Brainstorming with your Reluctant Writer: out-of-the-box ideas for your out-of-the-box learner

teaching a reluctant writer | homeschooling dyslexia

Writer’s Block happens even to the most gifted writers, but it is a serious problem for our kids who hate writing or are intimidated by it. My dyslexic daughter definitely falls into the category of the reluctant writer, not that she doesn’t have ideas. This child is always bursting with creative ideas for everything, but trying to find words for those ideas is tough. Even more so if she is required to think of those words on the spot or under pressure.

We know that the first step to writing is brainstorming, compiling a list of ideas and choosing the best from that list. But how do we get our reluctant writers to even get started with this list? Here’s a BIG Tip: don’t make them write it! 

I’ve taught writing in many settings over many years—to college freshman, to sophomore and junior English and pre-law majors, to kids in homeschool co-ops, and of course, to my own kids. And one strategy I like to try when working with reluctant or intimidated writers is trying to plug into their other strengths, the areas where they are confident. If I could tap into an area of creativity where they were confident, the ideas flowed much more freely. We all have ideas, but each of us processes those ideas uniquely. Connect with your reluctant writer on their level with their gifts.

Ideas for Brainstorming with your Reluctant Writer

  1. Is your reluctant writer a talker? Let her talk and talk and talk. Ask questions. Encourage her that there are no bad ideas right now. Just whatever pops into her head. You can be her scribe and write down the ideas as she says them, or you can just listen until she finds her favorite ideas and is ready to start writing.
  2. Is your reluctant writer an artist? Let him draw! Don’t make him describe the room with words; let him draw it first and then tell you about his drawing. Let him create a comic strip of the story first, then narrate the story to you from the comic strip. Let him sketch the abandoned shack before he describes it to you. Let him draw a diagram before he tells you the steps to building the marshmallow launcher.
  3. Is your reluctant writer an actor? Let him act out his ideas. If he starts using sound effects instead of words, ask him what is happening. When he’s done, retell the story back to him to see if you understood it correctly. Write down what he says, or record it and let him transcribe the video.

Remind them that bad ideas and good ideas are all a part of this process; sometimes those bad ideas lead to the best ones. If your child is a perfectionist, trying to think of the perfect idea will also lead to reluctance and writer’s block. Try playing some games to get the ideas flowing. A couple of games I love are Story Cubes (there are several varieties) and WriteShop Story Prompts. Play one of these games as a warm up before you get started.

Once the ideas are flowing, help your reluctant writer to capture those ideas before they disappear. Act as the scribe and write down what your child says. Or, use a voice recording device and allow your child to replay her narration as many times as she needs in order to write it down. Writing is a complicated process that we tend to take for granted. And it’s often very tough for our kids, particularly our dyslexic kids, to have an original thought, remember that thought long enough to write it down, and then write it correctly onto paper.

Reluctance usually comes from fear. Remove the fear, the intimidation factor, and you very well could have a budding author in your midst.

Tapestry of Grace Writing Aids: a buffet of writing ideas and resources

tapestry of grace writing aids review

I’ve owned Writing Aids since we first started using Tapestry of Grace curriculum four or five years ago, but I’ve been too insecure to really lean into it as my complete writing program until this year. Writing Aids is a very different “program” from what you will find anywhere else, and depending on what you are looking for, I think Writing Aids will surprise you.

What Writing Aids Is

Writing Aids is a supplement product of the Tapestry of Grace curriculum that is purchased in addition to the main curriculum. Tapestry is a guided unit study approach to studying the history of the world in the classical or Charlotte Mason style. It integrates history, Bible, literature, writing, and art into a rich study for the whole family (K-12). Within the curriculum, then, are writing project suggestions for twelve different levels. You decide what level your child is at, what projects you want your child to complete, and how many projects seem realistic for you through the school year. From the buffet of ideas presented to you, you select what fits with your goals and learning objectives for your family and your child.

tapestry of grace writing aids review

The ideas are meant to be used in conjunction with the time period you are studying. Do a comparison/contrast paper on a couple of generals you are studying. Complete a mini-book about the people of ancient Egypt. Create a display board of the people of ancient Palestine. Research papers, newspapers and articles, book reports and book reviews, literary analysis and character analysis, descriptive papers, and persuasive papers—you name it, every genre of writing is included at some point over the entire twelve levels (1st grade through 12th grade).

