How to Help Struggling Student Writers

How to Help Struggling Student Writers

Many students claim that they don’t enjoy writing or “aren’t good” at writing. But when students truly struggle with writing, especially in a classroom with 20 or more other students, it’s difficult to know how to help.

Below are some strategies you can use to unlock the writer in all of your students—even those who struggle the most.

“Meet Them Where They’re At”

You may have heard this saying before, and it should be your mantra when it comes to struggling writers. For now, forget about what these students “should” already be able to do. If your student doesn’t know how to use commas, it doesn’t matter that she should know this already.

You must “meet your students where they’re at” by determining what they’re capable of and what they still need to learn. Then, do your best to teach your students the skills they need. With standards and standardized tests, you may feel that you can’t afford to backtrack. However, your students won’t be able to acquire higher-level skills until they’ve mastered the basics.

Teach the Process Step-by-Step

It’s helpful for all students—but especially struggling students—if you teach the writing process step-by-step. This may seem slightly time-consuming, but it’ll save you time (and make your students better writers) in the long run.

Teach your students how to understand and unpack a prompt, brainstorm, and plan. Walk them through writing an introduction, including a hook and a thesis statement. Instruct them in writing body paragraphs, providing evidence, and crafting a conclusion.

You’ll want to provide students with examples, then help them through the process of creating a plan, writing an introduction, or creating a body paragraph of their own. This may take several days, but you’ll see immense benefits.

Provide Guidance

Your struggling writers will need as much guidance as possible. You can provide this guidance in the form of models, sentence frames, and partner work.

Give students models by providing access to examples of exemplary work. These can be samples you’ve created, found online, or gathered from former students. It’s okay if students initially stick too close to the models as they write, because this will help them learn.

You can also use sentence frames to create a template for your students as they write. For instance, a sentence frame might say, “An example from the text is _______________________. This supports my argument because _______________________.” Gradually, you’ll help students move away from this formulaic writing. For now, you’re simply teaching them the fundamentals.

Another way to provide guidance is by pairing a struggling writer with a student who writes very well. It helps if the students feel comfortable with one another. Otherwise, make sure the gifted writer is one who will be kind and supportive to the struggling writer, rather than critical or judgmental.

You can then incorporate activities like peer feedback into your everyday lessons, giving struggling writers the opportunity to learn from their peers who excel at writing.

Give One-on-One Instruction

In a classroom of twenty or more students, incorporating one-on-one instruction might sound impossible. But for struggling writers, it’s much-needed, and there are a few creative ways to make it work.

While the class is working on something else you’ve assigned, you can conference with individual students about a recent paper. Call students up one by one, spending the most time with students who are struggling. Explain their score and any comments you’ve written on their papers. Taking the time to ensure struggling students understand your specific, personalized feedback is extremely beneficial.

When students work in groups, you can group the students who need the most help together. Although this doesn’t allow for one-on-one instruction, you can devote as much time to instructing this small group as possible. 

You can also record yourself giving verbal feedback to your struggling students. This is most effective if the student has a hard copy or digital copy of their essay to reference as they listen to your feedback.

Some learning platforms, like Canvas, allow you to provide audio feedback directly in an assignment. If you don’t use Canvas, you can still record an audio file and email it to the student.

This process would be far too time-consuming if you completed it with every student, so you can just pick a small group of students to focus on. Most students today have headphones or earbuds at school and can easily listen to the recording on their computers (or a computer you have set up in the classroom). This way, you can essentially conference with the student without taking away from class time. The student can also listen to the recording multiple times if needed.

Conclusion

Your struggling writers can learn and improve, and they need to know that you believe this too. If necessary, backtrack and teach them the basics so they can move forward as writers.

Invest some time to teach the writing process step-by-step, and provide as much guidance as possible. Find creative ways to incorporate one-on-one or small-group instruction.

In time, your struggling writers will begin to improve and build confidence in their writing.


Help your students grow as writers by assessing their work faster—and giving them access to WriteLab's AI feedback. 

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