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Addressing Common Challenges with Student Writing

Why aren’t students successful writers and what can teachers do to help?

Zackory Kirk

Running is hard.

Like many teachers, I prioritized grading papers, designing lessons, and returning parent phone calls before my health. My weight climbed to 240 pounds, and life-threatening ailments like hypertension and diabetes became looming possibilities. I decided to address my health and find a way to get my physical condition under control in June 2017. I knew I had to start somewhere so I started running.

Running is hard. When I decided to take up running, I had no idea where to start: Did I have the right shoes? Was I supposed to feel this out of breath? Could all my fellow runners tell I was new at this? I wanted to be successful with running—I needed to be for my health—but I needed a lot of guidance. Learning to write well is the same way .

I will never forget my first high-stakes writing assessment: it was the Mississippi Graduation Writing Test in March 1996. Although I was an A student at the top of my class, I was still afraid of this assessment because it required me to write, on demand, in order to obtain my high school diploma. The blue book was sealed by a round, white sticker. With a fresh No. 2 pencil in hand, I broke the seal, opened the book, and read the first page. Like an underprepared runner at the start line of a race, I wished I’d had more training.

With writing, the struggle to complete begins with the struggle to get started . For many students, the struggle to start writing exists because they haven’t been taught an explicit process to start writing. Here are some strategies I’ve found helpful for supporting students.

The Struggle to Get Ready

The first step in drafting any composition is pre-writing.

A blank page can be extremely daunting for a writer. Without the proper tools to begin, a struggling writer often gives up. Some of our students have no idea where to begin when given a task that requires writing. This underscores why the pre-writing process is so important.

Pre-writing is the methodical process that a skilled writer follows before composing. Students must be explicitly taught this process before they can be expected to do it proficiently. Components of this process include:

  • Clustering —Selecting a word central to the text or writing prompt, then brainstorming related words or ideas, can help writers who have no clue where to start to identify a direction for their writing. Here’s an example .
  • Brainstorming —Setting aside time to explicitly think about what evidence, plot points, or even vocabulary might be included in a writing assignment can help do away with intimidation of the blank page. This can be done together as a class, in small groups (particularly helpful for English Language Learners), or even independently.
  • Freewriting —A form of brainstorming, freewriting allows students to write freely, anything that occurs to them about the writing topic (even writing some words in their native language if they are English Language Learners). This helps get the ideas flowing. Unlike a traditional brainstorm, this type of continuous writing is done in complete sentences and paragraphs.
  • Outlining techniques —Allowing students to develop a routine of organizing their thoughts into an outline can help them feel confident when they begin to write. Here’s an example of the Painted Essay outlining model from the Vermont Writing Collaborative.

While there is no one pre-writing strategy I prefer, to set students up for writing success, I do endorse explicitly teaching the pre-writing strategies through the Gradual Release of the Responsibility Model .

The Struggle to Get Set

Teachers must model each part of the writing process, including pre-writing. There is power in explicitly modeling the think aloud, read aloud, and write aloud—students see how it’s done— practice together—before being expected to do it successfully themselves. This practice builds students’ confidence. Teachers must literally show students how to work through outlining a composition before writing it if they expect students to feel comfortable doing this themselves.

After pre-writing, I would teach my students about clustering, webs, thinking maps, and sentence outlining, focusing on determining the question being asked by the prompt. Answering this question would later become the thesis statement supported by topic sentences. Throughout this process, I would think aloud, writing and revising in real time to demonstrate the writer’s cognitive process.

Using a new prompt, I would guide the students, as a class, through the process, clarifying any misconceptions and checking for the students’ comprehension along the way.

After guided practice, the students would be given a new prompt to practice using the process in groups of two. Ideally, I would pair a student proficient in sentence outlining with a student who struggled with the process. And while the students were working in pairs, I would circulate the room, utilizing student discussions to guide my awareness of who was getting it and who needed more support.

Finally, after three direct experiences with pre-writing, students would engage in pre-writing independently using a fourth and final prompt.

The Struggle to Go

In addition to explicitly modeling pre-writing, I recommend that teachers employ customized graphic organizers to support struggling writers.

Graphic organizers illustrate the structure, organization, and relationship between ideas. A well-developed graphic organizer helps focus the cognitive demands of writing for students who struggle. The skills inherent in completing a graphic organizer include skills that target both processing and analyzing.

As a teacher, I customized graphic organizers to target my students’ pre-writing deficits. For example, if a student still struggled with outlining a good conclusion – one of the largest struggle areas – I would find a specific frame for concluding and embed it into that student’s graphic organizer.

Explicitly teaching the pre-writing process and customizing graphic organizers provide a starting point for our student writers. Both of these recommendations take time and planning. I would usually spend two weeks teaching this process for each text type and purpose.

Writing is hard, but so is running. Both are doable. Both are incredibly rewarding.

After running for over a year, completing more than 40 5k races, and clocking more than 400 miles, I still find running hard. But knowing what to do, how to do it, and having clear goals for improvement have made all the difference in my ability to be a successful runner.

After writing for a lifetime, earning a terminal degree, publishing a book, and teaching thousands of students, I still find writing hard. But just as with running, knowing what to do, how to do it, and having clear goals for improvement have made all the difference.

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7 thoughts on “ Addressing Common Challenges with Student Writing ”

Thank you very much for outlining a model we teachers can use for better preparing our students for the often times difficult yet rewarding task of writing. It makes perfect sense. I hope to help my students make better sense of the writing process as well.

Zack, super read! Thank you for sharing . . .writing is hard.

Thanks for sharing. I find comfort and validation in your testimony. Blessings to you.

This is spot on, Zack! We teachers need to get over the fear of writing and then show students how to do the same. Our job is to help students get over the fear of a blank sheet of paper! I have a theory. Unwittingly, we have made writing punitive for secondary students; we have managed to suck the fun and creativity out of writing. Teachers know how to assign and grade writing, and we have exhausted a world’s supply of red ink to let students know how poorly they have mastered the art…. But therein lies the problem; writing is an art, and it should be a fascinating exploration of our own minds: what we think, why we think this way, how to explain our thinking, and where we got the fuel to fire our thoughts. Educators need to rethink our grading practices, but “Ahh, that’s where angels fear to tread!”

I feel badly for our teachers, for they are in the crosshairs of administrators, parents, and politicians. They know all about “formative” assessments, but they are expected/required to put a grade in the gradebook five minutes after an assignment is turned in…. The result? We are paying lip-service to what we know is good pedagogy while bowing to the pressure of “traditional grading practices.” Teachers are in a no-win situation. My heart goes out to our educators….

I love your running analogy; we must all put on a new pair of running shoes and get in shape!

This is a great description of effective, simple to implement strategies that are easy to implement. I would add one other strategy – writing fluency practice. When students become more fluent at writing 40-50 words in one minute on their “level”, that blank page becomes much less intimidating. You can find more information here with the ideas from Doug Fisher… https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2014/03/31/writing-fluency .

True, writing fluency is critical.

This article is a great resource to use with students and my grandson! I look forward to using the strategy list to help guide me with guiding him to become a stronger writer!

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About the Author: Zackory is a graduate of Mississippi State University and has served learners as a teacher, instructional coach, professional learning specialist, and literacy coordinator. Zackory’s passion is 21st century literacy instruction. His workshops have included creating common core aligned assessments, classroom management strategies for standards based instruction, and literacy in the content areas. The author of Not “So” Gifted Cody and the Really Big Problem, Zackory is a motivated writer, an active weightwatcher, and a passionate activist. Currently, Zackory works to ensure quality instruction for almost 50,000 students as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Atlanta Public School District.

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Why Learning to Write Well in College Is Difficult

Bill cerbin, assistant to the provost, uw-la crosse terry beck, department of english, uw-la crosse.

The following list is not, of course, meant to rationalize sub-par writing by college students. Nor can one course instructor address all the challenges listed below. We can, though, learn from this list and push ourselves, for example, to teach explicitly the genres we assign or—when we confer with students about their papers—ask them about the previous writing advice they’ve received. By understanding why writing is difficult for some of our students, we can work to help students develop as more confident and able writers.

  • Variations from discipline to discipline. Disciplines are discourse communities with their own methods of developing and communicating knowledge. However, students take classes in several disciplines (i.e., several discourse communities) at the same time and often have difficulty mastering the different forms of inquiry and the different stylistic conventions that apply. It takes a long time to develop writing proficiency in one discipline, let alone several.
  • Lack of uniform criteria and standards. Criteria, standards, and definitions of good writing differ from course to course (even within the same department). Students develop the idea that these are arbitrary and a matter of instructors’ personal preferences. This prompts them to search out “what you’re looking for” or “what you want” in their assignments.
  • Lack of explicit criteria and standards. In some courses, students have little or no information about what constitutes appropriate writing and no clear sense of the goal they are supposed to work toward.
  • Undeveloped writing processes. In many classes students are expected to write well, but are not taught to do so. Courses do not try to develop students’ writing: they simply require it. And students are left to use whatever strategies and competencies they have. But unless they are given feedback and helped with their composing processes, students will not get better by simply writing a lot.
  • Misleading or incomplete writing instruction. In some classes, formal writing may be treated solely as a list of rules governing the use of language (grammar, spelling, punctuation) rather than as purposeful communication of ideas. If this is done, mechanical aspects of language are emphasized to the exclusion of important conceptual abilities. Often key writing concepts are never addressed in courses. For example, how to adapt one’s knowledge to the audience and the situation (i.e., rhetorical thinking) is extremely important but rarely taught. Similarly, how to develop a coherent train of thought is crucial to good writing—but rarely taught.
  • Incomplete understanding of the subject matter. Students very often have to write about subjects that are unfamiliar to them. And, typical of novices in any subject area, their understanding as they write tends to be incomplete and naïve. Thus, it is very common that their writing lacks coherence and structure—reflecting their fragmented understanding of the topic, not necessarily their incompetence as writers.
  • Lack of experience with and failure to understand genres. Most assignments are academic writing exercises: “tests” in which students demonstrate their knowledge to the teacher (e.g., essays, library research papers). These are genres that are rhetorically difficult and confusing—and poor preparation for the writing they will do after their university careers. Students have fewer opportunities to develop knowledge of other forms of writing and to write to different audiences.
  • Lack of consistent coaching. As students go from class to class, they experience writing as a hodgepodge of activities, assignments, advice, etc. It is unlikely that these unrelated, discrete experiences promote cumulative learning and develop writing expertise.
  • Non-reflective writing experiences. Students probably do not treat writing as a deliberate skill to develop. For the most part, they do not analyze their own writing or reflect on their strengths, weaknesses, and development as writers.
  • Students do not care about what they write. Often students perceive academic writing as a chore rather than as a meaningful learning experience. While this is part of current student culture, it is not inevitable. Students are more likely to be invested in their work when they have some control over the selection of the topic and the work has an “authentic purpose” beyond getting a grade.

©2001, Bill Cerbin and Terry Beck.

Classroom Q&A

With larry ferlazzo.