Within the purchase of Writing Aids are the instructions for the suggested assignments, grading rubrics, and graphic organizers that help you to create your own writing curriculum from the suggested assignments in the Tapestry of Grace plans.

So what does this look like in use?

I can choose to teach one writing assignment to both kids—both my highly-motivated fifth grader and my dyslexic third grader. For instance, they both created display boards this year, and they both have written book reports. My fifth grader has been working on a five paragraph book report, while my third grader is working on a well-developed single paragraph. 

I can assign as many or as few projects as I think is necessary during our term. For my fifth grader, that has been a book report and a couple other writing projects each term. He’s written a personal narrative, a display board, a fiction story, a couple comparison/contrast papers, and by the end of the year, a biography and a historical fiction story. For my dyslexic third grader who struggles with incredible writing anxiety, that includes a single project each term: a mini-book of Egypt, a display board of Palestine, and her first book report. 

I can choose the level I feel is appropriate for my child, even switch levels mid-year or even mid-term, depending on how my child is progressing and which projects seem best-fitted to my child’s skill level. My fifth grader is not stuck in level 5. I can choose a project from level 6, level 4, etc.

Writing Aids provides instructions (written to the teacher or an older student) about the project, the objectives of the assignment and what a well-done project will include, the grading rubrics, some graphic organizers and a few sample papers.  In a sense, Writing Aids and the Tapestry of Grace writing assignments offer the same buffet that is offered in the history plans themselves. It’s an open buffet of ideas and resources that allows you to create your own writing curriculum.

tapestry of grace writing aids review

tapestry of grace writing aids review

What Writing Aids is Not

Writing Aids is not a weekly scripted plan for teaching writing lesson by lesson. If you are looking for something equivalent to IEW or WriteShop or Brave Writer, you may be disappointed. Though it includes some ideas for teaching grammar, it’s not a grammar curriculum or an all-inclusive language arts program. It is exactly what the title says it is: writing aids.

It is also not a course to teach you how to teach writing, as some of the other writing curriculums offer, though it provides plenty of instructions and teaching resources and grading rubrics. Writing Aids provides instructions on the genre, the project, and what to look for in the assignment, but not necessarily how to teach the skill of writing to your child. Teaching how to write a book report and teaching writing are two different things, for sure.

What I love about Writing Aids (& how I’ve used it)

I love that I can assign the same project to both my children with age-appropriate requirements and teach the same material ONCE. 

I love that I can customize my own writing curriculum. ‘Cause after all, who am I kidding? I never use a curriculum exactly the way it’s written. Instead, I pick and choose the projects we will be doing and, for the most part, the time-frame for the assignment.

I love that the writing integrates with what we are learning rather than being it’s own separate subject. This is not just one more thing to fit into the schedule; this is one more avenue to explore and reinforce what we are learning together.

I am a writer: I have taught writing and editing at the college level and in homeschool co-ops, but even I still have doubts about whether I’m doing enough or teaching it right. I’m still plagued with that dreaded question: “am I missing something?” I look at all of those other writing programs and wonder if I should bite the bullet and choose one. And in the end, maybe I will. I see the value in many of them. But I also know that teaching writing isn’t nearly as complicated as we make it. And I’ve taught all kinds, including my own avid writer and dyslexic struggling writer.

Who is Writing Aids for?

It’s for the mom who wants to customize something that aligns with her goals for her child or children. Maybe she’s not necessarily confident in her ability to teach writing but confident in her child’s ability to learn writing. It’s for the homeschool parent who wants to teach all of her kids at the same time in a whole family learning environment and integrate that learning with history. It’s for the Tapestry of Grace user who fully embraces the concept of selecting what works for her family and her child from a buffet of choices.

Mid-Year Curriculum Review

mid-year curriculum review | evaluating your homeschool year

Mid-Year is a great time to look everything over and see what’s working and what’s not. It’s a natural time for adjustments and trying out different curriculum if something just isn’t working. We’re doing a little of all of that right now: loving some things, adjusting other things, and ditching a few things as well. Welcome to our mid-year curriculum review!

