I received this e-mail this week, and although I have my personal answer to this parent's question, I thought I would post it to see if any of my blog users had a different answer.  Please feel free to offer your advice.

Dear  Corbett,
Happy  New  Year  to you!  I appreciate  your blog and   writing  on the 
WritingFix website.   My  son is in 4th grade. He is a  reluctant  writer.  He does like to read.  What is the best way I can help him  as  a reluctant  writer?  How  can I  best guide him   from  coming up  with what to write  since  he is often a blank slate?  I have  been reading  to him and having him write  summaries.   Thanks  for your time. 

I was a reluctant writer myself in fourth grade.  Luckily I ended up with a teacher -- Mike Borilla -- who gave us lots of fun options for in-class writing and then let us choose which one we wanted to actually write about in detail.  The power of student choice is amazing.  I've seen it do wonders for my reluctant student writers.  Now, I'm not always a proponent of completely free choice because I've had students who take advantage of that; I like to give many options and then--within those options--allow students to make a personal choice.  I jokingly call this strategy "The Illusion of Choice" during my teacher workshops on the Seven Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson.

Now we didn't just do fun writing in Mr. Borilla's class.  He balanced the fun, creative story-writing prompts with other useful (though less fun to write to) writing assignments.  We wrote plenty of book reports, expository papers, summaries, hamburger paragraphs too; but there was a balance in that class.  The fun happened some days; the un-fun happened on others. 

As a result, I became a kid who didn't always think writing was fun, but because of the fun ones, I felt pretty confident about my skills as a writer.  I lost my reluctance.

You say you're having your son write summaries of what he reads.  That's not fun; I've have yet to meet a student who just can't wait to write another summary for me. 

Keep doing those summaries, but make sure you have a balance of writing that your son would consider fun.  As a reader, he should very much enjoy creative assignments like the following from WritingFix, which are all based on books that fourth graders (and others) love to read:

These are just three (of dozens and dozens) of the fun kind of lessons at WritingFix.

Now, let's come back to student choice.  If you choose one of these lessons and strong-arm your 4th grader to write to it, well, that's one way of doing it.  I more about discussing all three, then asking the writer to make a good choice.  "Which would be more fun for you to write?  How would your story be different from the mentor text or from the student samples posted at the website?"

I have felt the frustration of dealing with reluctant writers too.  My best solution for those types is to find a way to give them some choices about writing, and help them to really enjoy the writing they do in those instances.  Student choice...I truly believe it's missing from too many learning opportunities.



  1. I agree that student choice creates a motivating force for reluctant writers. Another influence is allowing students opportunities for co-authorship. Songs, plays, comic books have all been written by one of my most reluctant writers, mainly because he has been given opportunity to write with a partner. Publishing is also motivating- in my grade 4 class we use simple book binding techniques to make "real" books that include an about the author section in the back. This is a subtle way of whispering "You are an author!" to those reluctant writers, and helps strengthen their identity as authors.
    Joan Jung

  1. I totally agree, Joan. In my Writing Across the Curriculum workshop, we talk about the importance of designing group/partner writing tasks long before students are asked to write alone. Thanks for adding to the discussion!


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