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected]. Read more from this blog.

Four Strategies for Effective Writing Instruction

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(This is the first post in a two-part series.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is the single most effective instructional strategy you have used to teach writing?

Teaching and learning good writing can be a challenge to educators and students alike.

The topic is no stranger to this column—you can see many previous related posts at Writing Instruction .

But I don’t think any of us can get too much good instructional advice in this area.

Today, Jenny Vo, Michele Morgan, and Joy Hamm share wisdom gained from their teaching experience.

Before I turn over the column to them, though, I’d like to share my favorite tool(s).

Graphic organizers, including writing frames (which are basically more expansive sentence starters) and writing structures (which function more as guides and less as “fill-in-the-blanks”) are critical elements of my writing instruction.

You can see an example of how I incorporate them in my seven-week story-writing unit and in the adaptations I made in it for concurrent teaching.

You might also be interested in The Best Scaffolded Writing Frames For Students .

Now, to today’s guests:

‘Shared Writing’

Jenny Vo earned her B.A. in English from Rice University and her M.Ed. in educational leadership from Lamar University. She has worked with English-learners during all of her 24 years in education and is currently an ESL ISST in Katy ISD in Katy, Texas. Jenny is the president-elect of TexTESOL IV and works to advocate for all ELs:

The single most effective instructional strategy that I have used to teach writing is shared writing. Shared writing is when the teacher and students write collaboratively. In shared writing, the teacher is the primary holder of the pen, even though the process is a collaborative one. The teacher serves as the scribe, while also questioning and prompting the students.

The students engage in discussions with the teacher and their peers on what should be included in the text. Shared writing can be done with the whole class or as a small-group activity.

There are two reasons why I love using shared writing. One, it is a great opportunity for the teacher to model the structures and functions of different types of writing while also weaving in lessons on spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

It is a perfect activity to do at the beginning of the unit for a new genre. Use shared writing to introduce the students to the purpose of the genre. Model the writing process from beginning to end, taking the students from idea generation to planning to drafting to revising to publishing. As you are writing, make sure you refrain from making errors, as you want your finished product to serve as a high-quality model for the students to refer back to as they write independently.

Another reason why I love using shared writing is that it connects the writing process with oral language. As the students co-construct the writing piece with the teacher, they are orally expressing their ideas and listening to the ideas of their classmates. It gives them the opportunity to practice rehearsing what they are going to say before it is written down on paper. Shared writing gives the teacher many opportunities to encourage their quieter or more reluctant students to engage in the discussion with the types of questions the teacher asks.

Writing well is a skill that is developed over time with much practice. Shared writing allows students to engage in the writing process while observing the construction of a high-quality sample. It is a very effective instructional strategy used to teach writing.


‘Four Square’

Michele Morgan has been writing IEPs and behavior plans to help students be more successful for 17 years. She is a national-board-certified teacher, Utah Teacher Fellow with Hope Street Group, and a special education elementary new-teacher specialist with the Granite school district. Follow her @MicheleTMorgan1:

For many students, writing is the most dreaded part of the school day. Writing involves many complex processes that students have to engage in before they produce a product—they must determine what they will write about, they must organize their thoughts into a logical sequence, and they must do the actual writing, whether on a computer or by hand. Still they are not done—they must edit their writing and revise mistakes. With all of that, it’s no wonder that students struggle with writing assignments.

In my years working with elementary special education students, I have found that writing is the most difficult subject to teach. Not only do my students struggle with the writing process, but they often have the added difficulties of not knowing how to spell words and not understanding how to use punctuation correctly. That is why the single most effective strategy I use when teaching writing is the Four Square graphic organizer.

The Four Square instructional strategy was developed in 1999 by Judith S. Gould and Evan Jay Gould. When I first started teaching, a colleague allowed me to borrow the Goulds’ book about using the Four Square method, and I have used it ever since. The Four Square is a graphic organizer that students can make themselves when given a blank sheet of paper. They fold it into four squares and draw a box in the middle of the page. The genius of this instructional strategy is that it can be used by any student, in any grade level, for any writing assignment. These are some of the ways I have used this strategy successfully with my students:

* Writing sentences: Students can write the topic for the sentence in the middle box, and in each square, they can draw pictures of details they want to add to their writing.

* Writing paragraphs: Students write the topic sentence in the middle box. They write a sentence containing a supporting detail in three of the squares and they write a concluding sentence in the last square.

* Writing short essays: Students write what information goes in the topic paragraph in the middle box, then list details to include in supporting paragraphs in the squares.

When I gave students writing assignments, the first thing I had them do was create a Four Square. We did this so often that it became automatic. After filling in the Four Square, they wrote rough drafts by copying their work off of the graphic organizer and into the correct format, either on lined paper or in a Word document. This worked for all of my special education students!

I was able to modify tasks using the Four Square so that all of my students could participate, regardless of their disabilities. Even if they did not know what to write about, they knew how to start the assignment (which is often the hardest part of getting it done!) and they grew to be more confident in their writing abilities.

In addition, when it was time to take the high-stakes state writing tests at the end of the year, this was a strategy my students could use to help them do well on the tests. I was able to give them a sheet of blank paper, and they knew what to do with it. I have used many different curriculum materials and programs to teach writing in the last 16 years, but the Four Square is the one strategy that I have used with every writing assignment, no matter the grade level, because it is so effective.


‘Swift Structures’

Joy Hamm has taught 11 years in a variety of English-language settings, ranging from kindergarten to adult learners. The last few years working with middle and high school Newcomers and completing her M.Ed in TESOL have fostered stronger advocacy in her district and beyond:

A majority of secondary content assessments include open-ended essay questions. Many students falter (not just ELs) because they are unaware of how to quickly organize their thoughts into a cohesive argument. In fact, the WIDA CAN DO Descriptors list level 5 writing proficiency as “organizing details logically and cohesively.” Thus, the most effective cross-curricular secondary writing strategy I use with my intermediate LTELs (long-term English-learners) is what I call “Swift Structures.” This term simply means reading a prompt across any content area and quickly jotting down an outline to organize a strong response.

To implement Swift Structures, begin by displaying a prompt and modeling how to swiftly create a bubble map or outline beginning with a thesis/opinion, then connecting the three main topics, which are each supported by at least three details. Emphasize this is NOT the time for complete sentences, just bulleted words or phrases.

Once the outline is completed, show your ELs how easy it is to plug in transitions, expand the bullets into detailed sentences, and add a brief introduction and conclusion. After modeling and guided practice, set a 5-10 minute timer and have students practice independently. Swift Structures is one of my weekly bell ringers, so students build confidence and skill over time. It is best to start with easy prompts where students have preformed opinions and knowledge in order to focus their attention on the thesis-topics-supporting-details outline, not struggling with the rigor of a content prompt.

Here is one easy prompt example: “Should students be allowed to use their cellphones in class?”

Swift Structure outline:

Thesis - Students should be allowed to use cellphones because (1) higher engagement (2) learning tools/apps (3) gain 21st-century skills

Topic 1. Cellphones create higher engagement in students...

Details A. interactive (Flipgrid, Kahoot)

B. less tempted by distractions

C. teaches responsibility

Topic 2. Furthermore,...access to learning tools...

A. Google Translate description

B. language practice (Duolingo)

C. content tutorials (Kahn Academy)

Topic 3. In addition,...practice 21st-century skills…

Details A. prep for workforce

B. access to information

C. time-management support

This bare-bones outline is like the frame of a house. Get the structure right, and it’s easier to fill in the interior decorating (style, grammar), roof (introduction) and driveway (conclusion). Without the frame, the roof and walls will fall apart, and the reader is left confused by circuitous rubble.

Once LTELs have mastered creating simple Swift Structures in less than 10 minutes, it is time to introduce complex questions similar to prompts found on content assessments or essays. Students need to gain assurance that they can quickly and logically explain and justify their opinions on multiple content essays without freezing under pressure.


Thanks to Jenny, Michele, and Joy for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

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Efficient Ways to Improve Student Writing

Strategies, Ideas, and Recommendations from the faculty Development Literature

General Strategies

  • View the improvement of students’ writing as your responsibility. Teaching writing is not only the job of the English department alone.  Writing is an essential tool for learning a discipline and helping students improve their writing skills is a responsibility for all faculty.
  • Let students know that you value good writing. Stress the importance of clear, thoughtful writing. Faculty who tell students that good writing will be rewarded and poor writing will be penalized receive better essays than instructors who don't make such demands. In the syllabus, on the first day, and throughout the term, remind students that they must make their best effort in expressing themselves on paper. Back up your statements with comments on early assignments that show you really mean it, and your students will respond.
  • Regularly assign brief writing exercises in your classes. To vary the pace of a lecture course, ask students to write a few minutes during class. Some mixture of in-class writing, outside writing assignments, and exams with open-ended questions will give students the practice they need to improve their skills.
  • Provide guidance throughout the writing process. After you have made the assignment, discuss the value of outlines and notes, explain how to select and narrow a topic, and critique the first draft, define plagiarism as well.
  • Don't feel as though you have to read and grade every piece of your students' writing. Ask students to analyze each other's work during class, or ask them to critique their work in small groups. Students will learn that they are writing in order to think more clearly, not obtain a grade. Keep in mind, you can collect students' papers and skim their work.
  • Find other faculty members who are trying to use writing more effectively in their courses. Pool ideas about ways in which writing can help students learn more about the subject matter. See if there is sufficient interest in your discipline to warrant drawing up guidelines. Students welcome handouts that give them specific instructions on how to write papers for a particular course or in a particular subject area.

Teaching Writing When You Are Not an English Teacher

  • Remind students that writing is a process that helps us clarify ideas. Tell students that writing is a way of learning, not an end in itself. Also let them know that writing is a complicated, messy, nonlinear process filled with false starts. Help them to identify the writer's key activities:
  • Developing ideas
  • Finding a focus and a thesis
  • Composing a draft
  • Getting feedback and comments from others
  • Revising the draft by expanding ideas, clarifying meaning, reorganizing
  • Presenting the finished work to readers
  • Explain that writing is hard work. Share with your class your own struggles in grappling with difficult topics. If they know that writing takes effort, they won't be discouraged by their own pace or progress. One faculty member shared with students their notebook that contained the chronology of one of his published articles: first ideas, successive drafts, submitted manuscript, reviewers' suggested changes, revised version, galley proofs, and published article.
  • Give students opportunities to talk about their writing. Students need to talk about papers in progress so that they can formulate their thoughts, generate ideas, and focus their topics. Take five or ten minutes of class time for students to read their writing to each other in small groups or pairs. It's important for students to hear what their peers have written.
  • Encourage students to revise their work. Provide formal steps for revision by asking students to submit first drafts of papers for your review or for peer critique. You can also give your students the option of revising and rewriting one assignment during the semester for a higher grade. Faculty report that 10 to 40 percent of the students take advantage of this option.
  • Explain thesis statements. A thesis statement makes an assertion about some issue. A common student problem is to write papers that present overviews of facts with no thesis statement or that have a diffuse thesis statement.
  • Stress clarity and specificity. The more the abstract and difficult the topic, the more concrete the student's language should be. Inflated language and academic jargon camouflage rather than clarify their point.
  • Explain the importance of grammar and sentence structure, as well as content. Students shouldn't think that English teachers are the only judges of grammar and style. Tell your students that you will be looking at both quality of their writing and the content.
  • Distribute bibliographies and tip sheets on good writing practices. Check with your English department or writing center to identify materials that can be easily distributed to students. Consider giving your students a bibliography of writing guides, for example:

Crews, F.C. Random House Handbook. (6th ed.) New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992.

