Writing Advice for VERY reluctant high schooler

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  • CrystalN

    I am hoping to get some practical advice on writing for my 9th grade ds. He has always been a bit pencil phobic and I have taken it very slowly, probably too slow. We have really only done copywork, dictation and oral narrations, some written narrations. We have begun several writing programs only to end in frustration without seeing progress. Now we are in 9th grade and I am getting worried. This year we have been doing a few different things for writing: 2-3 written narrations per week, ULW with SW, IEW. At this point IEW is not particularly successful, probably because I am teaching it myself and I do not particularly embrace the methodology. We are doing 1 IEW week per month, with the other 3 weeks narrations and ULW/SW. I kinda hoped some of the IEW skills would spill over, but honestly the “skills” we have practiced in IEW are not even things I would require ( -ly words, who/which clauses, etc.). So what do I do? Would it make sense to plug along with written narrations and ULW/SW only? Will IEW get more useful as we progress? His narrations are a short paragraph on a good day. Part of me thinks I should just slowly increase the narrations until he can write a whole page now and then. But part of me thinks I need to finish the IEW stuff I paid so much for. Anyone out there with a similar problem? The boy just hates to write and has trouble even with oral narrations. I have begun putting key people and events on a whiteboard to help him narrate after a reading, which really helps. I also considered having him summarize his Bible readings in a journal, maybe a sentence summary for each paragraph or so, just to help him keep his focus and practice putting things in his own words. Sorry I have gone on so long, I am sort of thhinking as I type. Anyadvice would be appreciated.


    I like the Wordsmith series.  Jump In is another option.


    I know nothing about IEW, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think I would drop it and focus on getting him writing narrations, ULW and SW. If he’s doing a decent paragraph, try to increase that so he’s eventually writing 3 paragraphs. If you can do that, all he needs to do is add an intro and a conclusion and he has an essay.

    Has he ever learned to outline? Maybe creating an outline before he writes (or some other pre-writing tool) would be helpful to him, especially once he beings writing more than one paragraph. That way, he can plan out what he wants to say in each paragraph before he does it.

    Just some ideas!


    Which IEW book/program are you using?  I am currently on lesson 3 with my 9th grade son, using SWI B.  We are going at a relaxed pace.  The DVD lessons are very well-done and a bit humorous at times, which makes it more enjoyable.  They just learned to use more specific verbs instead of some common verbs, which were banned.  We took a little different approach with the previous lesson by spending more time re-writing the fable again with creative touches, liking changing characters and/or the setting.  We did this several years ago with Writing Tales and it made writing more enjoyable.  IEW is format writing and I’m glad we waited until high school, after several years of written narrations.

    I have also read Bravewriter’s The Writer’s Jungle, a handbook for parent teachers.  I used some ideas from that.  I recommend it for you.  But I think they offer an independent course for high school.


    Thank you all for your help. I think a very large part of the problem is me. I need to educate myself more on how to narrate and how to draw more out of an older child. He is my guinea pig and we really didnt start CM till 6th grade or so and I wasnt very consistent with narrating. I want to do a lot more oral narrations while we work on written. I have also been too easy on him so I need to work on that. I often let him get away with “I dont remember but I really was listening (or reading)”. Perhaps if he knows this is expected it will begin to improve. I am reading Know and Tell by Karen Glass and that is very helpful.

    Wings2fly we are using SWI C, at about a lesson a month. The outlining was very helpful, the “dress ups” elude him a bit and I havent really been enforcing that. Just getting the rewrite on paper has been the goal. We do enjoy the video lesson. Maybe I just need to keep plugging along. I wish I had required more writing earlier, but this is where we are.





    Yes, keep plugging along.  You could always watch the IEW video lesson again if he needs to grasp the concept better.  The rewrites with Writing Tales were a significant help for my son when transitioning to written narrations.  Then they gradually grew in length and quality.

    I am not familiar with Know and Tell, but I have Sonya’s books, including Your Questions Answered: Narration.  It has three possible rubics to use like a checklist for writing assignments with 30 points each for content and style and 40 points for mechanics.  That might help him better know what you expect from him.  As far as oral narrations, they should be required of all school readings, unless a written narration is assigned.  You could write it on your schedule separately and require a set amount of time for it, starting with a short amount of time and gradually increasing.  You can stop after one paragraph or after one page to get his oral narration until he gets better at it.  Aesop fables are good for beginning narrations since they are short, yet complete.  HTH.


