Overcoming Writer’s Block

Posted June 22, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

It’s common to have students with writer’s block.  They sit and stare at the paper.  They fidget and talk to friends.  They complain they have no ideas.  Teachers use many strategies to get the “reluctant writer” to start writing.  This summer my teaching partner and I are using what we call the “Brain Pop” to get our students to loosen up and commit pencil to paper, even when they can’t think of anything to write!

Every morning we present them with an object or word or movement or question–anything to get the juices flowing.  Then we ding a bell that signals 5 minutes of quiet writing time.  They can list words, write a paragraph, make up a story, create a poem, as long as they keep writing the entire time.  We tell them that their brain is a muscle and that with exercise they will be able to improve their output.

In one week students have been impressed with their own progress. Several students wrote only a handful of words the first day, but by the end of the week, they were writing sentences, paragraphs, poems.

For inspiration, we write on the board a quotation by Jack London: “There’s only one way to make a beginning, and that is to begin.”

by Marcia Chamberlain, Writers in the Schools

Breaking the Block

Posted February 29, 2008 & filed under Notebook.


When it’s time to write, some students confront a curious mental block. They understand that writing has practical applications, in addition to artistic ones; they understand that there are many forms and genres of writing, just as there are many different audiences for fiction and nonfiction. What they don’t seem to understand is that anything can be written, anything at all. The tremendous versatility of print seems to persistently elude them.

Typically, for example, I’ll have at least one student who claims he doesn’t like to write. That same student will often be the loudest, most communicative child in the classroom, the type to make contributions, for instance, without raising his hand. When I suggest, gently, that the same energy he channels into speaking could just as easily be applied to writing, I’m often met with a blank stare. I’ll say, “You just said this, and we’re writing a story with dialogue right now; why don’t you use what you just said as your first line of dialogue?” Slowly it dawns on him. A first, tentative line results, that often seems as doubtful as if I’d suggested he turn in a shoe or a piece of candy for the assignment.

The notion that writing can capture anything that can be spoken seems to fall outside the rigid conceptual box that many students assign to writing. Writing for them is often mind-numbingly practical: home‐work, a report, a vocabulary list. Our work, in a way, is convincing them that writing can be anything: a poem about the ride home on the bus, a few lines that work their alchemy on an emotion that otherwise would have been bottled up, a story that serves no practical function outside of the exercise of the imagination. If my students (many of whom are very young) can take that away with them, they will be on their way to becoming lifelong writers.wits-blog-pics-002.jpg

posted by Julian Martinez, Writers in the Schools
(photo by stewartbremner via flickr)