A classic comprehensive textbook for college students. Well written and well worth reading.

Lanham, R.A. Revising Prose . (3rd ed.) New York: Scribner's, 1991. Techniques for eliminating

bureaucratese and restoring energy to tired prose.

Tollefson, S. K. Grammar Grams and Grammar Grams II . New York: HarperCollins, 1989,

1992. Two short, witty guides that answer common questions about grammar, style, and usage. Both are fun to read.

  • Science and Engineering Barrass, R. Scientists Must Write. New York: Chapman and Hall, 1978. Biddle, A. W., and Bean, D. J. Writer's Guide: Life Sciences. Lexington, Mass.: Heath, 1987.
  • Arts and Humanities Barnet, S. A Short Guide to Writing About Art . Boston: Little, Brown, 1989. Goldman, B. Reading and Writing in the Arts. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1978.
  • Social Sciences Biddle, A. W., Fulwiler, T., and Holland, K.M. Writer's Guide: Psychology . Lexington, Mass,:

Heath, 1987. McCloskey, D. N. The Writing of Economics . New York: Macmillan, 1987.

  • Ask a composition instructor to give a presentation to your students. Invite a guest speaker from the composition department or student learning center to talk to your students about effective writing and common writing problems. Faculty who have invited these experts report that such presentations reinforce the values of the importance of writing.
  • Let students know about available tutoring services. Individual or group tutoring in writing is available on most campuses. Ask someone from the tutoring center to give a demonstration in your class.
  • Use computers to help students write better. Locally developed and commercially available software are now being used by faculty to help students plan, write, and revise their written work. Some software available allows instructors to monitor students' work in progress and lets students collaborate with their classmates.

Assigning In-Class Writing Activities

  • Ask students to write what they know about a topic before you discuss it. Ask your students to write a brief summary of what they already know or what opinions they hold regarding the subject you are about to discuss. The purpose of this is to focus the students' attention, there is no need to collect the summaries.
  • Ask students to respond in writing to questions you pose during class. Prior to class starting, list two or three short-answer questions on the board and ask your students to write down their responses. Your questions might call for a review of material you have already discussed or recalling information from assigned readings.
  • Ask students to write from a pro or con position. When presenting an argument, stop and ask your students to write down all the reasons and evidence they can think of that supports one side or the other. These statements can be used as the basis for discussion.
  • During class, pause for a three-minute write. Periodically ask students to write freely for three minutes on a specific question or topic. They should write whatever pops into their mind without worrying about grammar, spelling, phrasing, or organization. This kind of free writing, according to writing experts, helps students synthesize diverse ideas and identify points they may not understand. There is no need to collect these exercises.
  • Have students write a brief summary at the end of class. At the end of the class period, give your students index cards to jot down the key themes, major points, or general principles of the day's discussion. You can easily collect the index cards and review them to see whether the class understood the discussion.
  • Have one student keep minutes to be read at the next class meeting. By taking minutes, students get a chance to develop their listening, synthesizing, and writing skills. Boris (1983) suggests the following:
  • Prepare your students by having everyone take careful notes for the class period, go home and rework them into minutes, and hand them in for comments. It can be the students' discretion whether the minutes are in outline or narrative form.
  • Decide on one to two good models to read or distribute to the class.
  • At the beginning of each of the following classes, assign one student to take minutes for the period.
  • Give a piece of carbon paper to the student who is taking minutes so that you can have a rough copy. The student then takes the original home and revises it in time to read it aloud at the next class meeting.
  • After the student has read their minutes, ask other students to comment on their accuracy and quality. If necessary, the student will revise the minutes and turn in two copies, one for grading and one for your files.
  • Structure small group discussion around a writing task. For example, have your students pick three words that are of major importance to the day's session. Ask your class to write freely for two to three minutes on just one of the words. Next, give the students five to ten minutes to meet in groups to share what they have written and generate questions to ask in class.
  • Use peer response groups. Divide your class into groups of three or four, no larger. Ask your students to bring to class enough copies of a rough draft of a paper for each person in their group. Give your students guidelines for critiquing the drafts. In any response task, the most important step is for the reader to note the part of the paper that is the strongest and describe to the writer why it worked so well. The following instructions can also be given to the reader:
  • State the main point of the paper in a single sentence
  • List the major subtopics
  • Identify confusing sections of the paper
  • Decide whether each section of the paper has enough detail, evidence, and information
  • Indicate whether the paper's points follow one another in sequence
  • Judge the appropriateness of the opening and concluding paragraphs
  • Identify the strengths of the paper

Written critiques done as homework are likely to be more thoughtful, but critiques may also be done during the class period.

  • Use read-around groups. Read-around groups are a technique used with short assignments (two to four pages) which allows everyone to read everyone else's paper. Divide the class into groups no larger than four students and divide the papers (coded for anonymity) into as many sets as there are groups. Give each group a set and ask the students to read each paper silently and decide on the best paper in the set. Each group should discuss their choices and come to a consensus on the best paper. The paper's code number is recorded by the group, and the same process is repeated with a new set of papers. After all the groups have read all the sets of papers, someone from each group writes on the board the code number from the best paper in each set. The recurring numbers are circled. Generally, one to three papers stand out.
  • Ask students to identify the characteristics of effective writing. After completing the read-around activity, ask your students to reconsider those papers which were voted as excellent by the entire class and to write down features that made each paper outstanding. Write their comments on the board, asking for elaboration and probing vague generalities. In pairs, the students discuss the comments on the board and try to put them into categories such as organization, awareness of audience, thoroughness of detail, etc. You might need to help your students arrange the characteristics into meaningful categories.

The Strategies, Ideas and Recommendations Here Come Primarily From:

Gross Davis, B. Tools for Teaching . San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1993.

And These Additional Sources…

Boris, E. Z. "Classroom Minutes: A Valuable Teaching Device." Improving College and

University Teaching, 1983,31(2), 70-73.

Elbow, P. "Using Writing to Teach Something Else." Unpublished paper, 1987.

Hawisher, G. E., and Selfe, C. L. (eds.). Critical Perspectives on Computers and

Composition Instruction.  New York:  Teachers College Press, 1989.

Holdstein, D. H., and Selfe, C. L. (eds.). Computers and Writing: Theory, Research,

Practice. New York: Modern Language Association, 1990.

Lowman, J. Mastering the Techniques of Teaching . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984.

Petersen, B. T. "Additional Resources in the Practice of Writing Across the Disciplines."

In C. W. Griffin (ed.), Teaching Writing in All Disciplines . New Directions in Teaching and Learning, no. 12. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1982.

Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education.

Bright Idea Network , 1989. (For information contact David Graf, Iowa State University, Ames.)

Pytlik, B. P. "Teaching Teachers of Writing: Workshops on Writing as a Collaborative

Process." College Teaching , 1989, 37(1), 12-14.

Tollefson, S. K. Encouraging Student Writing . Berkeley: Office of Educational

Development, University of California, 1988.

Walvoord, B. F. Helping Students Write Well: A Guide for Teachers in All Disciplines.

(2nd ed.) New York: Modern Language Association, 1986.

Watkins, B. T. "More and More Professors in Many Academic Disciplines Routinely

Require Students to Do Extensive Writing." Chronicle of Higher Education, 1990, 36(44), pp. A13-14, A16.

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Writing Challenges

Conventions, keyboarding, organization, overall production, progress monitoring, sentence fluency, what are writing challenges.

A number of learning challenges can make writing difficult. Yes, a child may struggle with the physical act of writing but more often, they struggle with idea generation, spelling, organization, structuring their thoughts, drafting, editing, and other issues relevant to written expression.

Addressing Writing Challenges?

Writing is a complex task. Struggling learners require specific interventions. Educators need to appreciate the writing difficulty and understand the effective strategies that can improve writing skills. This page features information concerning the challenge accompanied by effective solutions.

students writing challenges

Punctuation, capitalization, & grammar make a student's writing clear & understandable. Learn about issues & solutions for struggling writers. Learn More

students writing challenges

Struggling writers are often poor readers. Where many writers incorporate ideas from what they read, poor readers face limitations. Learn more about the issues & solutions. Learn More

students writing challenges

Proficiency in typing influences writing fluency & outcomes. Tablets and other mobile devices further complicate keyboarding. Learn more about the issues & solutions. Learn More

students writing challenges

Engaging the child in the writing process is indicative of student success. Learn more about fostering motivation and sustaining student attention to the demands of writing. Learn More

students writing challenges

Determining the structure of one's writing is difficult. Organizing ideas can also be a significant need. Learn about ways to organize ideas to improve writing. Learn More

students writing challenges

Writing issues impact the quality and quantity of writing. Learn about ways to improve student writing to foster further drafting and editing for a successful product. Learn More

students writing challenges

Are we there yet? Monitoring a student's writing offers a process to determine progress, where interventions are needed, what is working, and ways to foster ongoing development. Learn more about monitoring writing progress. Learn More

students writing challenges

The writing process is complex. A critical part is improving one fluency in sentence writing. Learn about the challenges and potential solutions to improve writing fluency. Learn More

students writing challenges

Challenges in spelling are often seen as a primary obstacle in the writing process. Spelling is complex and while tools exist to support, understanding challenges associated with spelling is critical to improving writing. Learn More

students writing challenges

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7 Essay Writing Challenges And How To Handle Them

Haiden Malecot

Table of Contents

students writing challenges

If there is an opened empty Word file on the background and you are unthinkingly browsing through the Internet searching for at least a glimpse of inspiration, trust us, you are not alone.

According to the study of DSU students, 60% of them procrastinate more on writing tasks than on any other workload. All professional writers face a writer’s block at some point. Procrastination is waiting for them at social media news feed or somewhere near a cozy chair with an exciting book.

Students sometimes have a right to stare at the blank sheet of paper with no clue or desire to write. Writers, on the contrary, earn a living by writing, so they have no chance but to struggle with all the challenges of writing.

Also, they understand your issue with writing like nobody else, and they already came up with some efficient solutions to these challenges. Here you will find out how to overcome all obstacles and succeed in academic writing.

What are the common challenges in writing an essay?

  • Challenge #1: Start.
  • Challenge #2: Search for compelling arguments.
  • Challenge #3: Clichés.
  • Challenge #4: Tone of voice and the audience.
  • Challenge #5: Fear of Failure.
  • Challenge #6: Quotations.
  • Challenge #7: Time management.
  • Other problems with writing you may face.

