How to Help Your Students Write Faster

27 Jul


Zoom and Bored

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to my addiction to the WordPress stats page, I now know that the search term “teach students to write faster” brings several people to this blog every day. (Google doesn’t seem to mind that I’ve never actually written on this topic before.) Since so many people seem to be concerned about this topic, I thought that I would share my two cents.

So you would like your students to write faster? I have a short answer and a long answer for you.


Long answer:  Imagine that you are trying to learn how to knit. You are awkwardly fumbling with the needles. The yarn keeps getting tangled. On most rows, you have to pull all the stitches and start over at least three times before you finally do it right. You know that this is normal–it takes everybody a while to get the hang of it–but you still feel frustrated and defeated.

Now imagine a scary old lady standing next to you, staring at every move you make, telling you, “Go FASTER! Knit FASTER! Come on–you can do better than that!”

Do you think that would help you any? Or would it just make you nervous and slow you down?

Wouldn’t it be better if the old lady said something like, “Good job! I know it’s tough, but you’re doing well for a beginner. Take your time and just keep practicing. Here, let me help you with that stitch.”

The same goes for students who are learning how to write. I know that standardized tests put a lot of pressure on teachers to get their students to write quickly, but intense scrutiny and pressure will only make a hard task seem impossible.

Writing is difficult. Good writing often takes a very long time. James Joyce famously wrote only seven or eight words a day for most of his career. Worrying about how fast your students write isn’t going to help them write faster; the only real way to get a student to write faster is to let them practice in peace, with supportive feedback (good rule of thumb: three compliments to every criticism).

Why do you think so many teachers are interested in making their students write faster, rather than better? What ideas and advice do you have? Let me know in the comments section!






6 Responses to “How to Help Your Students Write Faster”

  1. alundeberg July 27, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Calm encouragement is always a good route. One reason we might demand that our kids write faster is because we have time restraints on teaching. We don’t have a lot of time to devote to in-class writing, and ultimately, we need a product to assess. This is a lame reason, but it is a reality. One way to combat it is to construct reflections for students in which they demonstrate their knowledge of a concept learned and display their use of a writing strategy. These small steps reinforce learning and develop their writing skills, so when they get a larger writing project, they have more strategeties to use and more confidence. Just like when we knit, we make pot-holders before sweaters.

    • thatwritinglady July 27, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback–I really like the idea of using small steps and reinforcing writing strategies piece-by-piece. Great advice!

  2. startlingfigures July 27, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Yep! I’m in college and in-class essays are a pain. Granted, they’re doable, but “write an essay on this topic in the next half hour” does not produce shining written work. Luckily most professors realize this, and grade accordingly, but for those who don’t, it’s been lousy. And for true kids? Those who are learning to write or even kids in upper-elementary school to middle school, the trick to writing faster is not to demand it from them. I think you’re right, it induces panic, or discourages, or simply bogs down the kid’s mind. I will say this, my dad, Fred Lybrand taught us growing up (I was homeschooled) some pretty helpful ways to write at a much faster pace. He’s compiled it all in his writing course for how to teach children to write (, and one of the tips I remember the most (and has helped me the most) is to realize that I don’t have to start out writing well. The first draft doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be okay. Once I learned to accept that whatever I was going to put on the paper would just be okay, I could write without inhibition or hesiation. Improvement/feedback/editing can come later, but as for simply just writing down those first thoughts, it only needs to be okay, which is where we start anyway. It’s learning by writing, you gain speed without focusing on “writing faster.”
    Thanks for this good read!

    • thatwritinglady July 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

      Thanks for the comment! I definitely agree with the importance of writing rough drafts without worrying too much about the content. Have you ever read Bird by Bird? It has a great chapter on the topic, too. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Edison Davenport July 27, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    Abraham Lincoln is supposed to have said, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first 4 hours sharpening my axe.” As someone who has to write highly organized functional documents, that’s the way I approach it. Seldom do I make an outline that is at all detailed, but I usually ruminate a lot before putting fingers to keyboard, getting a feel for the task and letting the parts assemble themselves in my head.

    I can see how one might not want to encourage children to think for too long before getting started, or give them the opportunity to stare off into space for the better part of a class session, but I wonder what would be the result if a teacher imposed a short waiting period — 3 or 4 minutes — after giving the assignment and before the kids were *allowed* to start writing. You might get just as much throughput and a better product.

  4. Perla September 21, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    I understand the concept and agree with you. My son is 7 years old , the problem that I encounter is that to copy words, sentences or short paragraphs takes him hours. It takes him to copy something that he wrote 3 times longer than what it took him to create the sentences.
    This morning the teacher asked the class to write about his favorite TV show, he got 20 minutes and all he did was one sentence while everybody else was done and ready to share their story. If he does not finish his classwork then he has to stay during his playtime which in the long run I think is worst. What can I do? (he is very smart and is on class level, even above level in some areas, its only when he writes that takes long but when he finishes the writing its great.)

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