Get students writing againSome kids hate writing essays, and off the top of their heads they can give you 97 reasons why this is so. When I teach my writing course locally, some students are bound to come to the first class with a “don’t even bother trying to teach me” attitude. They believe they are so far gone that they are unteachable.

I disagree.

And if you think your children are a lost cause when it comes to writing essays, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that you can turn things around in your own homeschool.

Here are three things you can do with your middle school or high school students to nurture a positive feeling about writing.

1. Ask them how they feel about writing. Ask them for reasons or explanations. And then listen. 

The first thing I do is ask my writing class how they feel about writing. At first, they are surprised that a writing teacher would ask this question, but I reply, “I don’t care if you like to write. I just want to know how you feel about it.”

This only further shocks them, but they begin to open up, relax, and let go of their writing inhibitions. And that’s one major reason I ask the question. Allowing your children to talk to you about their difficulties in the area of writing will have positive consequences. They’ll relax and feel that you respect their opinions and feelings in this area. It diffuses the tension.

You know how good it feels to tell a listening ear how awful your day was; you’re doing the same thing for your children. Being a listening ear makes writing less threatening.

2. Allow them to write without being graded or evaluated sometimes. 

Sometimes our children hate writing essays because their work is always being scrutinized. David Thomas and Sissy Goff, authors of Intentional Parenting, write about an “imaginary audience”: Just as kids are moving into adolescence, “They believe they are being watched, observed, and critiqued at all times.” That’s a harsh, glaring light for anyone to live under.

Our children are not objectively writing essays. They are pouring little pieces of themselves onto the paper. When we evaluate their work, they feel as though we are evaluating THEM. They cannot separate it out, and, quite frankly, neither can I. If someone negatively evaluated a meal I’d cooked, I would feel as though they were saying something negative about me. I suspect the same is true for you as well.

How can we help our children get out from under this burden of scrutiny?

Take a break from essays occasionally and use fun and intriguing writing prompts. Stay away from the stomach-tying topics of war, politics, disease, pestilence—really, anything they have to research. Stick to writing prompts that ask opinions or allow them to write creatively. Offer questions like “If it were up to you to choose our family’s vacation destination, where would you like to go?” or “Write about something you’re proud of” or “Smell this freshly baked chocolate chip cookie and describe the scent and how it makes you feel.” And then eat one together!

You can find weekly middle school writing prompts here and prompts for high school students here.

3. Ask them to write an essay on this topic: “Why shouldn’t teachers give homework?” 

This question is always the first essay topic I give my writing class. Again, they are shocked. But this question really loosens them up and allows them to think about what points they are going to use. They often dig in eagerly because this topic matters to them. They have an opinion, and they want to persuade me.

My students understand they are going to get another homework assignment at the end of the next class, but this topic allows them to “blow off some steam” in a creative, orderly manner. And it gets them writing, which was the point of it in the first place.

It may feel unorthodox to teach writing this way. It definitely is not the way you or I learned to write, but this has worked for me for years. I think it will for you as well.

Yours for a more vibrant writing class,

Sharon Watson



Copyright © 2015 by Sharon Watson

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The Informer Fall 2014Does the word “outline” send your students into a tailspin? Worry no more! Click here for my latest article in The Informer about an unorthodox method of organizing an essay that really works!

Want daily writing prompts to tempt reluctant writers and delight eager ones? Find out more about Sharon’s daily writing prompts posted on under “Dailies” or click here.

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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.

Jump InGet your middle school student ready for high school with this popular writing curriculum from Writing with Sharon Watson, published by Apologia! Featured in Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, Jump In will prepare and even amuse your students as they learn the fundamentals of effective essay writing and storytelling.