When it comes to the accomplishing of the writing assignment, a student goes through several stages of despair and has to clear some obstacles on the way to an excellent paper. These are the most frequent problems that any writer can face on all steps of the writing process:

  • No clue on how to start the text.
  • Searching for compelling arguments.
  • Getting rid of clichéd words.
  • How to find the right tone for the audience?
  • What if I fail?
  • Proper formatting of the quotes.
  • Time management.

Challenge #1: Start

The very first sentence of the essay is the most complicated and takes the most time.

Solution : this is one of the typical problems in academic writing for a student who neglects the pre-writing stage. Before writing, sit for some time, define the purpose of the essay (e.g., to educate, to persuade, etc.) and contemplate the ideas on how to fulfill it.

For example, you can draw a mind map or use a technique of a word salad when you are writing down all the ideas that come to mind without censoring them. Thus, you get a direction of where to search for materials and facts.

Challenge #2: Search for compelling arguments

Solution : make a thorough research of the issue and check your list of ideas. Remember: any argument may seem solid if it is supported with proofs taken from reliable resources.

People tend to believe reputable sources, so take advantage of it. Press a librarian into service! Do not rely on the Internet only as not all great magazines or books have an online version.

Actually, limiting yourself with online sources is one of the main problems with writing.

…Think out of the box!

Challenge #3: Clichés

Solution : get rid of them. Read the text carefully, and if you see one, rephrase it with simpler words.

If you cannot see them at once, let your friend read the text, as it is easier to spot such things from the sideline.

Remember – avoid clichés like the plague!

Challenge #4: Tone of voice and the audience

Solution : it is one of the most common problems students have with writing. It is necessary to meet the requirements of academic writing and select the right tone and language to create a top-notch paper.

As a rule, academic papers call for unbiased third-person voice, so check the paper and correct all your “I think” and “To my mind.”

All the terminology that you use in the text should be explained, and it is necessary to avoid colloquialisms and slang. But, if you think that adding a lot of compound words of too sector-specific terminology is a good idea, you are wrong.

It is hard to beat plain, clear, and logical language. As when a writer hides behind the heavy-weight word constructs, it is a sign that his knowledge of the subject is superficial.

The audience is another crucial aspect of your paper success. You do not write for corporate purposes. Thus, you have to take the audience into account: make sure that the paper will be interesting for readers.

It should not offer the information that is obvious to your audience, nor should it be too simple or too complicated for understanding.

Challenge #5: Fear of Failure

Solution : practice. And practice. And practice again.

… Nobody’s perfect.

It is fine to have doubts, each and every writer is skeptic about the success of the paper sometimes. If you want to make sure that your paper complies with the wishes of your teacher, show him the rough draft.

If there are some discrepancies, the teacher will show you and explain how to fix it.

Challenge #6: Quotations

Solution : many students struggling with writing essays forget about proper formatting of the citations and then get into trouble.

Each and every quote placed into the text without affiliation is considered to be plagiarism.

… Do you want to be punished for plagiarism?

If no, stick to the chosen citation style. There are plenty of guidelines online where you can check the correctness of the formatting.

Challenge #7: Time management

Solution : leave no out to procrastination. It is a great temptation to wait for a deadline date and try to complete the task within several hours in a hurry.

Proper planning will save you from such problems in writing.

It goes without saying that no student would like to spend several days editing a paper . However, several additional hours dedicated to the research will significantly improve your analysis of the issue.

Also, you will be able to set the paper aside and return to it after a couple of days. Thus, you can revise it from a fresh perspective.

Other problems with writing you may face

This issue deserves a whole “The challenges college students face” essay. There are plenty of reasons for the appearance of low-quality papers. These can be lack of time, attention, inspiration, and knowledge of where to start.

  • Lack of time can be fixed only with proper planning, as it is beyond remedy. Here is a tip: always write down all the referencing information when you use a source. Thus, you will be able to save a lot of time.
  • If you can’t focus on the task , here is a life hack: switch off your smartphone and forget about your social media account for at least a couple of hours. It works, guaranteed.
  • If you’ve got lack of inspiration , try to read essays dedicated to the same subject. It may help you shape your thoughts in the right direction.
  • If your knowledge of the subject is superficial , the only solution is to study more. Unfortunately, there is no magic trick that will make you know more.
  • If your writing skills leave room for improvement, develop a daily habit of writing practice. Buy a fancy notebook and write down your stream of consciousness.
  • Some people find it challenging to edit and proofread their own texts . Here is a tip: try to read the text backward, from the last word to the first. Another great technique is to read the paper aloud. In such a way, you can find the parts where the transitions are not smooth.

If you are having a hard time writing an essay, it is all right to ask for professional assistance. After all, no one obliges you to order a custom paper. You can look through sample papers or ask skilled editors to check your paper.

If lack of inspiration or time is the case… You’re lucky enough to come across the best writing service! Timely delivery, complete confidentiality, and no plagiarism. Proven by thousands of successfully completed works!

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How to Write an Argument Synthesis Essay: a Step-by-Step Instruction

Top 7 examples of essay on human resources.

students writing challenges

Highlight the main viewpoint in Conflicts essays

Areas of Challenge for ELL writers

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All writers are different and there is no one model of an ELL text. A diverse number of factors, from cultural and educational background, social context, motivation, personal history, personal experiences of writing, and individual personality and preference shape a writer's text (Tran 60). Nonetheless, there are some areas of challenge that we can be particularly aware of when reading ELL texts. 


International students' perceptions of textual organization will be influenced by the organizational pattern they were trained in when using their L1 (native language) and their experiences in writing English (L2). Their writing, therefore, may appear to follow a non-standard US academic structure, or may even appear to be disorganized—at least to the native eye.

The first thing to consider when reading an ELL text for organization is that rhetoric is cultural. An ELL text that appears to lack structure might actually just be structured in a way that is less visible to the US academic reader. For example, Robert Land and Catherine Whitley conducted a study in which native-speaker and non-native English Composition instructors read essays by native-speaker and non-native speaker writers. The US-born readers consistently marked the ELL texts lower than their non-native speaker colleagues, citing organization problems specifically. This study demonstrates the influence of culture in the perception as well as use of rhetorical organization (Land and Whitley 138).

Strategies for working on organization with ELLs include:

  • Be aware of cultural differences. An essay that appears disorganized at first glance may be written following a different rhetorical model. It can be worth learning from multilingual readers/ writers: Land and Whitley argue that multilingual readers are more likely to adapt to and value writing of diverse rhetorical organizations.
  • Be explicit about the expectations of an assignment. Do not assume the student is well-versed in the style of the US academic essay.
  • Provide models: Model student essays can be more effective than—or at least should supplement—published scholarly essays.


According to Matsuda and Cox, a particular organizational feature that can be improved in many ELL texts is signposting language. She recommends that tutors/ instructors look carefully for the implicit logic of the text and then guide the student in making this implicit organization explicit through metadiscourse and signposts—topic sentences, transitional language, etc. (48).

Many ELLs can benefit from guidance on audience awareness. Students from exam cultures may be less experienced in considering issues of audience (Leki 10). In addition, ELL's anxiety about error may lead them to focus more on teacher-as-audience. 


Some international students will not be trained in standard US academic research methods or, in particular, engaging with sources in an essay. A superficial introduction to methods of integrating sources through direct quotation, summary, and paraphrasing is not sufficient to introduce students to intertextuality. Ly Thi Tran suggests that students attempting to mimic a US academic model of intertextuality may assume a single approach such as challenging all sources or accommodating all sources' views.

Instructors can help students learn to meaningfully engage with sources by using a variety of activities to help students conduct research, think critically about the sources, and then respond to these sources in writing. Instructors and Writing Center tutors can help work on student drafts by asking the student to talk explicitly about the relationship between their argument and their sources, and the rhetorical moves they use to demonstrate this relationship. 


Ken Hyland and John Milton offer another explanation for non-native speakers' apparent difficulty in engaging with sources' arguments and to making sophisticated arguments more generally. They argue that qualification and certainty are particular areas of challenge for language learners because they lack the vocabulary to indicate nuance in degrees of doubt and certainty. L2 texts, then, may appear overly direct, opinion-based, or uncritical.

Instructors can help students qualify their statements by exposing them to means for expressing degrees of doubt and certainty, such as:

  • Vocabulary to qualify an event or claim (may, might, possibly, perhaps, quite, suggests, etc.)
  • Epistemic clusters, phrases often used to qualify a claim (it might be possible, it would seem, etc.)
  • Impersonal forms: it is certain, apparently, scholars suggest, etc. in place of an overuse of personal forms such as "I think," "I believe," "I know," etc. 


Plagiarism, as it is seen in US academic contexts at least, is a significant issue in the international student population. Students, however, are not likely to fail to document sources for personal gain. They are more likely to simply not be aware of the rules for when it is appropriate to cite sources, particularly if they have only been taught the simple paraphrasing-quoting-summarizing model of integrating sources.

To avoid problems with plagiarism, instructors and tutors can:

  • Talk explicitly about the concept of intellectual ownership.
  • Discuss documentation as an important scholarly practice rather than a potential source (in its lack) of punishment.
  • Expose students to reliable sources of documentation rules, such as the OWL at Purdue.
  • Read student texts carefully for moments that seem to call for documentation. Ask students to talk through their process when you sense documentation is missing. 


(see also  "Practicing Sentence-level intervention" ) 

According to some ESL scholars, ELL writers need the most guidance most often in lexical issues. There are three types of lexical needs: 1) Facility (ease and fluency in producing language); 2) Flexibility (access to alternatives); and 3) Intuition (having a sense of what "sounds right") (Nakamaru 4). According to Nakamaru, ELLs tend to need the most help with facility. In addition, many language learners will not yet have developed the intuition to judge what "sounds right" or hear the nuances that distinguish lexical alternatives generated by a thesaurus.

Strategies for helping students with word choice include:

  • Discuss Alternatives: Similarly, instead of simply “fixing” an issue, you can offer alternatives to students who do not have the proficiency to generate lexical alternatives themselves. Instead of using a “pick a card, any card,” approach, suggest possible alternatives and explain the differences in register and nuance, etc. Then ask the student which alternative seems most appropriate to his/ her meaning.
  • Invite the student to be an active participant in working on word choice.  For example, instead of simply changing ineffective word choice, explain to students why the word choice is an issue (too colloquial, etc.) and ask if this is the meaning they intend. The student then can actively choose to keep the original word or seek an alternative. 

Land, Robert E. and Catherine Whitley. "Evaluating Second Language Essays in Regular Composition Classes: Towards a Pluralistic U.S. Rhetoric."  Negotiating Academic Literacies: Teaching and Learning Across Languages and Cultures.  Eds. Vivian Zamel and Ruth Spack. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1998.

Leki, Ilona. Undergraduates in a Second Language :  Challenges and Complexities of Academic Literacy Development.  New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007.

Matsuda, Paul Kei and Michelle Cox. "Reading an ESL Writer's Text."  ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors.  2nd ed. Ed. Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton Cook, 2009. 42-50.

