A struggling writer may be having difficulties with any of the following writing skills: forming ideas, planning, organising, selecting and using language, transcribing, spelling, knowledge of grammar and sentence structure, and revising. Or, they may be struggling with the physical act of writing or typing.
Students with difficulties such as these would benefit from additional support. Here are some tips to help remove the barriers to writing so that students can improve their writing skills.
1. Allow students to record their ideas, plans and sentences they have formed orally on a Dictaphone so memory difficulties do not constrain their writing. They can then use this as a prompt when transcribing to paper.
2. Use direct instruction to teach students sentence combining. Sentence combining helps students combine sentences to make their writing stronger, more effective and less repetitive. E.g. Bob is Joe’s friend. Andy is Joe’s friend. Combine them to make: Bob and Andy are Joe’s friends. See https://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/sentence_combining for more information.
3. Concentrate separately on handwriting and spelling, including phonics until they become automatic.
4. For students with poor gross or fine motor control, look into assistive technology tools such as keyboards with different sized keys, joysticks and speech recognition software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking or SpeakQ.
5. Watch for those students who slump in their chairs, flop their head on the desk, tuck their legs around, the chair, tire quickly and complain of pain. These students may need to work on their shoulder or core control.
6. Reduce the amount of writing required by using writing paper with bigger spaces and less lines or using word prediction software such as Co:Writer or Read&Write Gold which reduces the number of keystrokes.
7. Provide students with a text rich environment, be enthusiastic about reading, listen to them read and read to them regularly. Teach them new words regularly to develop their vocabulary and explicitly teach them how to capture and use exciting words and ideas from texts read. Read more about how oral language skills impact literacy development.
8. Use Scholastic story starters. Students choose a theme, then spin a wheel to get a random set of characters, text type and plot. http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/story-starters/index.html
9. From magazines or newspapers, cut out pictures of characters, settings and actions and sort them into folders. Students can then choose one or more characters, a setting and action ideas that form the basis of their story plan.
10. Find wordless books. Have students write the story or dialogue to go with word-less picture books. Or, cover the words on picture books and have students write the replacement.
It is possible to both motivate and support struggling writers and providing as much time as possible to write is key for students to develop as writers. I hope these tips help you pinpoint the difficulties your student has with writing and some strategies to address them.