The Best Strategies to Fire Up Hesitant Writers

Haven’t we all heard similar lines in our classrooms? We see hesitant writers sit with pencils in their hands and paper on their desks, almost as if they’ve been handicapped by the task we have set for them.

How is it that some students have so much to say when talking, but when a pencil is put into their hand they suddenly hesitate, struggle, and have nothing to say? How can we help these hesitant writers eliminate the barrier that suddenly appears when they’re asked to write?

The answer is to have them produce ideas without writing at all. That’s right, the way to get hesitant writers to produce as much writing as they do talking is to have them do exactly that – talk.

Strategies That Work
1. Student Talks, Teacher Writes

Have your student stand up while you sit at the desk.
Pick up the student’s pencil and say, “You talk, I’ll write.”
This usually catches students off-guard – it takes them a moment to realize this is a real option.

2. Audio Record It & Then Transcribe It

Identify a way your students can record themselves speaking their essay rather than writing it. This could be a tape recorder, a digital audio recorder, a computer with a microphone, or an audio recording feature on a phone.
Hand the recording device to your student and say, “Step out in the hall and recite your essay using this.”
They can then play the recording back and write down their words.

3. Audio Transcribe It

Pick an app or tool that transcribes speaking as text. Some options: PaperPort Notes, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Dictation Pro, VoiceTranslator, or the text-to-speech tools that are built into many smartphones. Try one of these on your phone, tablet, or computer.
Tell your students, “Go ahead — speak your paper.”
After speaking, the students can email themselves the transcribed text and work on the draft from there.
Communication Before Craft
The sooner students (and teachers) see that writing has nothing to do with a pencil, a piece of paper, or a keyboard, and is simply communicating, the sooner they will start making incredible progress. Barriers will come down. The hesitation of putting the pencil on the paper to write will go away. In my view, writing is simply communicating through pencil marks rather than through speech.

Our concern is not whether a student communicates through a pencil and pen, keyboard, chalkboard, audio transcription device, or other means. Our real hope and goal is for individuals to capture their high-quality thoughts and convey them effectively to others. The strategies here break down the barriers between a student’s mind and their audience. These strategies free up thinkers to express their thoughts without the hesitation that makes some students’ minds go blank as they pick up that pen or pencil.