Nakamaru, Sarah. “Lexical Issues in Writing Center Tutorials with International and US-educated multilingual writers.”  Journal of Second Language Writing  19.2 (2010): 95-13. 

Shapiro, Shawna; Raichle Farrelly, and Zuzana Tomas.  Fostering International Student Success in Higher Education . Alexandria, VA: TESOL Press, 2014.

Tran, Ly Thi. "Turning the Spotlight to International Students' Internal Negotiations: Critical Thinking in Academic Writing."  Voices, identities, negotiations, and conflicts: Writing academic English across cultures . Eds. Phan Le Ha and Bradley Baurain, eds. Vol. 22. BRILL, 2011.

Projects with Promise

Vol. 27 No. 3

Successful Implementation of a Community-Based Writing Project With Public Health Graduate Students During a Public Health Emergency

  • Ella August  ▸  ▾
  • Max Ansorge  ▸  ▾
  • Olivia S. Anderson  ▸  ▾

The disruption of education during COVID-19 presented challenges regarding experiential learning intended for Master of Public Health students to develop writing skills. We describe the Real-World Writing Project, wherein students wrote a public health document for community partners, implemented in the context of emergency remote learning during COVID-19. Community partners and students completed surveys related to their satisfaction with the Project and final products. Students reported skills they used and rated the writing project compared to traditional writing assignments. Community partners and students were satisfied working together and with the final products. Most used skills reported by students were writing, creating a design element, and interpreting data. Students were satisfied with the Project compared to traditional assignments. As public health emergencies (e.g., climate disasters) increase in frequency, remote experiential learning will be necessary. This work contributes valuable information about conducting a successful community project during a public health crisis.

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College of Law

A student studies in the commons with coffee.

Leadership in Legal Writing

In 1989, Nancy Jones founded the Writing Center at Iowa Law. It was the first writing resource center in the country to be housed in a law school and devoted exclusively to the law school community. Jones, an influential figure in legal writing support and education, led the center for more than 30 years before retiring in 2020.

Following Jones’ retirement, Dawn Anderson (95JD, 18EdS), a longtime Legal Analysis, Writing & Research (LAWR) professor, assumed leadership. The center continues to build on its rich history as it grows to fit the needs of today’s law students.

As Anderson stepped into a leadership role at the center, she and others examined how to increase collaboration between LAWR professors and the writing center. The outcome was the hire of two new LAWR professors, expanding the dedicated writing faculty to six. The center also changed its name to the Writing and Academic Success Center to reflect its expansion and added resources.

“We realized there was a synergy between writing and academic success. In fact, writing is simply a subset of the academic skills students need to succeed. Hence, the Writing and Academic Success Center was born,” said Anderson.

The center is a centralized hub for student support. It offers one-on-one consultations with writing specialists, feedback on written work, and workshops designed to address specific writing and academic challenges that many law students face.

Recent enhancements include extended office hours, a balanced blend of online and in-person appointments, and a new Tuesday Talk About It series covering all topics related to academic success from critical reading strategies to exam prep. It also has a series of Legal Writing Shorts: bite-sized presentations on legal writing topics like organizing legal writing, presenting analysis effectively, and writing concisely. The center has also expanded the number of tutors from two to eleven, ensuring adequate assistance during peak semester periods.

In addition, the College of Law introduced a new course to support writing center tutors. Advanced Legal Writing equips students with the skills to teach writing and editing and effectively serve as peer tutors. 

“Students sometimes find peer tutors less threatening, so they will go to them for help when they might not reach out to the professor,” Anderson said. “Peer tutoring can also reduce the stigma associated with asking for assistance.”

Upcoming changes to the Boyd Law Building will also help support the center, including a remodel to enhance its space overlooking the Iowa River and new technology for advanced writing workshops and writing support for upper-level students.

By the Numbers:

Additional resources and greater tutor availability have led to a steady increase in the number of appointments with the center over the past three years. 

Writing Center Appointments (Totals by academic years)

376   2020-2021

420  2021-2022

540  2022-2023

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woman writing on notebook

Nothing is more aggravating than gazing at a blank sheet of paper or a blank computer screen. In most cases, this is frequently the situation for most students when beginning an essay. Generally, writing an essay can be problematic, be it a story, a persuasive essay, or even a research paper.

In addition, the entire writing process is a series of failed starts and extensive revisions. This also includes trying to avoid writer’s block and plagiarized work. Citing sources appropriately, drafting a thesis statement, and expanding on ideas are just a few issues you may encounter. Therefore, knowing how to avoid these problems will assist you in finishing your essay successfully.

Getting Started:

The first issue a student may face is difficulty starting an essay. This usually occurs when you overlook the pre-writing stage. Therefore, you can save your time by first determining the aim of your essay and brainstorming possible ideas to accomplish that objective.

Typically, brainstorming is appropriate if you don’t limit your ideas. So start by writing down all your ideas, even if you know they won’t fit into the essay. After that, you may determine the most significant things to address using this information.

Developing a Thesis Statement:

Creating a good thesis statement is another most difficult aspect of essay writing. Basically, the thesis statement is the most important part of the work, and it serves as a brief introduction to the writer’s goals and what the viewer can expect at the end. However, most students struggle to draft a persuasive, intelligible, and flawless thesis statement. So the best way to deal with this problem is to practice and experiment with different approaches to developing a thesis statement. This makes creating a more accurate and reasonable thesis statement much easier. In addition, the thesis statement will serve as a guide for the remainder of the work and ensure that it is correct and on topic.

Lack of Evidence:

If you’re having trouble drafting an essay, you should think about including more illustrations or facts to back up your claims. Most students will often come up with a subject that lacks sufficient evidence or proof, making it more difficult to complete. It will be difficult for the paper to support the issue without facts from a reliable source or with relevant examples. This will guarantee that the document is thorough and has sufficient information.

In some instances, you may need to gather evidence from various sources and databases. While this can sometimes be challenging, seeking assistance from Write My Essay Today can be a smart move. You can also rely on this service to help you gather and review evidence from diverse sources and even determine the most appropriate one.

Using References:

Using in-text citations and cited pages to document sources is common in essay writing. However, a lack of understanding of correctly citing the sources might lead to plagiarism. Since most colleges penalize plagiarism irrespective of intent, even a single citation error can be construed as a copyright violation. Therefore, you can avoid plagiarizing your work by meticulously noting sources as you conduct research. This will give you enough time to correctly assess how to quote and rephrase materials.

Concepts and word count:

Another part where students may have difficulties with essay writing is sticking to the word count. If the task has a word count limit, you must ensure that the write-up meets that word count to score the required grade. In other words, to achieve the word count, you have to develop your thoughts and ideas meaningfully. You cannot simply fill the essay or article with irrelevant content to reach the required words. To a large extent, the words must be significant.

Essay writing will always be an important element of academic learning. Therefore, every student should try to improve their essay writing skills.

Writing a top-notch will be easier with the above considerations in mind. Besides, you will not encounter many challenges and stressful obstacles. Also, before submitting your work, ensure that you proofread, format, and modify it. However, if you’re still having trouble with your paper, you can seek expert assistance.

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When students write for teachers, it can feel like an assignment. When they write for a real purpose, they are empowered! Student writing contests are a challenging and inspiring way to try writing for an authentic audience— a real panel of judges —and the possibility of prize money or other incentives. We’ve gathered a list of the best student writing contests, and there’s something for everyone. Prepare highly motivated kids in need of an authentic writing mentor, and watch the words flow.

1.  The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

With a wide range of categories—from critical essays to science fiction and fantasy—The Scholastic Awards are a mainstay of student contests. Each category has its own rules and word counts, so be sure to check out the options  before you decide which one is best for your students.

How To Enter

Students in grades 7-12, ages 13 and up, may begin submitting work in September by uploading to an online account at Scholastic and connecting to their local region. There are entry fees, but those can be waived for students in need.

2.  YoungArts National Arts Competition

This ends soon, but if you have students who are ready to submit, it’s worth it. YoungArts offers a national competition in the categories of creative nonfiction, novel, play or script, poetry, short story, and spoken word. Student winners may receive awards of up to $10,000 as well as the chance to participate in artistic development with leaders in their fields.

YoungArts accepts submissions in each category through October 13. Students submit their work online and pay a $35 fee (there is a fee waiver option).

3. National Youth Foundation Programs

Each year, awards are given for Student Book Scholars, Amazing Women, and the “I Matter” Poetry & Art competition. This is a great chance for kids to express themselves with joy and strength.

The rules, prizes, and deadlines vary, so check out the website for more info.

4.  American Foreign Service National High School Essay Contest

If you’re looking to help students take a deep dive into international relations, history, and writing, look no further than this essay contest. Winners receive a voyage with the Semester at Sea program and a trip to Washington, DC.

Students fill out a registration form online, and a teacher or sponsor is required. The deadline to enter is the first week of April.

5.  John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest

This annual contest invites students to write about a political official’s act of political courage that occurred after Kennedy’s birth in 1917. The winner receives $10,000, and 16 runners-up also receive a variety of cash prizes.

Students may submit a 700- to 1,000-word essay through January 12. The essay must feature more than five sources and a full bibliography.

6. Bennington Young Writers Awards

Bennington College offers competitions in three categories: poetry (a group of three poems), fiction (a short story or one-act play), and nonfiction (a personal or academic essay). First-place winners receive $500. Grab a poster for your classroom here .

The contest runs from September 1 to November 1. The website links to a student registration form.

7. The Princeton Ten-Minute Play Contest

Looking for student writing contests for budding playwrights? This exclusive competition, which is open only to high school juniors, is judged by the theater faculty of Princeton University. Students submit short plays in an effort to win recognition and cash prizes of up to $500. ( Note: Only open to 11th graders. )

Students submit one 10-page play script online or by mail. The deadline is the end of March. Contest details will be published in early 2024.

8. Princeton University Poetry Contest for High School Students

The Leonard L. Milberg ’53 High School Poetry Prize recognizes outstanding work by student writers in 11th grade. Prizes range from $100 to $500.

Students in 11th grade can submit their poetry. Contest details will be published this fall.

9. The New York Times Tiny Memoir Contest

This contest is also a wonderful writing challenge, and the New York Times includes lots of resources and models for students to be able to do their best work. They’ve even made a classroom poster !

Submissions need to be made electronically by November 1.

10.  Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest

The deadline for this contest is the end of October. Sponsored by Hollins University, the Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest awards prizes for the best poems submitted by young women who are sophomores or juniors in high school or preparatory school. Prizes include cash and scholarships. Winners are chosen by students and faculty members in the creative writing program at Hollins.

Students may submit either one or two poems using the online form.

11.  The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers

The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers is open to high school sophomores and juniors, and the winner receives a full scholarship to a  Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop .

Submissions for the prize are accepted electronically from November 1 through November 30.

12. Jane Austen Society Essay Contest

High school students can win up to $1,000 and publication by entering an essay on a topic specified by the Jane Austen Society related to a Jane Austen novel.

