Ask Matt: How to Encourage Students to Write

Dear Matt,

I teach the same class of 12 and 13-year-old students every day. Normally they are enthusiastic and awesome!  But when we have writing class (on Wednesdays) they just sit there and stare at their papers. I can’t seem to get them to write.  What can I do to inspire them?

Thanks for your help!



Hi Angela,

Getting students to write can be hard. Students often feel less inhibited when they are speaking because they can make mistakes without fear of repercussion. When they write, their mistakes are there for everyone to see. Fear of making mistakes (and, even worse, being reprimanded) will suck the joy out of even the funnest lesson. So, in order to encourage students to write I often employ two strategies. First, I try to reduce their fear of making mistakes and second, I try to make the topic extra fun for them.

Strategy 1: Reduce the fear of mistakes

In order to do this I give the students some guidelines so that they know very clearly what is expected. If they feel like they know what to do, students will feel more confident I doing it. So, I give a minimum amount that each student must write (six sentences, half a page, whatever works) but never a maximum, so that eager students can enjoy themselves without fear of punishment.

Then, I will review the tense that will most commonly be used with our topic and how the verbs are conjugated using that tense. Next, I will write lists of nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives that are useful for that particular topic. They are not required to use the words. But they may use them if they wish. This way creative students have room to do what they want, and less creative students have enough information to guide them through the assignment.

Finally we will make some example sentences together as a class and I will write them on the whiteboard so that students will have a reference if they forget the tense or sentence structure that they should be using.

Strategy 2: Make it extra fun

In my experience, making writing fun lies in the subject. It’s important that the students are enthusiastic about the subject. I usually ask the class to vote on topics they like: aliens, monsters, tigers, Teacher Matt being eaten by sharks (getting kids to make fun of you is always a sure way to make them excited about the subject).

At the end of the class the earth may have exploded, Johnny’s head may be stuck in the toilet, and you may have been hit by a car, fallen off a cliff, been dismembered by lions, and then pooped on by a passing pterodactyl, but at least you’ll have a stack of papers filled with writing.

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2 thoughts on “Ask Matt: How to Encourage Students to Write”

  1. Great advice, Matt! I definitely found writing to be one of the harder topics to teach young students. But if you turn it into a fun activity, hopefully your students will love it, too. With the right amount of encouragement I found my students to really enjoy writing and the creative process it required.



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