Got a reluctant writer? Try a tape recorder!

Try a tape recorder for a reluctant writer who has lots of ideas but struggles to put them on paper.

My son was writing-phobic. Hard as I tried, he hated everything about writing, from holding the pencil to putting words on paper.

Me:  What are some good words to describe the dog’s fur?

Ben:  Soft? Fuzzy? Brown?

Me:  Those are all great choices. Which one would you like to use in this sentence?

Ben:  Um … which one is the shortest to spell?

OK, so that was my life.

Fortunately, Ben did learn to write … eventually. Now he has a Ph.D. and writes words I can’t even pronounce, yet alone define, so there’s hope for any kid. But meanwhile, what can you do with your own child? Perhaps he has ideas, even if you have to coax them out of him. But that blasted pencil and paper keep getting in the way of his creativity!

It’s Too Hard to Write!

Remember these?

Most children’s speaking vocabulary far exceeds their writing vocabulary. This can frustrate your child when:

  • He doesn’t know how to spell the big words he uses when talking.
  • The ideas want to rush out of his head, but hand cramping or poor small-motor coordination slows the process to a crawl—or a complete halt.

One idea that works with reluctant writers, especially verbal ones: Have the child narrate his account into a tape recorder or hand-held digital recording device [affiliate]. You can then transcribe his words onto paper to help him see the relationship between the spoken and written word.

By third or fourth grade, when his writing skills have developed sufficiently, you may want to have him write his story from dictation as he listens to the tape. He can stop and start the recording as he writes his own words on paper.

Write Now, Edit Later

Later, you can edit together. Go back with him to catch and fix capitalization and punctuation errors. His spelling errors can become part of his memory work for the week. Depending on the child, you may want to focus on one or two areas that need attention. You might also note any mistakes so you can bring them to his attention before the next dictation assignment. “Carter, let’s review. What does every sentence start with? Can you remember?”

Writing activities don’t have to be formal! Keep trying new ideas till you find a handful of tools that work for you. And keep checking back for more suggestions to help your reluctant writer.

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  • Posted November 4, 2015


    I have some questions about narrations. Should I write my child’s words exactly as she speaks them? If her sentences come out awkward, do I reword it for her? Do I let her discover the awkwardness? I love the idea of using a recorder, because she is very verbal. Sometimes it is hard to keep up!

    • Posted November 5, 2015

      Kim Kautzer

      Leah: I used to take narration both ways. When my son was much younger, I tried to write exactly what he was saying. If it’s too “polished,” you may be hard-pressed to recall that your child actually spoke those words. This article might be encouraging to you:

      5 Ways to Use Narration with Prewriters

      If the story was gushing out like a fire hose, I would create pauses so that I could write things down. You might ask, “And then what happened?” It’s also good to ask questions for clarification, such as, “Tell me how it felt to touch the sea cucumber.”

      As kids get older, you can prompt and coach them through their storytelling. If a sentence comes out awkward or unclear, or it’s an incomplete thought, you can repeat it back and offer some input. For example, if she says, “And then under the water,” you could ask, “Did the turtle go under the water?” [“Yes.”] “OK. ‘Then the turtle went under the water.’ That’s a complete sentence. You say it: ‘Then the turtle went under the water.'” When you do this, you’re still validating her ideas and words, but you’re helping her to shape them into something that makes more sense.

      Here are a couple of posts that explain or illustrate more about how to do this:

      Introducing Writing Through Narration

      Using Questions, Prompts, and Dialogues to Help Kids Write

      Model Writing through Conversation

      Even if you still let her pour out her story while you write it down word-for-word, you can use editing time to look for ways to improve her writing. Check out some of our Editing and Evaluating posts for ideas. Some articles are geared specifically toward younger children, so start with those!

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