Details for the 2024 contest will be announced in November. Essay length is from six to eight pages, not including works cited.

13. Rattle Young Poets Anthology

Open to students from 15 to 18 years old who are interested in publication and exposure over monetary awards.

Teachers may choose five students for whom to submit up to four poems each on their behalf. The deadline is November 15.

14. The Black River Chapbook Competition

This is a chance for new and emerging writers to gain publication in their own professionally published chapbook, as well as $500 and free copies of the book.

There is an $18 entry fee, and submissions are made online.

15. YouthPlays New Voices

For students under 18, the YouthPlays one-act competition is designed for young writers to create new works for the stage. Winners receive cash awards and publication.

Scroll all the way down their web page for information on the contest, which accepts non-musical plays between 10 and 40 minutes long, submitted electronically. Entries open each year in January.

16. The Ocean Awareness Contest

The 2024 Ocean Awareness Contest, Tell Your Climate Story , encourages students to write their own unique climate story. They are asking for creative expressions of students’ personal experiences, insights, or perceptions about climate change. Students are eligible for a wide range of monetary prizes up to $1,000.

Students from 11 to 18 years old may submit work in the categories of art, creative writing, poetry and spoken word, film, interactive media and multimedia, or music and dance, accompanied by a reflection. The deadline is June 13.

17. EngineerGirl Annual Essay Contest

Each year, EngineerGirl sponsors an essay contest with topics centered on the impact of engineering on the world, and students can win up to $500 in prize money. This contest is a nice bridge between ELA and STEM and great for teachers interested in incorporating an interdisciplinary project into their curriculum. The new contest asks for pieces describing the life cycle of an everyday object. Check out these tips for integrating the content into your classroom .

Students submit their work electronically by February 1. Check out the full list of rules and requirements here .

18. NCTE Student Writing Awards

The National Council of Teachers of English offers several student writing awards, including Achievement Awards in Writing (for 10th- and 11th-grade students), Promising Young Writers (for 8th-grade students), and an award to recognize Excellence in Art and Literary Magazines.

Deadlines range from October 28 to February 15. Check out NCTE.org for more details.

19. See Us, Support Us Art Contest

Children of incarcerated parents can submit artwork, poetry, photos, videos, and more. Submissions are free and the website has a great collection of past winners.

Students can submit their entries via social media or email by October 25.

20. The Adroit Prizes for Poetry & Prose

The Adroit Journal, an education-minded nonprofit publication, awards annual prizes for poetry and prose to exceptional high school and college students. Adroit charges an entry fee but also provides a form for financial assistance.

Sign up at the website for updates for the next round of submissions.

21. National PTA Reflections Awards

The National PTA offers a variety of awards, including one for literature, in their annual Reflections Contest. Students of all ages can submit entries on the specified topic to their local PTA Reflections program. From there, winners move to the local area, state, and national levels. National-level awards include an $800 prize and a trip to the National PTA Convention.

This program requires submitting to PTAs who participate in the program. Check your school’s PTA for their deadlines.

22. World Historian Student Essay Competition

The World Historian Student Essay Competition is an international contest open to students enrolled in grades K–12 in public, private, and parochial schools, as well as those in home-study programs. The $500 prize is based on an essay that addresses one of this year’s two prompts.

Students can submit entries via email or regular mail before May 1.

23. NSHSS Creative Writing Scholarship

The National Society of High School Scholars awards three $2,000 scholarships for both poetry and fiction. They accept poetry, short stories, and graphic novel writing.

Apply online by October 31.

Whether you let your students blog, start a podcast or video channel, or enter student writing contests, giving them an authentic audience for their work is always a powerful classroom choice.

If you like this list of student writing contests and want more articles like it, subscribe to our newsletters to find out when they’re posted!

Plus, check out our favorite anchor charts for teaching writing..

Are you looking for student writing contests to share in your classroom? This list will give students plenty of opportunities.

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students writing challenges

9 Writing Problems For EFL/ESL Students & How to Solve Them

For EFL/ESL students, writing can be one of the biggest challenges they face. I’ve met dozens of students who can listen, read and speak fluently but struggle when it comes to putting pen to paper.

students writing challenges

Writing is one of the active skills, along with speaking, but where it differs from speaking, is that it requires more concentrated thought and accuracy. Spoken English is fluid, and can be assisted by body language. Written communication requires more ordered thinking, precise language, and focused ideas.

In this article, I’m going to talk about 9 major issues EFL/ESL students have with writing, and offer practical solutions from a teacher’s point of view.

1. Analysis paralysis

When writing, you have plenty of time to think. Too much, sometimes. When speaking, you can’t mull over every word because the conversationn would come to a halt.

Constructing a sentence relies on a lot of skills. Choice of vocabulary, sentence structure, clauses, verb forms, and word order, to name a few. It can be overwhelming if you’re trying to get everything perfect.

A lot of students suffer from analysis paralysis and can’t get words down on the paper. Writing becomes very stressful. They avoid practicing because it makes them feel bad, so they never improve.

  • Try a free-writing activity: Students write without stopping for five minutes about whatever they like, and their work is never corrected. This gives them freedom and reduces pressure.
  • Provide plenty of praise to students for completing tasks (no matter the quality)
  • Be gentle with writing corrections. You don’t have to correct every single mistake – instead focus on one or two aspects at a time.

Knowing how to effectively correct writing tasks is a vital skill for an EFL/ESL teacher. Find out my way of doing things by reading this article: Best Method for Correcting EFL/ESL Writing: 9 Step Guide

2. Translating from their native language

Translating directly from the student’s native language to English is a habit that needs to stop. There are two reasons why:

  • It creates errors in word order and sentence structure. For example, English has a strict order of words in a sentence, with the subject always coming before the verb. A pig is an animal that humans eat . In other languages, such as Spanish, the order is more flexible. Un cerdo es un animal que come los humanos . This translates directly as A pig is an animal that eats humans. In Spanish, they parse the information to make sense of it, but in English, it changes the meaning completely!
  • It stops students from progressing. If students are thinking in their native language and translating, they aren’t engaged on a deep level. They need to get used to thinking in English.

students writing challenges

  • Never speak or write anything in the students’ native tongue during class. Make sure they do the same.
  • Don’t allow students to use translating software for anything longer than single words.

3. Problems carried over from the native language

Few people write perfectly in their own language, let alone one they’re in the process of learning.

Sometimes, as EFL/ESL teachers, we forget that writing is a challenging task that many of our students have issues with, such as phrasing, spelling, and making sure ideas are organised coherently.

It’s tricky to deal with this. If students lack fundamentals, there’s only so much you can do to build their English writing.

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Nobody writes perfectly, and you can’t expect your students to. Focus on what’s important.
  • Provide plenty of examples of quality English writing so they can imitate it. They may learn concepts in English that they can apply to their own language.

4. Not knowing conventions and register

Depending on the purpose, audience and genre of the task, English writing takes different forms.

Fairytales start with, “Once upon a time…”

Formal letters begin with, “I am writing with regard to…”

Magazine/internet articles often include engaging questions like, “Can you believe it?”

students writing challenges

EFL/ESL students often aren’t aware of these conventions, so their writing doesn’t feel right.

Another thing to take into account is the register, or formality. Most of the time, this failure happens when students write letters to friends in a very formal tone, because they’re focusing on correct grammar and advanced vocabulary instead of using contractions and colloquial phrases.

The reverse can happen (formal writing tasks done too informally) but this is less common.

  • Have students read a variety of texts from different sources and see if they can find some conventions.
  • Teach contractions and colloquial expressions so they’re able to write informally.

5. Lack of guidance and modelling

A mistake I’ve made in the past when teaching EFL/ESL writing is setting tasks without enough guidance. Something like Write a review of a book you read recently.

That’s all I’d give, thinking it was obvious what to do. So when the writing tasks came back below the desired quality, with strange structures and rambling paragraphs, I wondered why my students couldn’t do something so simple.

students writing challenges

Then I realised they were shooting in the dark. Younger students in their teenage years, especially, had very little experience writing proper reviews, let alone knowing any of the conventions.

They were doing their best. But with no reference points, it was pot luck whether they’d get it right. They had no model example to go off, and no idea of structure or useful phrases.

  • Provide a model writing task to give to students. They can imitate (without directly copying) the structure and conventions until they’re confident enough to try it on their own.
  • Do a shared planning activity in class. Think about the structure of the writing (introduction, content paragraphs and conclusion) and a few key words/phrases.

6. No immediate feedback

Writing is typically done alone. With private classes, I usually set it for homework, so we can spend class time on skills like speaking, where my presence is more valuable.

But without feedback at the moment of writing, students can go in the wrong direction without realising. They have no way of knowing if they’re right or wrong. For some, this is terrifying and puts them in the analysis paralysis state we saw earlier, and for others, they blissfully drift away from the task’s intention.

What’s more, when they get feedback weeks later, they’ve forgotten what their thought processes were at the time.

  • Do some shared writing activities in class. One student leads, while the others give helpful feedback, and the teacher intervenes when necessary.
  • If you set writing homework, have it submitted before the next class (digitally works best), so you can mark it and give the feedback quickly rather than waiting another week.

For more on how to set and organise homework effectively, read my article: 5 Tips for Setting Homework in Private EFL/ESL Classes

7. Lack of interest in the topic

Writing is tiring for most people. Motivation quickly slips away after a few sentences. This is particularly true if the subject you’re writing about doesn’t interest you.

students writing challenges

Too many writing tasks fail to engage the student. Generic topics and pointless letters to imaginary people don’t provide that spark which keeps writers on task and focused.

  • Consider getting penpals in another country to make letter writing real and relevant.
  • Set writing tasks about things that interest your students. If you don’t know what they like, ask them, create some rapport or perform a needs analysis.

A needs analysis is a process which identifies the ability, preferences and interests of a student in order to inform and improve future sessions. To learn how to do one, read my guide: Needs Analysis for Private EFL/ESL Lessons .

8. Infrequent practice

One simple reason EFL/ESL students don’t advance in writing is they don’t do it enough.

Infrequent practice means that they never get into a rhythm and build upon what they’ve learned – each time they do a new task, it’s like starting afresh, having to overcome analysis paralysis and get their minds thinking in English rather than translating.

  • Set small writing tasks every week (diary, weekly letter to a penpal, chatting via a messenger app) to keep things moving without overwhelming students.
  • Consider setting aside a few minutes in every class for a bit of free, relaxed writing.

9. It’s hard

The truth is, writing is hard. Even native English speakers who have mastery over the language sometimes struggle with writer’s block. Self doubt, performance anxiety, and lack of energy make it a real challenge. And sometimes the thought of writing triggers those issues, creating a vicious cycle.

students writing challenges

That’s not to mention the complexities of grammar. It takes courage and determination to write in a foreign language, knowing that mistakes are inevitable.

  • Praise the completion of writing and herald it as something to be very proud of.
  • Try to associate writing with positive feelings by giving gentle feedback and focusing on the good things they did, not just the mistakes.

