Writing is seen as the topmost skill to master by students. Case in point, most Higher Education institutions require strong writing abilities. It’s no wonder that educators focus on writing from as early as kindergarten. That’s why it can be frustrating to convince reluctant students of the importance of writing, especially when they don’t particularly enjoy it.
At the same time, writing is seen as a “serious” activity, the best way to learn, and skilled writers are considered to be somehow better students than others — an idea deeply rooted in traditional education.
This idea has some merit since writing helps students develop their critical thinking skills and is conducive to better learning. However, teachers might also be tempted to push the same things on all students, regardless of the results, because that is just “how it should be”. After all, many years ago, writing was indeed the easiest way to demonstrate knowledge. Written essays and grades were the most accessible ways to keep a record of a learner’s progress.
Today, we have more options in terms of assessing students and helping them make progress. This is true for any subject, age-range and, grade level, and even abilities.
We know this because teachers who work with students with different learning needs already know that offering alternatives is the best way to ensure that their students have what they need to: learn, consolidate learning, and reflect on their learning. For example, students with dyslexia can’t thrive without help. Allowing them to present something instead of writing it down can make all the difference in the world.
Outside of the box ideas for teaching students who don’t like writing
Taking a page from the special educator’s book can solve a persistent problem for many teachers whose students don’t like writing and aren’t as engaged in writing activities in the classroom or at home. In fact, students of all abilities can benefit from personalized writing assignments.
So here are a few ideas that can help students make the most of their learning with more outside of the box ideas:
Audio and video assessments
Allowing students to submit audio and video recordings instead of written assignments can be a game-changer. For example, students can easily hand them in through the learning management system. Some teachers even prefer to give feedback the same way, as they’ve noticed that audio feedback takes much less time.
This helps students demonstrate their knowledge and switch things up a bit, so teachers don’t have to request essays each time. It’s also a sneaky way to ensure deep learning since most students will also have to write a script for their videos, for example, so they are using writing in one way or another.
For group activities, there are more non-conformist projects, such as student-led podcasts.
Other activities that help develop critical thinking but aren’t necessarily related to writing are meaningful discussions.
For students that don’t enjoy writing, the chance to interact with their peers can be surprisingly refreshing.
In an ideal setting, your students would be sitting in a circle for these discussions, but you can accommodate synchronous online sessions, which we have previously written about on the NEO blog. They can also be encouraged to write little notes so they can compare ideas with their classmates later.
Otherwise, you can have a go at online class forums which do involve writing, but students might be more motivated to participate since they’re writing with the specific purpose of interacting with one another.
Micro writing activities
Writing can be weaved into other activities, so it doesn’t end up feeling like a chore. For instance, you can involve students with fun surveys and fill-in-the-gap questions that still make them think and write but have that element of fun.
If writing isn’t your students’ strong suit, they can take it as a group project. Include tasks in which everyone has to do their part by scribbling their thoughts on a post-it and creating something bigger together.
The third type of mini-writing task is adding their own ending to a story or their take on something that already exists, such as an essay. They’ll feel motivated to write because it’s a creative task, and they can put their own spin on it. In time, micro-writing activities help students become more confident writers.
Reflective online journals
Some students simply don’t enjoy writing in class, but they might be more at ease to do so in their own time, at home. Better yet, they might like writing online.
Keeping a reflective journal can help them improve their writing without feeling judged. In this case, they’re also thinking critically about their learning process and experiences in and out of the classroom.
Again, these could be in audio or video format, but they can also be encouraged to write to improve their skills.
More rewarding writing activities
Sometimes the problem isn’t that they don’t like writing per se; it’s the fact that they don’t understand its purpose.
In this case, contributing to a class blog or a wiki page filled with useful information can give them that reason to write. On top of this, they get to see their work displayed somewhere, which is rewarding, gives them immediate feedback and the opportunity to write with someone in mind (their peers, other teachers, and even parents).
It can be a truly eye-opening experience to see students eager to express themselves in this way, even if they need help with grammar at first.
Personalizing writing tasks
Personalization works for the format (written, audio, video, etc.) and the content. For this purpose, it’s worth looking at all the questions and tasks included in your lessons and textbooks.
Are they compelling enough? Do they offer a reason why students should write?
For example, if the original assignment is to write about a book you chose, their interest might be low at first. However, if you ask them to write a book recommendation for a classmate, that makes for a more appealing writing activity, whether it’s part of an in-classroom writing assignment or homework.
Outside of the box assignments
In line with personalizing tasks, nonconventional ones are great whenever you feel the need to shake things up.
For example, storytelling without writing still engages their imagination. Students can create movie trailers or even music videos. There’s also the option to create digital books, presentations, and even spoken word poetry. All of these involve less writing, but students can still demonstrate knowledge and engagement with a topic.
Plus, there are ways to ensure they reach the learning goals, even with more “out there” assignments. A student might not be interested in writing a dry description of a character. However, if you ask them to come up with a fairy tale character, the task might pique their interest immediately. Then, you can use their own creation to discuss different fairy tale themes.
To sum it up
Teachers have many alternative ways to convince students who don’t enjoy writing to engage with a topic. Audio/Video assignments, public blogs, reflective journals, and activities that help them find a purpose in writing are just a few ways to encourage students to learn without making writing the primary goal of a lesson.