It can be really hard to motivate kids to write. When students are reluctant to begin writing, I have found that the best way to motivate them is to provide choice.
The components of motivation
Motivation is all about two things: believing that you CAN do something and believing that it will benefit you in some way.
When students are faced with one writing prompt, they can hit a wall. They can’t think of anything to write, and so they start to feel that they can’t complete the task.
They may have a hard time relating to the prompt. This can be due to a lack of background knowledge or a lack of interest. They may not be able to make any significant connections to the topic.
How to engage your students
That’s why I like to offer a huge list of high-interest writing prompts. When students are presented with choices, they feel more compelled to complete the task. They find something they’re interested in, and suddenly feel that they CAN think of something to write. (I also have a digital version of my writing prompts for Google Slides available here.)
In addition to helping them form ideas, offering choices is key for meeting some of the basic needs of our students: the need for autonomy, control, and personal agency.
When you compel your students to do something, it can feel like work. When they get to chose a task, they are less likely to struggle against you.
A real life connection
I thought about that idea a lot last month when I hiked the Inca Trail. It was a long uphill climb, and my muscles ached under the weight of my backpack. I wondered why I was doing it a few times.
I realized that if someone had told me I had to do this hike, it would have been miserable. But since I chose to do it under my own authority, knowing it would be a challenge, I had a blast.
It reminded me of the second chapter of Tom Sawyer, when Tom gets his friends to whitewash the fence, enticing them by making the work look fun.
Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. — Mark Twain
How to get started
At the beginning of the year, I provide a list of prompts for each of my students. We add them t o the beginning of their writing section of their binders. Each time we have a writing block, they take their binders, open them up and choose a prompt on their own. Students label their writing with the number of the prompt and begin.
Having a consistent routine is a great way to make things easy for you and your students.
A tip for students with special needs
Another tip: often kids will hesitate to write because they are insecure about their spelling. To help with this, I include a frequently misspelled words reference sheet in their writing binders. This is also a helpful intervention for students with disabilities, and is sometimes written into their IEPs. Check out the one I use here.
Motivating reluctant students across the board
Often, students who are reluctant to write are struggling in many other areas of school as well. Read my favorite tip for helping motivate struggling students here.
The next time you find your students complaining about writing, try giving them a lot of choices.