Motivating Reluctant Writers

by Alicia Osen

Dear Reader,

Writing is such a beautiful art. It is a means of expression that can be direct and to the point, or it can be something completely open to interpretation. It can be used to express so many things-- feelings, guidelines, actions, limitations, emotions. The purpose of this project is to seek out what things can help motivate writers to write and to do their best work. It is no secret that you cannot force a person to like something, but you can motivate and inspire them.

This assignment required digging deep into the motivations for student writers. Through inquiry into various studies and research articles, this project came together in such a way as to demonstrate what type of writing appeals to students. It provides a guideline of sorts for teachers to use in motivating their own students.

Throughout creating this project, I have found new things that motivate me as a writer. It is clear that there are certain genre's of writing that I enjoy while there are other genre's that I'd prefer to never use again. It's very interesting to discover this because I'm certain that my students will feel the same way. More than anything, this emphasizes the necessity to use a variety of genres and formats when motivating students to be writers.

You will find in this project that there a few main factors and tools that motivate students. These factors and tools include the writers workshop, the concept of choice, the concept of relevancy, the incorporation of literary work, and the concept of communication. All of these things will help motivate reluctant writers and I am hopeful that this project will adequately convey these things.


Alicia Osen

Informational Essay

Some students love to write. Some students would write for hours on end if you let them. They have so much to say and they love to put their thoughts on paper. These students, however, are rare. I would say that I am a good writer. I don't love to write but I can enjoy writing with the proper motivation. As a teacher, finding ways to motivate my students will be a challenge. Each student is different and what motivates one student may not motivate another. In my experience, most students are reluctant to be writers. Because of this common experience, I have researched the question of how to motivate reluctant writers.

There have been many studies on student motivation for writing. There have been experiments testing student attitude vs. achievement (Knudson, 1995), research on the motivation of boy writers and the achievement gap seen between boys and girls in the same grade (Ergle, 2008), and there have even been studies into the blame cycle between the different levels of education, the parents, and the education system as a whole in regards to poor student achievement in writing (Hedengren 1994). What all of the articles researched have in common, however, is the agreement that all students are motivated by different things and that it is the teachers job to provide enough opportunities for students to find their motivation in order to be successful.

One of the most common ways that research suggests to motivate students is through the implementation of a writers workshop. A writers workshop provides students time for self-motivated writing. It includes a short mini-lesson, a quick "status of the class", a long period of writing time (around 30 minutes), and time for sharing at the end. This dedicated time in which students have choice, are self paced, and are given opportunities to share is a strong motivator for students and has been proven successful. (Adams, 1996) (Carroll, 2010) (Conroy, 2009) (Pierce, 1997)

Another tool that has proven to be a successful motivator is the use of a pen-pal or letter writing system, whether it be across countries or within a school or classroom, the use of a pen-pal program motivates students to use writing as it was created, for communication. Studies show that because writing letters can seem more personal and are typically viewed by students to be more relevant, more students are interested in taking part (Chohan, 2011). Writing to others is also a way to build writing skills, particularly when used between students of different levels (Hedengren, 1994).

What all of the articles really agree on is simple: the student must care about what they are writing in order to be motivated. They need to feel like what they are doing is relevant to their own lives. Giving students these opportunities to find that motivation is essential. All students are capable of being motivated writers, it is up to the teacher to give them the chance to find their drive.

Substantive Pieces

Obituary: Motivated Michael

Today we lay to rest a good friend, Motivated Michael. Michael was an excellent student and an excellent writer. He wasn't always that way though. Long ago, our motivated friend was an unmotivated, reluctant writer. He thought writing was tedious and boring. He would avoid it like the plague and when he was forced to write, it was never his best work. One day, however, his teacher made a breakthrough. She found a way to motivate Michael to write, to do his best work, and to love what he was doing. Through a combination of writers workshops, letter writing using pen-pals, and relevant prompts. she was able to unlock Michael's true potential and to her, we are forever grateful.

Michael is survived by his pen pal, Eduardo from Brazil, to whom Michel shared many letters with, often about their shared interests of soccer (futbol) and the desire to become a lawyer when they grow up. Michael used his writing to connect with Eduardo and Eduardo's writing connected with Michael just the same.

He is also survived by his favorite storybook characters, whom he modeled many of his own characters after in his writing. After hearing and reading stories, he gained inspiration for his own stories.

Finally, he is survived by his teacher whom provided Michael with the outlet to write creatively in writing workshop, who gave him prompts that were both necessary and relevant, and who guided him through the writing process.

Rest In Peace, Motivated Michael.

Newspaper Headline Article

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Campaign Speech for Writers Workshop

Hello ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us this evening as we discuss this potentially monumental decision for the students of our school.

My name is Workshop Wendy and I am here to tell you all about what I can offer to your students in the hopes that when you cast your vote, you cast your vote for me instead of my opponent, Basic Bradford.

You see, my opponent would like for you to keep teaching writing in the way it's been taught for decades. You give a student some paper, tell them exactly what they need to write, then take up the paper to grade when time is up. But, my friends, that is NOT how we should be motivating our students to be writers!