    Another thought is to set aside IEW to use another year and focus on improving oral narrations now, which would help with the thought process in written narrations.  Then gradually increase length of oral narrations and transition to written narrations, again gradually increasing length.

    Rachel White

    Had the same issue here, so…

    My suggestion is to either put him in a writing with or without literature co-op class or in an online class. He’s at the age when he’s less likely to put forth as much effort for you as for someone else; it’s good for him to be accountable elsewhere, anyway.

    Someone else will get him to accomplish more in this area, plus you have to start thinking about what skills he needs for college and what they want to see, as well.

    If you sign him up now, you have several months to pay the class off, whether it’s full English class or just the writing portion, while you do the lit. side.

    There’s full English courses at Big River Academy (my son had Wendi Reed, her liked her): https://www.bigriveracademy.com/english

    8-week courses for $60 each or full English programs: https://www.lanternenglish.com/englishprogram?fbclid=IwAR3sKJnIzC4t9PcTLI4qqBNpFlHQgKamCq4WlSsq4lLHZCemESSGhrA4L1g

    Inspired Scholar (my son used 2 of her classes, inc. The Elegant Essay, named Intro to Essay Writing and I took Lit. Analysis): https://www.inspiredscholar.com/

    Write at Home, several options: https://www.writeathome.com/

    Bright Ideas Press Academy (too pricey for me, but an option): https://academy.brightideaspress.com/shop/page/2/



    Lots of interesting ideas and thoughts here.

    Can he type?  That may be a gateway for him.  If it is the physical act of writing, it may be time to bypass that and get him on a keyboard…it is the present and future.

    I think you’re on the right track, though.  But I also agree with Rachel who said someone else holding him accountable can make incredible changes.  I’ve seen this time and time again with reluctant highschoolers and moms who admit they can’t be consistent.  A third party may be an invaluable resource-but I wouldn’t put him on-line- I’d get him to a class with other kids somehow.

    Best wishes.


    I will chime in here with some thoughts. Please remember you get what you pay for…and this advice is free…lol.

    First, what can he do and what does he need to learn to do? Are there things that he complains about as hard? For example, does writing out by hand make him complain? Maybe typing will help – because it also allows him to easily edit instead of doing a total rewrite. Does he narrate orally about things he is interested in very well? Ex: If he really loves a movie he watches or a sporting event he participates in can he tell you all about it with all sorts of lovely details (that may bore you to tears by the end of it all because you don’t have the same interest)? If he CAN narrate when he is interested then the difficulty in narrating school readings is more of an interest difficulty. Find more interesting books! I have 10 kids. One son will be 9th grade in the fall and he was a late reader, reluctant writer. This year I have seen him blossom in writing when he gets free rein on the topic for a story or a study. He’s written stories set in the Minecraft world (which bores me to tears, BUT he loves it and so he has poured out interesting, thoughtful stories set in that world). Over time this has translated to being comfortable writing narrations that are more than just a few sentences. Consistency is your friend. Set consistent routines of when to write, how much to write, etc. Hand him a white board or paper and pen to jot down names/things during a reading so he can use it for a memory prompt when he goes to narrate. Passion/interest is the gateway for boys at this age! Or conflict. By conflict, I mean this: when looking for a history narration give a prompt that offers a place for him to argue sides, disagree, compare two people/events, dive into controversy, wrestle with big issues, or try to put himself in the place of a character and decide what he would do.
    Ex: Tell me about the Civil War (or WWII or _____ ) from the perspective of a soldier in the Confederate army (or Nazi army). How would the story of the _____ be different if you told it to me from the perspective of a Northerner, someone living out West, a slave, a plantation owner, a Jew, a child in the London bombings, a family left behind on the homefront, a Japanese child near Hiroshima, etc, etc, etc. You get the idea! Help them put on these people and their issues/times/challenges and share their thoughts.
    To go with this they need to be reading/listening to/learning about events from several perspectives.

    For writing curriculum, if you love it, use it consistently. It takes a process of regular practice over a long period of time for things to become second nature. If you don’t love it – sell it. You don’t have to have a curriculum, but if you do have one, you need to like it enough to teach it regularly.

    Ask your son what he thinks is a reasonable goal. If he regularly writes 1 paragraph (5-9 lines on the page), can the goal be writing 15 lines on a page, then 20/the whole page?

    He will also need to learn about writing an essay. A lot of the process is really learning about how to organize information/thoughts, which narration builds so well. But a basic lesson on making an outline for an essay could also be good. Have him read/research one paragraph per day and write it during this essay practice. For example: If he’s writing an essay about the Underground Railroad he may want to make an outline like this:

    Opening Paragraph – Get them hooked on the topic.

