How do I motivate a 9-year-old who doesn’t like to write?

by | Mar 25, 2019 | Reluctant or Struggling Writers

How can you motivate a 9-year-old who doesn't like to write? Try sparking interest with concrete topics, story starters, and parent-directed writing.

We often get letters from moms who don’t quite know what to do with their reluctant fourth graders. This email is a pretty typical lament:

My 9 year old and I haven’t done any routine writing projects together. He hyperventilates (not really but you get my point) when I try to do any kind of writing with him.  I’ve tried story starters, but he just doesn’t want to participate, or he comes up with a totally silly story. I know he can do better, but he has this thing about writing.

Writing Stories: Too Abstract? 

It’s so normal for a 9-year-old to be a reluctant writer. And believe me, I understand. My son was the same way! I’ve found that often, storytelling can be too abstract for such a child. Even kids who are slightly older (junior high) usually do better when asked to write about more concrete topics, such as events they have personally experienced or objects they can observe firsthand. That’s why descriptive writing or personal narratives often produce better results than made-up stories from the child’s imagination.

Why do such activities bring about success? The child can actually see and touch a toy car, taste and smell a ripe peach, or recall a story that happened to him.

But don’t throw out the baby with the bath water! Though factual writing is often easier, elementary-aged children can learn to write good stories! Whether you follow guidelines for planning a story, teach them to write a funny story, introduce the ingredients of a fairy tale, or use a curriculum that includes story-writing, it’s simply a matter of providing your kids with helpful tools and pointing them in the right direction.

To Adventure Builder StoryBuildersmotivate a 9-year-old, it’s still perfectly fine to use a story starter now and then. And when you do, know that it’s really OK for the story to take a silly tack. Sometimes writing should be just for fun! If you need some ideas, you’ll find several inexpensive StoryBuilders card decks from WriteShop, including World of Animals, Adventure Builders, and Spin-a-Story StoryBuilders. By mixing and matching story element cards, children can create lots of different stories, from serious to silly. Each StoryBuilders set includes activities that will appeal to students of all ages and writing abilities.

Journaling Ideas

Journal writing can be an effective motivator. With my own reluctant son, for example, we did journaling across the curriculum over and over again. Your kids might love it too! Because this type of “journaling” is based on facts gathered through reading, they won’t get stuck trying to invent details or a come up with a story line. It’s also much more entertaining to read and write than a report!

Overcoming Writer’s Block

What’s one of the most frustrating assignments you can give a reluctant child? Believe it or not, just ask them to “write about whatever she wants.” While it seems that this should be freeing, it actually has the opposite effect: it contributes to writer’s block.

That’s why it’s really important to establish parameters for your budding writers. Just as a sturdy fence helps a child feel safe in a big back yard, clear boundaries and expectations help young writers feel secure about putting pencil to paper. The blank page can be pretty intimidating, so instead of asking them to “just write,” be very specific. For example:

  • Write a paragraph of 3-5 sentences
  • Describe a __________________ (taco or Tonka truck, for example).
  • Do not tell a story about it. Just use your five senses to explain how it looks, feels, sounds, tastes, or smells (as appropriate to the object).
  • Use your thesaurus to include one new word.

You can probably see how this sort of directed writing helps inspire confidence. When trying to motivate a 9-year-old (or any reluctant child, for that matter), start small and don’t expect too much at first. If you were teaching a child to play the piano, you’d give him exercises and simple tunes to practice long before you asked him to compose a piece on his own. It’s the same with writing!

. . . . .

If you’re looking for a writing curriculum to motivate a 9-year-old, a gem of a program is WriteShop Junior. It’s rich in fun prewriting activities, guided writing, and engaging writing lessons! Try Book D for 3rd and 4th graders, or Book E for 4th and 5th graders. Still not sure which level is best for your child? Check out this helpful placement guide.


  1. Jennifer Weaver

    Do you have any techniques or tools that you use to get these kiddos to write?
    My 8 year old does not want to write at all.

    • Kim Kautzer

      Oh, Jennifer. That can be so disheartening for both you and your child. One of my favorite tips is to have your child dictate to you while you write down their words. Some kids just need the freedom to share their ideas without the pressure and limitations of having to do the physical writing. Invite your 8-year-old to write the words he or she knows while you write the ones that are more challenging. You can also take turns writing every other sentence or even the whole story! It can make a world of difference to a reluctant writer.

      There are just SO many ideas, tools, and tips (too many to list here), but we have tons on the blog. You’ll find plenty if you scroll through the posts for reluctant writers.

  2. Kim

    Glad you were encouraged, Heidi. You made my day!

  3. Heidi

    Hi, Kim!
    This was JUST what I needed to read today. I have an 8-year old daughter who is just starting 4th grade. She’s advanced in many ways, but when it comes to writing she is VERY reluctant (her writing is even sloppy though she’s a perfectionist in many ways). I just don’t get it!
    Anyway, I really needed to read this today – you’ve given me some ideas about how to better work with her this year. Now, I’m going to read your post on journaling.

    Thanks for your nice post on my blog – I’ve enjoyed getting to know YOU too!


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