If I am elected, I Workshop Wendy, will make sure that the Writers Workshop method of writing instruction is installed in each classroom in our district. It has been proven that the Writers Workshop model is effective at motivating writers, far beyond the traditional method of writing instruction.

The writers workshop would begin with the innovative mini-lesson approach, touching on a specific skill that the students should be focusing on in their writing. It is followed by a "status of the class" meeting in which students can share where they are or what they intend to work on. From there, students move into a dedicated writing time. They do nothing but write for 20-40 minutes. They can write about something that the teacher prompts, but typically will be able to write about whatever they choose. They can build on this writing over time, not needing to start a new piece each day. After the writing time, students come together to share what they've accomplished, increasing the sense of pride students feel in their work.

My friends, I am certain that if you vote for me, you are placing a vote towards your students futures as writers. I assure you that with proper implementation, a vote for me would be a vote for motivating reluctant writers.

I thank you for your time, and remember, vote for Workshop Wendy!


  • Sally: What in the world are you doing, Suzie? Writing is for LOSERS!
  • Suzie: No it's not, I love to write-- it's one of my favorite things!
  • Sally: I just don't understand that. Don't you remember when we used to watch Annie sit outside with her notebook just writing and writing? We used to tease her and now you're acting just like her.
  • Suzie: Hasn't your teacher been using writers workshop in your classroom?
  • Sally: No, what's that?
  • Suzie: It's the most fun part of the day! She teaches us something for just a few minutes and then she pretty much just lets us write!
  • Sally: She doesn't make you write about certain things?
  • Suzie: Well, sometimes she gives us prompts or ideas, but mostly we're free to write whatever. And we can work on something for more than one day to make it better. We even revise, edit, and publish!
  • Sally: In my class all we do is write what the teacher tells us to write. It is so boring!
  • Suzie: That's why I used to hate writing, but then my teacher this year used the writers workshop and it's so much fun. I am motivated to write!
  • Sally: What kinds of things do you write?
  • Suzie: Sometimes I write stories but other times I'll write letters or I'll write about something I'm interested in.
  • Sally: I would like writing way more if I got to write letters! Instead we have to write about whatever the teacher feels like making us write about.
  • Suzie: My teacher says that she wants us to want to write and that's why she lets us have so much freedom in our writing. We still have to share our work though, so she knows we're working.
  • Sally: Ooh, I don't know if I'd like that.
  • Suzie: It's not so bad. Sometimes we share with the class, which is really fun if you're proud of what you've written. Other times you just share with a partner so it's more personal. I like to share because everyone tells me what a good writer I am.
  • Sally: That sounds like so much fun. I'm going to ask my teacher if we can try a writers workshop too!

Short Pieces

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Visual Element

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  1. Obituary- I chose to write an obituary for a student named Motivated Michael. Michael was a promising young writer, but he wasn’t always so. In the obituary, his writing motivations are detailed in his “survived by,” emphasizing his love for writing letters (Chohan 2011) and the inspiration he found in literary texts (Paquette 2007).
  2. Newspaper Headline Article- I chose to write a newspaper headline article on the topic of letter-writing and the role it plays in motivating writers. This concept was supported by more than one article and I thought a newspaper article would be a good way to present the information. It discusses the concept as if it were new, exciting information. (Chohan 2011) (Hedengren 1994)
  3. Campaign Speech- This piece is a campaign speech for the fictional character Workshop Wendy. Wendy is up against Basic Bradford in a race to be the instructional model for writing in the school. In the speech, Wendy compares the methods that are used in writers workshop to the methods used in traditional writing instruction. She outlines the steps of writer’s workshop and discusses the benefits of its use. (Carrol 2010) (Conroy 2009)
  4. Conversation Dialogue- This piece is a fictional conversation between two students. Suzie and Sally used to tease a classmate of theirs who loved to write while the two girls didn’t enjoy it themselves. One day, Sally is shocked to find Suzie writing. Not only is Suzie writing, but she is enjoying it. In their conversation, Suzie discusses why she now enjoys writing, crediting it to the writer’s workshop format that her teacher uses, as well as the element of choice that she has in her writing. Sally is shocked and eventually decides to ask her teacher if they can try writing workshop in their class. (Conroy 2009) (Carrol 2010) (Pierce 1997)
  5. Award Certificate- The award certificate awards a fictional student for her newfound motivation towards writing and give a brief description of the things that have helped her find this desire. (Pierce 1997)
  6. Ad for Writer’s Workshop seminar- This piece is a flyer for a seminar in which teachers will learn how to lay out their own writer’s workshop within their classroom. (Carrol 2010)
  7. Recipe- This recipe combines various important factors for motivating writers. It focuses on using workshops as well as involving relevant content to promote student interest. (Knudson 1995) (Ergle 2008)
  8. Crossword- This piece is a fill-in-the-blank style crossword in which the questions and answers are relevant to the topic of motivating reluctant writers. (Pierce 1997)