Writing papers, multi-paragraph stories, and essays can be challenging for many upper elementary students. For reluctant writers, this often means frustration and black paper at the end of your writing block. Since the expectations for on-demand writing increase after the primary grades in preparation for standardized writing assessments, it is important to support all students with building writing stamina. One way to do this is to add a short, low-risk writing warm-up to your daily routine.
Building writing stamina in reluctant writers
Building writing stamina for struggling learners through daily writing activities will help your students be ready for any writing task. However, many reluctant writers get bored with the same old thing…especially those in grades that take writing tests.
If you've ever wondered how to increase writing stamina without boring your students, these simple, low-prep strategies will offer a great starting place to get your students writing daily.
What is writing stamina & why is it important?
Writing stamina is the ability to focus and write independently for extended periods of time without becoming distracted or giving up. Most students start with a low level of writing stamina during their primary years because the physical act of forming the letters, spelling basic words, and generating sentences is labor intensive.
However, as students age and they move from spending their cognitive resources on the physical act of writing and basic spelling, writing stamina improves for most students. Those that don't see embark on this natural progression are often considered struggling writers, and teachers struggle with how to reach these writers and help them improve their writing.
For students who struggle to get words on the page, building writing stamina is a foundational piece of the intervention process because it lays the groundwork for communicating their ideas. Many teachers will find their entire class lacks writing stamina, especially early in the year. That is where the simple, low-prep Tier 1 intervention strategies may be helpful.
Classroom-level strategies for building writing stamina
The four strategies outlined below are designed to be easy to implement Tier 1 interventions for a class that has many students struggling with writing stamina. For the majority of students, these additional opportunities to practice should be enough to see significant increases.
However, there will potentially be 10-20% of your students who will not show significant growth. For these students, you will need to plan a more intensive intervention and begin collecting data, which I will discuss further below.
The strategies below should be implemented for 4-6 weeks to give adequate time for development to occur.
Stamina Strategy #1: Free Writing Journal
A simple spiral notebook is the perfect free writing journal. Give your students some general prompts or allow your kids to just write about anything.
Daily writing can mean a lot of reading for you as a teacher. Let your students mark a passage per week they would like you to read. Keep in mind that you still may want to skim every entry to make sure that there are not any concerning passages involving high-risk behaviors or family concerns. This is especially true if you are working with older students.
Stamina Strategy #2: Prompt Jar
Using a prompt jar gives students some ownership over the daily writing task. This ownership occurs in two ways. When students create prompts, they are more likely to select topics or story starters that are engaging. They often focus on personal interests or hobbies. This makes it far easier for reluctant writers to get started and feel confident they have something to say.
Secondly, the prompt jar allows students the opportunity to select the daily prompt. While the selection is random, it can be a fun way to engage students to write about “their prompt” when it is their turn to select.
Here's how to prep and implement a prompt jar in your classroom. Start by having each of your students create their own writing prompts. They can be silly story starters (“I found a monster under my bed!”) or general topics.
Cut the prompts into strips and put in a box or jar – a mason jar works well for this. Each day, have one student pull a prompt out of the jar for your class to write about.
Consider giving multiple options by choosing two prompts per day or having students write one prompt on each side of the paper they use.
Stamina Strategy #3: Story Cards for Fiction Writing
While we spend a great deal of time focusing on writing nonfiction, many students thrive as writers when they are allowed to make up their own stories. Even though they must learn to generate expository and personal narrative compositions, giving students time to write imaginative stories can be a great way to help a reluctant writer build stamina.
Here's how to set up and build writing stamina with the story cards. Make cards for each of the following categories: setting, characters, and conflict. Write down multiple places, different roles or people, and various problems.
Choose one of each of the three cards and have your students write a story based on the setting, character or characters, and conflicts chosen. You’ll be surprised at how many different stories are generated from these three common elements.
Stamina Strategy #4: Weekly or Daily Writing Prompts
Having students write for a short 5-10 minutes daily can push your writers to generate more. Just like athletes must train to build their endurance, writers must, too.
Weekly writing prompts can be broken down into a paragraph of the week format. Similar to the one below:
- Monday: Review the prompt & brainstorm related ideas
- Tuesday: Select what you will write about & outline your paragraphs
- Wednesday: Write main idea sentences for each paragraph
- Thursday: Complete your draft
- Friday: Edit, revise, and re-write
This format is a great way to practice the writing process in short chunks of time. It encourages students to work through all the steps of the writing cycle – brainstorming, drafting, revising, and publishing.
On the other hand, daily prompts focus on generating a clear, concise response in a small amount of time. These are more effective if you are working to help struggling students start getting more words on the page.
Regardless of whether you implement a weekly or daily writing prompt, you can use these to help your students focus their writing. You can focus each month on a particular theme and incorporate multiple ways to demonstrate writing.
If you decide to use this strategy, you will want to introduce the process before assigning your first prompt. I also recommend introducing and having a short group (or partner) discussion about each new prompt at the start of your writing block. You can even offer this as a homework option for your students.
To make implementing this strategy easy, I've created free yearlong writing prompts. Click the button below to get your free yearlong writing prompts.
These prompts were created to give your students a chance to write poetry, nonfiction, narratives, and more!
Documenting for writing interventions
If you continue to have concerns about student writing after implementing these classwide writing activities for 4-6 weeks, you will want to begin the process of implementing and documenting more structured and intensive writing interventions.
If low stamina persists, you will want to begin collecting data on the student's growth across time. The easiest way to do this is to have the student write for a set amount of time and count the words written.
You are likely to see variation based on topic and day.
You will want to graph the data and look for patterns across time. This will help you determine the next steps or whether your more intensive supports are effective.
Alternatively, you may also find that a student's writing stamina has grown significantly across the 4-6 weeks.
Now you can more easily identify other gaps in core writing skills (like grammar or spelling). This would allow you to begin targeted instruction to fill those gaps.
You might also discover that writing stamina is not the issue at all. Instead, the student may struggle with identifying what to write about. In this case, you can check out my post on strategies to help reluctant writers brainstorm.
Building writing stamina to support the writing process
Students are expected to generate longer writing pieces for multiple purposes as they go through school. This includes standardized writing assessments, which condense the writing process down into a much shorter time frame.
It is important to build your students' writing muscle by offering multiple opportunities to practice different modes of writing.
Building writing stamina should be implemented much like we build reading stamina. Starting with short bursts and extending the expectation for how long students can write as their abilities grow.
Putting effort into this process early in the year will help the writing process run more smoothly. It will also allow you to conference with individual students without interruptions.
I hope this article helped get some new ideas for helping build writing stamina with your struggling writers. If you’d like more ideas, be sure to follow me on: