strategies · strategy charts · struggling writers · student engagement · writing workshop

What Are They Looking At? Tackling Slow Starters

We all have those moments in the classroom. We have modeled, we charted, we sent them off and there are kids who sit and stare. What exactly is so interesting up there on the ceiling? It’s as though they are waiting for us and sometimes they truly are! What do we do with the slow starters or the kids who are still building their independence?

Here are three strategies I use with tips and explanations to help those students who squander their time.

Keep them with you right after the mini-lesson.

Keeping that handful of students who might get lost on their way as they re-enter their independent space may need a quick check-in before being sent off. Review the goals and strategies in a small group before releasing them into the workshop. Sometimes a quick impromptu small group lesson can be simply reviewing the expectations. I also find giving students their own sticky note or note card mini-chart with their personal start goal can help. For one of my students, we posted his goal right on his desk!

Planning ahead helps independence later.

Sharing in the planning process before a student begins drafting can have a great impact on the level of independence through a piece. For some students, I might jot or take dictation of their plan to help them organize their verbal story. From there, the student then has a visual representation to refer back to while moving through the piece. I find investing a few minutes, in the beginning, helps relieve some pressure and opens the drafting floodgates for a slow starter. Using the sticky notes allows for the student to sequence the ideas before getting started. For one of my students I jotted a note, he placed them in order and then listed details he wanted to remember below the sticky notes. This has been a great resource for him as he worked to begin and continue his draft.

Goal setting puts it in their hands.

Anytime we can hand the responsibility to the student everyone wins. Using tools that help students see their gains and progress toward a goal is often the visual tool a student needs. Whether it is a reminder or a motivator students often need something that they can see to pull them back into their task. I have two digital clocks in my classroom. For students who are working on personal stamina goals, they can write their starting time and end time on a sticky note. Each day they can record their total time. This tool can be a helpful reflection when conferring with a student who just isn’t getting to the task. For my third graders, the chart used is flexible. It can be used to keep track of word count volume (see my post from last week with a bit of an explanation for this) or a timekeeper. When students can look at a chart tracking time on task and look at the result in their notebook or writing folder the rewards are very visible. We can celebrate and discuss where to go from where they are.

Slow starters can sometimes feel like a thorn in our side. Ugh, I have to go over there again! I know, it’s tough. It’s hard to get to everyone, keep everyone engaged, and still enjoy the fruits of our labor when we look across the room and see a student who has barely begun. Putting in a little time and then backing off allows for students to practice taking ownership of their on-task behavior. If we are always the reason they get back to work, they will wait for our arrival. Give students tools to help them engage and take back their writing time.

5 thoughts on “What Are They Looking At? Tackling Slow Starters

  1. Love this line, Betsy: “Sharing in the planning process before a student begins drafting can have a great impact on the level of independence through a piece.” I have found this to be so instrumental in supporting agency in writers, giving them ownership in the day’s purpose. Great post! (Sorry I’m late to comment!).


  2. Perfect timing. Once in awhile I have to step back and see if I am the problem. Has it really taken the student that long to get started? Do I always bail them out?

    I’m working to expand my repertoire of “planning” for writing as well. Your post it prompts look so helpful! “…opens the drafting floodgates…”


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