    Body paragraph 1 – What is slavery? How did slaves learn about the underground railroad?

    Body paragraph 2 – What are conductors? How did they help?

    Body paragraph 3 – What were the risks of running? What was the goal?

    Body Paragraph 4 – Famous person related to the Underground RR. Tell a bit about how they relate.

    Closing paragraph – Why does it matter? Why was it important? Was it worth the risk?

    Good luck! You are at the stage where the student has to buy in to the work of learning. What are your son’s goals? How does writing play into that?


    So glad you chimed in Tristan. I am hoping you will see and respond to my Bravewriter questions.

    His interest are mainly in gaming and friends. Yes he can talk all day about Roblox. Very little interest in academic pursuits. I try very hard to find him books he likes, but it is difficult. I am having some luck asking him to narrate smaller more specific portions. Like today he told me about Washington and Fort Duquesne. He can never tell me all you remember about…. too overwhelming. The other day he wrote about how soap can get you clean for science.

    Right now his goal is to be a firefighter, he does want to go to our local college. I believe he does want to write well, but I havent been able to help him. I ask for his input on different curriculums but he says he doesnt care. Not in an uninterested, disrepectful way. But in an honest way. He says he doesnt think he will “like” anything so I should just get what I think is best and he will use it.


    So I would consider having him do some writing (even just once a week) in an ongoing Roblox story or a book about how to play, a guide to Roblox, etc.

    Or, in a different option, have him begin researching firefighting/famous fires/history of firefighting/what classes a firefighter takes/EMT training (firefighters have a TON of EMT calls, more than fire calls these days) etc. Just assign a topic and have him learn about it and report back in writing what he learns. This could be an ongoing project, once or twice a week he is assigned a topic to learn about. He takes notes, gathers information, and then types it up for his own notebook of all things firefighting (which he also prints a second copy of anything he writes and turns it in to you).


    I’ve not read any of the responses, but my two cents based on my reluctant 15 yo son – find a class and let him be accountable to someone else consistently.  My son has made so much progress taking courses from Wendi Reed at Big River Academy online.  Currently he is in her Writing ER class.  He’s never going to pen the next great novel, but he is more confident and turning out much better work.  He will be taking more classes from her next year.


    More free advice 🙂

    I never used writing curriculum with my two kids (one graduating, one in 10th) so I can’t comment on that aspect. Our process was suggested in SCM, I think? We simply moved from lots of oral narrations of increasing complexity to simple written narrations to increasing complex written narrations. The narrations increase in complexity largely because the material does, so it’s a fairly natural progression. I did some “canned”essay prompts along the way in that traditional format taught in schools but I noticed (happily) that the narration format itself was (or evolved in to) solid writing skills without much artificial coaxing.  We never did term papers or research papers. We did/do a lot of response to literature types of essays. Reading something and then responding to a prompt or coming up with an aspect of it to write about in an essay.

    I had/have both a comfortable and reluctant writer.

    I second all the talk of consistency, but I’d add the importance of obedience too. If I ask my child to do something I expect them to do it or suffer the consequences and then still do it. I’m not homeschooling because I have nothing better to do. We have set goals for our children to meet. In order to get there, they must master certain skills. Now, that said, we always paid close attention to strengths and weaknesses and natural inclinations. Most of us have an area we prefer and are better in and that’s usually where we end up career and future wise. So, for example, I didn’t push my liberal arts inclined child to higher maths but I increased my expectation for her in the areas related to her interests and academic focus.

    With my son, I have noticed (very generalized statement) that boys mature a little later and figure out their interests and academic focus a little later. In the meantime, it’s all about plugging along with everything until that emerges. In my experience, he does require a lot more reminding of the goals – long term and short term.

    I could never afford outside classes and I’m a terrible control freak too so I can’t comment to that experience but a lot of folks applaud that option and there are lots of good choices out there it seems.



    I want to add for MY son who was taught CM way through 7th, he did not transition well to written narrations. He did ok at first with brief occasional narrations, but barely and despite efforts it was not what he needed.  He needed explicit writing instruction to progress.  My older child, now in college made that transition just fine and is a good writer.  Much depends on the kid.  With my 15 year old we’ve moved toward his preferences (textbooks and mostly online classes that vary)  instead of my preference (CM and narrations) and he is finding much more success.  It just works better for him.  Now that college kid of mine? She misses so much about CM methods and materials in college, but has flexed and is successful in her sophomore year anyway.

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