I understand at the outset of this article that the word “them” in my title is ambiguous. Does it stand for the writers or for the ideas?

As you can see, writing is hard. At least, that’s what students tell me.

It makes their hands hurt. They don’t know where to begin. They don’t know how to construct paragraphs. If they’re not interested in the topic, they can’t think of anything to write anyway.

The list goes on and on and is pretty much the same in all the classes I teach.

A number of moms confess to me that they’ve given up teaching writing. Some say that whenever they give their students writing assignments, crying is involved. (I assume it’s the students doing the crying, but I could possibly be wrong about that.)

Even in the weekly writing class I teach for high school homeschoolers, at least two students have cast off all dignity and consideration of peer ridicule and burst into tears. And I teach a fun class!

Your new or reluctant writers may need some help getting off the ground this school season. Here are some proven tips to help your writers AND you!I understand how these students feel, but I can give you a few tips that will make writing less painful for your students and for you, and only two of the tips are crazy.

Help your writers. Here we go . . .


Help Your Writers Plan Papers They’ll Never Write

  • Discuss: What topics can you write about when researching a paper on a country? If your students have trouble with this, visit the library and have them examine chapter headings in books about specific countries. Here they will find such topics as geography, exports, language, and culture. This will help students compile a list. But stop after the list is completed. This is only an exercise!
  • Form an opinion: Ask your students where they would like to go for a vacation. Next, ask them to compile a list of reasons why their choice is the ideal vacation spot. In other words, why do they want to go there? Let them decide how realistic or far-fetched the destination and list will be. Commend your students on their lists and single out some specific reasons. Junior- and senior-high students can select a hypothetical audience (friends, family, their favorite sports team, etc.) and tailor the list to convince those specific people to vacation there.
  • Use sticky notes: Burned out on outlines? Try asking your students to make a list of reasons why teachers should not give homework. I give this assignment every year, and, believe me, this topic always excites imagination and inspiration! Allow all reasons, from the sublime to the silly. Then ask your students to select five reasons, write each on a separate sticky note, and then put the notes in a logical order. This enables students to consider how to structure their arguments to make the most impact on their readers.

Some of the dread of writing occurs because the task is too large. So why not break it down into achievable steps? Would you and your students love a practical writing schedule that will make your life easier?


Give Your Writers Practice in Taking Notes

Taking notes is a complicated skill required to do almost any type of writing. So ease your students into it. Try the following approach for one month.

  • Week One: Read a paragraph or two from a reference book. This book could be about Egypt, oceans, lizards, the history of chocolate—just about anything. Have your students to listen carefully and write down what they consider to be important facts. Discuss and encourage afterward.
  • Week Two: Choose a page or two (depending on the students’ ages) of a reference book and ask your students to read the paragraphs and jot down the important facts. These facts need not be recorded in complete sentences. Discuss and encourage afterward.
  • Week Three: Many paragraphs employ an “implied topic” approach, in which the topic of the paragraph is not spelled out in a single topic sentence. Choose a few such paragraphs from a reference book for your students to read. You’ll find plenty of them in their history or science textbooks. Then ask them to determine the topic of each paragraph and write their own topic sentence for each. Discuss and encourage afterward.
  • Week Four: Select a portion of a chapter from a reference book and instruct your students to identify and write down each topic presented and then list the facts covered under each topic—in other words, compile a casual outline. This helps them to understand the pattern of presenting topics with supporting facts and shows them how to develop their own paragraphs and papers.

Would you like a seven-week course on taking notes? You can find our practical eBook Teach Your Students How to Take Notes complete with lessons and sample paragraphs, essays, and worksheets by following this link.


Do Not Grade Everything They Write

I know, it sounds crazy. Shouldn’t everything they write be graded?

Not necessarily. Often, our students fear being evaluated, so they shut down altogether.

Just as a young bride might quit cooking if her husband critiques everything she makes, young writers will regard the evaluation process as demoralizing and then stop writing. This is unfortunate because it is preventable and even fixable.

Consider letting your students write occasionally just for fun. Give them an interesting writing prompt and tell them they can write for only ten minutes. Let them keep these gems in their own folders. If you would like a fun way of developing your own writing prompts, click here for my secret.

Some days, slip something of interest into a paper bag and ask your students to smell, touch, or taste it and then describe it in writing. Or distribute intriguing pictures and ask them to write anything that comes to mind. Consider writing when they write. Your bravery might melt their fears.

You can find free Middle School Prompts here and free High School Prompts here. If you haven’t already done so, subscribe to Writing with Sharon Watson for our free weekly writing prompts in your inbox {and free writing lessons}. Use the Subscribe form in the column to the right.

In addition, the teacher’s guide for our middle school writing curriculum Jump In has a school-year’s worth of fun writing prompts, and the Teacher’s Guide to The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School has an engaging writing prompts program tucked into it as well.


Final Thoughts

Here are some important facts about writing I found under my bed:

  • Allow at least one hour of thinking/researching/writing time for every 100 words you assign. A 300-word essay will take your students at least three hours to complete. And that’s only the first draft. Writing done in the family vehicle is not quality writing.
  • Be consistent. If your students write every day at the same time—say, after lunch—they will come to expect it and fight you less.
  • Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised. One of my sons who hated to write in school is now an adult and writes insightful blogs and essays. Who knew?


Other resources to help you help your writers

Here are three writing tips that will shock your children.

Ready for a fun way to motivate your writers?

Here are three practical ways to get your students writing.

Could you use a helpful guide to fair grading or our eBook 21 Grading Grids for Popular High School Essays and the Position Paper?

Identify five hurdles to writing. This article by me in The Old Schoolhouse magazine is also loaded with links to other helpful posts that will give you and your writers some welcome relief.



Yours for a more vibrant homeschool,

Sharon Watson



Copyright © 2015 by Sharon Watson
Most of this post was originally published on Apologia’s blog under the title “Writing Doesn’t Have to Involve Kleenexes®.”
Original image courtesy of

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This article by me in The Old Schoolhouse magazine is also loaded with links to other helpful posts that will give you and your writers some welcome relief.

Click here to drain some of the tension from your writing class



Frustrated that your students don’t finish an essay or don’t know the steps to complete one? Worry no more! Click here for my latest article in The Informer about a super-practical writing schedule you WILL use!

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the-power-in-your-hands writing-fiction-in-high-school Check out the innovative The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School for your complete high school writing curriculum needs. If you have a storyteller at home, try Writing Fiction [in High School] with hundreds of examples from popular fiction and classical literature.

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