Just by reading this article, you aren’t going to solve all the problems EFL/ESL students have with writing overnight. It’s a slow process. But by understanding what’s going on, you can better address the situation.

Patience is key. Take things one step at a time to build confidence and competence. Remember, don’t take it for granted that they know how to approach different writing tasks, and give them plenty of structure until they no longer need it.

And most of all, try to make it enjoyable. If students feel good about practicing this vital skill, they’re sure to progress.

To learn more about teaching EFL/ESL writing and other skills, check out some of my other articles: Best Method for Correcting EFL/ESL Writing: 9 Step Guide Teaching EFL/ESL Grammar: A guide for private tutors 9 Superb Novels to Boost Adult EFL/ESL Reading Skills Best Method to Improve EFL/ESL Students’ Vocabulary: 9 Steps

I’m Will, a teacher, blogger, and fantasy author. I grew up in England, but now I live in Spain where I teach private English classes to dozens of wonderful students.

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Creative Education Vol.10 No.13(2019), Article ID:97129,7 pages 10.4236/ce.2019.1013260

Challenges Faced by Students and Teachers on Writing Skills in ESL Contexts: A Literature Review

Rachel Nyanamoney Moses, Maslawati Mohamad

Faculty of Education, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi, Malaysia

students writing challenges

Copyright © 2019 by author(s) and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY 4.0).


students writing challenges

Received: October 7, 2019; Accepted: December 13, 2019; Published: December 16, 2019

English is an international language and in demand today. English is by far the most widely used language around the world. However, English language writing has always been a challenge for second language students to master. Developing students’ ability in writing is one of the major challenges faced by the ESL teachers in most schools nowadays. Nevertheless, writing has always been a major difficulty faced by students in English language learning, especially in elementary schools. Not only that, teachers are also facing some challenges in teaching writing skills for students in elementary schools. Thus, this study aims to explore the challenges faced by both the students and teachers in learning as well as teaching writing skills in elementary schools.

Writing Skills, Teaching and Learning Writing, Challenges, Elementary School, English as a Second Language

students writing challenges

1. Introduction

English is used in the world as a lingua franca among people from different cultures, ethnic, and social backgrounds ( Dewi, 2015 ). The ability to teach writing effectively at elementary schools is one of the vital skills among English teachers. Writing is a major component in the teaching of English. The teaching of writing has been conducted as early as in the early years where students start to learn how to form letters correctly.

There are many consequences that could lead to major drawbacks in students’ academic performance if they have a weak foundation in writing. Writing is not only vital in order to develop their academic performance, but also contributes to their social and emotional development. Moreover, in this competitive world, writing is also one of the skills that is necessary to excel. Their inability to write well, may affect their chances to secure a job in the future. Therefore, this issue needs to be tackled effectively.

However, teaching writing has become difficult because of the challenges faced by the students in learning writing skills. Some of the challenges that are faced by the ESL students are lack of vocabulary, poor grammar, poor spelling, students’ readiness and lack of exposure to books and reading materials.

The challenges faced by the students’ have made it challenging for teachers to teach writing skills. The challenges that are faced by the teachers to teach writing skills are difficult to motivate their students, students of diverse levels, difficult materials and time constraints to teach the students. In order to improve a student’s writing ability, more attention must be given by a teacher to teach writing such as giving guidance and feedback.

Therefore, a teacher needs to be aware of the challenges faced by other English teachers in teaching writing skills and ESL students’ challenges in learning to write. This paper provides a literature review on the challenges faced by both teachers as well as students in teaching and learning writing skills.

2. Literature Review

Writing is one of the skills among speaking, reading and listening skills in English. Writing is a multiplex activity claimed by Ling (2016) . Writing activities need to be conducted among students since elementary school so that the students can generate good pieces of writing in the future. Even though there are many subjects in elementary schools, writing is known as one of the most vital academic subjects for students.

The beating heart of English is “story”. A “story” can take any form be it a journalistic article, a research documentary or a fantasy novel. It serves as a method of explaining and passing information intended for a specific objective. Thus, all writing may be taken in a form of story in a larger perspective.

2.1. Demand on Writing Skills

Writing is a crucial skill that will benefit the rest of the students’ lives. Introducing and practicing writing with attractive activities in schools, could increase students’ confidence and they will fall in love with writing in a long run. Immediately, writing skills are vital for lower primary students to continue learning in all academic areas, communication and self-expression.

Writing exercises in schools promote the improvement of penmanship as well as overall academic development through troubleshooting and critical thinking. The writing process also is applicable to other areas such as Mathematics and Sciences, where the learned traits of planning, research and review is applied as well. General knowledge and vocabulary are also improved as a subsequent effect.

Through journals and personal story writing, students can discover themselves and work through their real-life problems. A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that writing can provide a therapeutic outlet to help students cope when they are facing hard time in their life such as having problems with their parents or feeling sad.

Writing assists students with their social development. Writing connects the students to be in tune with what happens in the world around them. Students need to consider the audience and purpose in writing. This will help the students with their verbal communication at the same time. Writing with friends’ feedback, makes students to learn among themselves.

As students’ progress through their school years, they will need to be both literate and computer literate to succeed. While the two skills complement each other, some computer tools such as spelling and grammar checks, can prevent them from developing their writing skills. As an example, students who are not practicing their handwriting when they are writing with a keyboard. It is also important for the students to know that they need to use their own knowledge, not by replacing their knowledge with computers, because computers can make mistakes too.

Today, due to the evolution of information technology, writers are in demand to create digital media content. A content writer is needed for digital marketing corporations. News websites, social media marketing corporations and other related and non-related IT corporations need writers to help them through writing for digital marketing channels such as brand quotes, advertisement, social media posts, blogs etc.

2.2. Purpose of Students’ Writing by Using Different Writing Strategies

There are many ways to improve students’ penmanship through writing exercises at elementary level. Students may use different writing methods at a time. There are various teaching writing strategies for examples pre-writing, writing warm-up, collaboratively write, using sentence starters, and guided writing. All the teaching of writing strategies cannot be used at the same time as they may have different teaching objectives. Employing various teaching techniques to teach writing will help the students improve their writing skills in English. As the students have interest and become active participants in learning, the learning process will fall on the right track. Besides, using various writing strategies will make the students think creatively. Students may use what they know by combining opinions and facts, thus, making a new piece of writing. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, this is high level ability.

2.3. Challenges Faced by the Students in Learning Writing Skills

Each student may face different challenges in learning writing. All the students are special and unique in their own ways. These challenges will somehow pull back the students from moving forward to produce a good piece of writing. The following paragraphs are about challenges faced by students in writing.

Lack of vocabulary has caused the students to face challenges in acquiring writing skills claimed Misbah et al. (2017) . Vocabulary is the fundamental element in constructing sentences which is the core of effective writing skills Asep (2014) . Students almost use spoken and written words every single day to communicate their ideas, beliefs and feelings with people around them. Good vocabulary repertoire can help students to speak or write to deliver their thoughts. Usage of electronic dictionary and more reading activities can help students with limited vocabulary.

Some elementary school students are also having trouble with grammar. Grammar plays an important role in writing. Grammar provides information that helps the readers to understand its meaning. It is a structure that conveys the detailed meaning of the writer to the reader. Grammar also explains the forms and structure of words, called morphology and how they are arranged in sentences, called syntax. By having very limited knowledge in grammar, students will face anxiety to write sentences with correct grammar. According to Muhammad Fareed et al. (2016) students make mistakes in subject-verb agreement, pronouns, tenses, articles, prepositions and basic sentence structures. Grammar ability can be improved through reading activity and grammar related activities.

Poor spelling is another cause of anxiety for students in learning writing skill and this is supported by Nyang’au Benard (2014) . Having good ability in spelling will lead to positive learning of writing skill. If the students are struggling with spellings, it will hold them back to move forward. The students have the habit to spell according to their pronunciation and this will lead to wrong spelling as mentioned by Afrin (2016) . The students will either add or leave letters of the words. For an example “ballon” instead of “balloon.” According to Nyang’au Benard (2014) memorization of the spelling will help the students to have good spelling.

Students’ readiness is another challenge in learning writing and this was supported by Foster (2015) . According to Winarso (2016) in order to complete a task successfully, readiness is very important. The readiness can either be physical readiness and mental preparedness. If this is not occurring, students will be having challenges in writing. Students will not be mentally prepared to learn in the classroom if they are not ready. It is very important for the students to be ready before they enter the classroom. According to Foster (2015) motivating and attracting the students’ attention can help students’ readiness in learning writing.

Lack of exposure to books and reading materials are other challenges for elementary school students in learning writing and this is supported by Foster (2015) . According to Muhammad Fareed et al. (2016) many students find it very challenging to get enough and significant source of information. Lack of extensive reading will not help the students to write good sentences or paragraphs. This is because reading and writing are interrelated. If the students are not reading books or other reading materials, they are going to have lack of ideas and vocabulary to write. Their brain neurons will be connected to each other to come out with a good writing if they read more and connecting the ideas with their prior knowledge. Foster (2015) explained that exposure to different reading materials can help the students to be aware with language awareness explained.

Last but not the least, lack of motivation is another challenge faced by the students. If the students are not motivated, they might not be interested to proceed with their learning process. Motivation is important in improving students’ learning results claimed Gbollie & Keamu (2017) . Teachers could motivate the students by rewarding them with simple motivational phrases by saying “Good job!”, “Good try!”, “Keep it up” etc. Positive reward will make the students go further in their learning process.

2.4. Challenges Faced by the Teachers in Teaching Writing Skills

Teaching has always been the challenging part for teachers. Teaching English at primary level is naturally much more different from teaching in other levels of students such as secondary and tertiary levels. The challenge will somehow make the teachers’ teaching ineffective. The following are the challenges faced by teachers.

Nowadays, teachers are having a hard time in motivating the students. Not because of the students’ naughtiness, but the students are not interested in learning writing and this claim is supported by Asep (2014) . The younger generation has the perception that they can do whatever they please since much freedom has been given to them by their parents. When students choose to feel reluctant in learning, it is a sign of lack of motivation ( Abrar, 2016 ).

Having different levels of students in the classroom is another challenge faced by teachers to teach writing. In many elementary classrooms, students from different levels are placed in the same classroom. Different levels of students will result to difficulty to teachers in order to cater all of their levels simultaneously ( Asep, 2014 ). Different levels of writing ability will require the teachers to use different approaches. As a result, the teachers feel difficult to plan their lessons and prepare appropriate activities for the students.

Parental indifference is another challenge. Lack of parents’ support will make the teachers having a hard time to help the students. Students who feel lack of warmth and affection from their parents will draw them back from succeeding in their learning process ( Gündoğmuş, 2018 ). This is due to little guidance, motivation and support from their parents.

