books when I was a kid.
God bless and happy reading and writing!