An eager teacher stands at the front of the room, brainstorming with students to unlock ideas for writing about a time a wish came true. Students imaginations run wild as they think of wishes that they would love to see come to life. After the board is overflowing with ideas, the students are instructed to begin their compositions. Pencils soar across papers as many students work to get their thoughts written down. As the clock ticks on, many pencils slow down, while others completely stop. Anxiety begins to rise in the classroom as students feel stuck, not knowing what to write next how to write a cause and effect essay.
“Why aren’t you writing Jake?” the teacher asks. “I have written about how I threw a penny in a well and wished for a dirt bike. Then I wrote all about my wish coming true by finding a dirt bike on my front porch, but now I don’t know what to write,” replies Jake. This is a scenario that is very common in classrooms. Students get to a place in their writing where they have a mental block that causes frustration. They don’t know what to write next. So, how should a teacher handle this problem? Many may think encouraging words might help. Other teachers may remind the student that the clock is ticking and he needs to just write something. Neither of these are effective solutions to helping a student who doesn’t know what to write.
Here is a solution that will bring results: Tell the student what to write. This may seem like it goes against what most teachers believe because it appears as though you are giving the student the answer. Instead of thinking of it as giving an answer, think of it as jump starting his brain. For instance, take Jake’s situation. If the teacher simply says, “Jake, tell me what the dirt bike looks like, where you rode it, tricks you did on the bike, or maybe you rode it on trails through the mud or on a track.” Now the teacher has done something worthwhile. She can walk away and Jake’s pencil will once again fly busily across his paper.
One suggestion or idea can help a stuck student take off once again to complete a composition. Now, some teachers may be thinking, it is not permissible to help students or jumpstart their imagination on a test. While this is true, most students will not need help when it comes to a big test day. If the teacher has done his or her part in giving the students enough practice and instruction, and during these months of practice the teacher has spent a lot of time jumpstarting ideas, then the students have learned how to come up with ideas on their own when they feel stuck. Initially, many students may rely on help, but eventually, students will begin to mimic the way the teacher thinks of new ideas and they will be able to jumpstart their own imaginations without relying on outside assistance.
So, the next time a student says, “I wrote about blowing out my candles and I wished for a little sister. Then I wrote that my mom had a girl, but now I am stuck.” Instead of saying, “Just keep writing; you are doing well,” try saying, “write about what your sister looked like, what it was like to hold her, or what you needed at home to take care of her. Tell about how you played with her or describe her nursery.” This is beneficial information to help a student take off on a composition. Don’t be afraid to tell your students what to write. It will bring them one step closer to being successful writers.