Mid-Year Curriculum Review of Fifth Grade

mid-year curriculum review | evaluating your homeschool yearMy fifth grader has done amazingly well with all of his curriculum. We are loving our DIY science curriculum, and everyone is chomping at the bit to get to the chemistry unit in just another week or so. He’s also done very well with his independence in learning, meeting deadlines, completing assignments, and self-starting in the mornings without me. It’s a new feeling, and pretty awesome. I’m just afraid to get used to it. Don’t pinch me, please.

He’s finished his Greek Alphabet Code-Cracker book, and really doing well with the Latin for Children program. (I’m kicking myself for not using this program sooner and sticking for so long with a program that wasn’t working for us.)

Here is the full run-down of his fifth grade curriculum this year. But I haven’t really changed much, if anything.

Mid-Year Curriculum Review of Third Grade

mid-year curriculum review | evaluating your homeschool yearMy third grader is a different story. While she is doing very well this year, and I am very pleased overall with her curriculum, her story is one of constant adjustments. I’m always re-thinking things for her. We are continuing with Dyslexia Games B for her, and nearly finished with it. She has done so well with this program! I went ahead and ordered a “fun-schooling journal” from this same company to see if it helps her continue her progress and enthusiasm in her other subject areas.

I have also added a couple of apps to help with her spelling and dyslexia challenges. Simplex has been a terrific addition for us. Though she is at an equivalent of first grade spelling, this app has really helped her to begin making progress in this area. The skills she’s learned with Dyslexia Games and the visual/kinesthetic aspect of this app have helped her to progress, slowly but surely, with her spelling. Dyslexia Quest helps my daughter with skill areas rather than academic areas, per se. Visual and auditory processing, working memory, processing speed, phonological awareness, and other areas are addressed with a series of challenging games. It also emails me a great progress report to let me know exactly how she is doing in these areas and where she needs the most work.

The other major curriculum change for my third grader is our math curriculum. And this switch has been so hard for me. For a few years now, we’ve used Christian Light, and I love it. I understand it, the lessons are the perfect length with the perfect amount of variety and challenge. But it appeals to a verbal learner, which my dyslexic daughter obviously is not. I like the curriculum because I understand it; it’s written to a third grader, so I know what’s going on well enough to explain it to her. But she clearly struggles with the curriculum, even though she is good at the math, really intuitively. As a temporary test-phase, we are switching to a Math Mammoth curriculum that I had on hand. She loves the math puzzles and the unique approach; she loves the color and the hands-on elements. (I love that I can try something out without spending any more money. Lol!) So we’ll see how it goes. I feel like we are at a point in the year where I can afford the risk. She won’t be too far behind if the experiment fails, and I’ll know enough before time to order curriculum for next year.

You can take a look at the rest of her third grade curriculum here.

Mid-Year Curriculum Review of Preschool

mid-year curriculum review | evaluating your homeschool yearMy preschooler is coasting. We do a few activities here and there. But he’s almost created his own curriculum of sorts. He’s so funny! He bought a Star Wars number workbook with his own money, and loved it! Worked it cover to cover, and learned a ton. Additionally, he copies letters and words that he sees and uses my daughter’s Dyslexia Aid app to write his own stories. Yep, he’s writing books before he can read them. He uses a few iPad apps pretty regularly: Cursive Writing Wizard, Doodling Dragons, and Montessori Numbers. And he plays with his bathtub letters. For the most part, he is literally teaching himself, with a little (very little, as little as he can manage) input from me.

mid-year curriculum review | evaluating your homeschool year

So, he’s ditched nearly all of his preschool curriculum mid-year and decided to unschool. HAH! I never know what to expect with this one. I am sprinkling in some Logic of English Foundations lessons here and there when I can. But I’m not pushing it.

Homeschool is just one constant adjustment, at least at our house. And the mid-year curriculum review is something that just kind of happens almost organically, whether I plan on it or not. It’s the name of the game. Thankfully, there are more than enough options to fill the gaps we tend to find halfway through the year.