Writer’s Block: Using Templates to Help Your Child Thrive!

Struggling with writer’s block seems to be a near universal experience, even for people who enjoy writing. When helping students who are struggling to get their thoughts on the page, I have struggled with the level of support I should provide; should I rephrase what they said to me aloud while they write it down word for word? Should I give them one keyword to jog their memory of what they just said? I feel just as stuck as they do sometimes!

Writing Templates

My approach to teaching writing switched once I was introduced to They Say, I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein while I was a graduate student at San Diego State. Graff and Birkenstein believe that writers tend to follow sentence formulas that they didn’t necessarily invent, therefore we should share these sentence formulas with students to help “demystify academic writing.” Aha! The idea that we can’t provide any words or else the writing isn’t the student’s own is a myth when we look at it from this perspective. Providing empty templates might actually be the key to help students really find their own writing voice!

Writing templates and sentence starters are easy ways to help students start the sentence (the hardest part) and then fill it in with their own original thought! It’s amazing to see what students can produce if they only are given a few words to get the beginning of the sentence down on paper.

Let’s See It in Action!

Here are some simple examples of writing templates/sentence starters:

  • The story is about…
  • This book/story/etc. shows us that…
  • This is important because…
  • The message of this is…
  • I believe that…

Tips for Using Writing Templates with Your Child

Give Choice & Variety!

Offering choice and variety gives students a jump start on feeling like they are using their own words. They feel less pressured about what comes next because they’ve already made an auth

Example #1

  • The author explains…
  • The author argues…
  • The author believes that….

Example #2

  • This is important because…
  • The importance of this is…

Take Words From the Prompt!

Using words from the prompt helps students focus on the topic at hand and makes sure that they don’t trail off too far. Plus, academic writing in particular expects writers to continually restate the main idea to make sure supporting ideas are fully connected to the topic of the paper and are well understood by the reader.

Example #1

  • If the prompt is about the student’s favorite movie → My favorite movie is __________ because….

Example #2

  • If the prompt is about their opinion of a book → I liked/disliked this book because …

Notice that none of these templates has any original content to it! They are blank canvases that can be painted with any colors the student chooses. As students become more comfortable with the templates, their independence grows and they start to actually get excited about what they’re trying to say, which is the whole point of writing! It’s truly a beautiful process to witness.

Want to Learn More?

Check out They Say, I Say! There are free PDFs available online. Please note that this book is targeted toward college writers but the spirit of the book can be applied to all ages!

La Jolla Learning also offers writing support to students where our instructors can guide students in learning these types of strategies. Contact us today to learn more!

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