Besides, lack of professional experience is another challenge faced by the teachers ( Gündoğmuş, 2018 ). Having lack of professional experience will lead to stress and tension to teach at elementary school students especially among novice teachers. The multiple roles of teacher are also a challenge. The teachers’ experience is depending on the level of their previous experience and training. It will take time for the novice teachers to adapt themselves with their students very well. Teachers can only prepare appropriate activities if they know well about their students’ proficiency level, and interests. Not only that, longer time is needed for teachers to prepare new teaching materials, appropriate lesson plans, suitable activities, and provide comments or reflections.

Finally, according to Anyiendah (2017) lack of students’ interest is another challenge. Developing writing skills is always challenging, however, it is always an interesting task. Especially when it comes to writing, some students zone out. Students feel lack of interest in writing because they need to know many aspects in order to produce a good piece of work. The students need to know punctuations, grammar, vocabulary, spelling and sentence structure in order to write a good piece of writing.

3. Conclusion and Implications

This study is to explore the literature review on the challenges faced by both the students and teachers in learning and teaching writing skills. It can be concluded that school students are facing many challenges to learn writing skills and it is not easy for English teachers to teach them writing skills. The existing literature has identified demands on writing skills in English, purpose of students’ writing by using various writing strategies, challenges faced by both the students and teachers in learning and teaching writing skills and past studies on the challenges faced by students and teachers to learn and teach writing skills among ESL school students.

By understanding both the students’ and teachers’ challenges in learning and teaching writing skills, the teachers could choose the best possible approach to teach writing skills by giving feedback and guidance. Besides, the school management should take necessary actions on the challenges faced by the teachers in order to facilitate the teachers to have effective teaching process. Finally, teachers may stress the importance of learning writing skills to the students in order to motivate them to learn writing skills.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.

Cite this paper

  • 1. Abrar , M. (2016). Teaching English Problems: An Analysis of EFL Primary School Teachers in Kuala Tungkal. Birmingham, UK: The 16th Indonesian Scholars International Convention. [Paper reference 2]
  • 2. Afrin , S. (2016). Writing Problems of Non-English Major Undergraduate Students in Bangladesh: An Observation. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 4, 104-115. https://doi.org/10.4236/jss.2016.43016
  • 3. Anyiendah , M. S. (2017). Challenges Faced by Teachers When Teaching English in Public Primary Schools in Kenya. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2017.00013 [Paper reference 1]
  • 4. Asep , S. (2014). The Challenges in Teaching Writing Skill at Junior High School: Problems and Solutions. [Paper reference 3]
  • 5. Dewi, A. (2015). Perception of English: A Study of Staff and Students at Universities in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. [Paper reference 1]
  • 6. Fareed , M., Ashraf, A., & Bilal, M. (2016). ESL Learners’ Writing Skills: Problems, Factors and Suggestions. Journal of Education and Social Sciences, 4, 81-92. https://doi.org/10.20547/jess0421604201 [Paper reference 2]
  • 7. Foster, B. (2015). Teaching Children with Reading and Writing Difficulties in Regular Schools. [Paper reference 4]
  • 8. Gbollie , C., & Keamu, H. P. (2017). Student Academic Performance: The Role of Motivation, Strategies, and Perceived Factors Hindering Liberian Junior and Senior High School Students Learning. Education Research International, 2017, Article ID: 1789084. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/1789084 [Paper reference 1]
  • 9. Gündogmus, H. D. (2018). The Difficulties Experienced by Teachers in the Process of Primary Reading and Writing Instruction and Their Solution Offers for Eliminating These Difficulties. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 6, 333-339. https://doi.org/10.13189/ujer.2018.060216 [Paper reference 2]
  • 10. Ling, Y. L. C. (2016). Teaching Writing. In W. A. Renandya, & H. P. Widodo (Eds.), English Language Teaching Today: Building a Closer Link between Theory and Practice (pp. 1-20). New York: Springer International. [Paper reference 1]
  • 11. Misbah, N. H., Mohamad, M., Yunus, M., & Ya’acob, A. (2017). Identifying the Factors Contributing to Students’ Difficulties in the English Language Learning. Creative Education, 8, 1999-2008. https://doi.org/10.4236/ce.2017.813136 [Paper reference 1]
  • 12. Nyang’au Benard, N. (2014). Challenges Students Face in Learning Essay Writing Skills in English Language in Secondary Schools in Manga District, Nyamira County, Kenya. [Paper reference 2]
  • 13. Winarso, W. (2016). Assessing the Readiness of Student Learning Activity and Learning Outcome. Jurnal Pencerahan, 10, 81-94. [Paper reference 1]

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students writing challenges

The ELA Honor Society offers a continually evolving selection of Writing Challenges for its student members. The objective of these creative writing opportunities is to increase student engagement with literature that goes beyond the curriculum, and to foster excitement about reading in general.

This year’s Writing Challenges are focused on the inaugural Big Read text, Nic Stone’s Dear Martin . While the Challenges encourage students to think deeply about the novel, its themes, and characters, and engage in spaced learning, it is not obligatory to have read the novel. Student members can also craft responses to Writing Challenge prompts using other texts they have read for inspiration.

We hope that as many students as possible will participate in the Writing Challenges at chapter level. We encourage all participating students to apply their imagination to interleaving between their own ideas and those found in the texts they have read.

We highly recommend that students engage in a process of peer review with other ELA Honor Society members before final submission selections are made by Chapter Advisors. Students should also make use of the ELA Honor Society Writing Guide .

An active ELA Honor Society chapter may submit up to five student member submissions during each Writing Challenge cycle.

All Writing Challenge submissions must be made via our AwardSpring platform and will be evaluated by a team of Chapter Advisors (Chapter Advisors will not evaluate their own students’ work).

Writing Challenge #1: Key Quotes

Submission dates: October 16 – November 20, 2023

For Students Focusing on Dear Martin :

Choose a quote of no more than one sentence from Dear Martin that resonates with you. In no more than 100 words explain why the quote is important to you and why it had an impact on you.

For Students Focusing on Other Texts:

Choose a quote of no more than one sentence from a text that you have read outside your English class that resonates with you. In no more than 100 words explain why the quote is important to you and why it had an impact on you. Make sure to include the title and author of the novel you are writing about.

The application link will be available here during the submission period.

Application Link

Writing Challenge #2: Letters

Submission dates: January 29 – February 12, 2024

Write a letter of no more than 200 words from Justyce to one of the following characters: Mrs. McAllister, Officer Tommy Castillo, Quan Banks, Martel Montgomery, or Manny Rivers. Think about Justyce’s beliefs about implicit bias and/or acceptance and belonging, and how they contrast with those of the character you are writing to. Use your letter to convince the character you are writing that Justyce’s ideas and beliefs are good ones.

Write a letter of no more than 200 words to the protagonist of a novel that you have read outside your English class. Use your letter to give them a perspective on a key issue in the novel they may not have considered. Make sure to include the title and author of the novel you are writing about.

Writing Challenge #3: Biography

Submission dates: April 22 – May 6, 2024

Write a creative and well-structured biography of no more than 300 words from the point of view of Justyce McAllister, Jared Christiansen, or Sarah-Jane Friedman twenty years after they went to university and Dear Martin concludes. What would they have achieved? Would their motivations be the same? What would they be doing with their lives? How would their ideas and opinions have changed and evolved?

Write a biography of no more than 300 words about the protagonist of a novel that you have read outside your English class set twenty years after the novel concludes. In your writing you should focus on how the character has changed, their motivations and achievements, and their fears and their failings. Make sure to include the title and author of the novel you are writing about.

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The Daily Universe

Balancing college and parenthood

students writing challenges

As many BYU students navigate both parenthood and the rigors of student life, two couples shared tips on how they have balanced pursuing their academic and personal goals.

In a study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, data showed more than 26% of all undergraduate students are parents. This equates to roughly 4.8 million undergraduate students raising children while going through their college careers. As of fall 2022 , BYU had 31,389 undergraduate students, with 23% of the student body being married.

Zachary Bright, from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, is a senior majoring in philosophy with a one-year-old daughter. Bright said programs such as the Utah Women, Infants and Children program and Medicaid have made his life as both a student and a father a bit easier.

“They pretty such saved our lives. Groceries and hospital bills are incredibly expensive,” Bright said.

According to its website , WIC is a government program providing nutrition and breastfeeding services and supplemental foods to pregnant women, mothers, infants and children up to their fifth birthday. The organization also provides free language assistance and auxiliary aids.

While Bright thinks BYU does support students with children, he notes that many of the study abroad programs are catered to single students.

“Most if not all study abroad programs will not cover the cost for families,” Bright said.

He also hopes BYU professors will continue to remain flexible with expectant mothers, as has been his experience thus far.

Rachel Molen, a 2023 graduate of the applied and computational mathematics major at BYU, and her husband Cameron, a computer science major, are 39 weeks pregnant. The Molens are appreciative of all the university does to help student couples who are expecting.

“BYU does an excellent job supporting students that have children — I imagine better than any other university in the country,” Rachel Molen said.

students writing challenges

Although she is grateful for the university’s efforts to support student parents, she wishes the BYU Student Health Insurance would cover more treatment relating to prenatal care.

“It would be nice if BYU student health insurance offered more options for prenatal care. They do not oversee pregnancies, and the number of providers that the student insurance covers is quite limited,” Rachel Molen said.

This can weigh heavy on spouses as well, especially when it comes to trying to balance school while paying the medical bills.

“It can be a challenge to plan parenthood while also completing a degree, and sometimes the competing priorities crowd one another,” Cameron Molen said.

Another thing the Molens hope BYU will take into consideration is how pregnant students take exams.

“I do wish there was a bit more flexibility at the testing center surrounding pregnant students or students with any kind of health condition,” Molen said.

When she would take exams, she would often worry about feeling nauseous while testing and said the testing center is not a particularly helpful environment for women with morning sickness.

For students who are thinking of starting their families while in school, the Molens suggest reaching out to professors as soon as you feel comfortable to begin receiving accommodations. Amidst the stress and frustration of navigating school and parenthood, Bright encourages students to be kind to themselves.

students writing challenges

“Just be patient with yourself and your baby. You probably will do something wrong and have moments of weakness, but it passes. Not only does it pass, it gets better,” Bright said.

Pregnant women can apply for services through the Utah Women, Children and Infants program’s website or by calling 1-877-WIC-KIDS.


Clocks fall back nov. 5, experts call for abolition of daylight saving time, byu office of belonging hosts ‘remember me’ open house for dia de los muertos, byu professors host panel discussion on israel-hamas war.

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Monday Meet and Write - ON CAMPUS! - September 11 to December 11, 2023

Despite our best intentions to knuckle down and write productively on a regular basis, competing demands and distractions—both personal and professional—can make it difficult to stick to a writing routine. Likewise, the pressure to produce the clear, coherent, and elegant prose that is the hallmark of an accomplished scholar can all too often stymie the writing process.

To help you address these challenges, we have conceived of this "Writing Commons" as a space in which communities of writers can support each other. At this time, the Writing Commons will offer a space in which to write in the company of others and a platform to exchange tips and strategies for writing productively. The Writing Commons is an evolving initiative, so we welcome your ideas for future endeavors.

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