Working With Low-skilled Writers

I’ve had to introduce writing this week slowly to help ease student anxiety. Literacy class can cause some significant behavior issues for students. I had a student call another by the wrong name which caused a major shouting incident brought on by anxiety. I guided both students in using calming strategies. My main function is as a teacher, so I’ve had some ideas to help students ease back into the routines of school and being productive.

A successful activity I tried this week was with some very low skilled middle school readers and writers. I bought some large foam dice at the dollar store and then put pieces of sentences on stickers on each side of the die. I had the students roll the dice and make sentences with the words and phrases that came up on each roll. Once a sentence was constructed, I had them move the dice around to reorganize the phrases into a slightly different sentence or to form a question. This activity showed me that they understand the parts of sentences and how sentences can be structured in different ways. They even read their sentences with different inflections to indicate when there were changes in meaning. One student was too anxious at first to try the activity, but once he saw the others engaging in it, and once he realized it was a low risk activity, he took his turn and had fun with the sentence dice. Some additional things I plan to do with this activity in the future will be to have students write the sentences they form; to leave out some of the dice and have the students complete the sentences from the parts that were rolled. In the future I can also change the stickers on the dice to indicate story starters, or topic ideas for brainstorming. I’d like to get these non-writers writing paragraphs within the next two weeks.

I’m also working with these students on learning to develop ideas by brainstorming. This is a step they all skip when they have to write. For an activity, I named a category and then had them list at least five ideas related to the category as a brainstorm. Then I’ve been having them write topic sentences to go with their categories. They are getting good at writing topic sentences, and they almost don’t need to ask me after every sentence if they have it right. It feels good to have students completing tasks and working toward completing some writing goals. The biggest thing I’ve had to do this week is help students feel safe enough to participate in the class activities. Because they all have such low skills, they need to feel like no one will make fun of them or be disappointed in their effort (effort that would be considered lacking if they were in a mainstream school).

While my middle schoolers are producing writing, they are far below grade level, so that writing can’t be compared to their same age peers. Will these students ever write at grade level? Doubtful. Will they move forward from where they are right now? Very likely.

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