Helping Struggling Writers

Helping Struggling Writers

Good writing is clear thinking made visible. – Bill Wheeler


Deena Seifert, MS, CCC-SLP

Middle School and high school students are writing 2-5 papers a week. It’s a lot of pressure for the average student, so how do you help the struggling writer? One way is to help them get organized.

You can use low tech writing aids using paper and pen, fill-in-the-blank organizers or note cards. What about inspiring your child with an APP? Inspiration Software is a favorite of mine and my students. It’s available in Windows, Mac and iPad formats.

The first step in writing is brainstorming or rapidly writing your thoughts about the subject as they enter your mind. If you don’t have an app, a low tech way is to have your student say aloud all the things they think about the subject they want to write about while you or your student/child records the thoughts on a clean sheet of paper. For a high tech solution, Inspiration has a feature called Rapid Fire where you can type in all your ideas about a subject. This can be done easily in the diagram format.

Visual Organization
Many struggling writers are strong visual learners, so being able to organize your thoughts in colors, shapes, and special fonts is not only appealing, but necessary to organize details, categories, ideas. A low tech method is to highlight, color-code and/or link the ideas. You can also put the information on index cards. Going high tech? Inspiration and another app called Popplet, can help you achieve this with a tough of a button or tap on the screen.

Example of Inspiration diagram

The next step is to organize the information by arranging the index cards in order, numbering the items on paper, or moving the diagram information around the computer or tablet screen. This is a crucial step to keep the writer on task and lessen the frustration. Many students who experience difficulties in writing need help outlining. Inspiration Software allows students to turn their diagram into an outline with the click of a button. Software programs such as Pages and Microsoft Word make this an easier task, as well, with their formating helps.

Writing, Plain and Simple

Many young writers want to edit their work as they write, but this breaks the flow of the writing. Encourage the student to write first and edit later. Simple sentences can be combined to make compound or complex sentences. The diagram, index cards or paper will have the vocabulary terms pertinent to the paper which cuts down on trying to retrieve the words needed for the essay or research paper. Let the writing flow uninterrupted, then take a break before editing.

Finally, it’s time to edit the writing. First run-thru: sometimes the best way to do this is to have the student read each sentence aloud and find their own mistakes. Hearing themselves say the sentence can be a great editing strategy. Second run-thru: have an adult read the paper with them and call attention to sentences that need more finesse. The goal is to help them become more independent, so don’t do the editing for them. Guide them in fixing their mistakes.

Finally, if your child is experiencing difficulties in written expression, see a certified speech-language pathologist who actively works on writing strategies with their students. There may be underlying oral expression and grammar difficulties that need to be addressed to improve the writing strategies. Without help, these students will not progress to being successful, independent writers on their own.