How to stop hearing I CAN’T WRITE from your students

“I can’t write!”

“I don’t know how!”
“I’ll never be able do this!”
These aren’t the usual quotes to inspire teaching students to write. I could share adorable student writing samples. I could tell stories of successful writing experiences with kids. We could celebrate the small gains of less experienced writers.

None of that changes the fact that more than likely, you still encounter I CAN’T writers.

They might be lurking in the corner of your writing workshop. Maybe they’ve been putting on a good show, but their stamina is waning and they refuse to write sometimes. Sometimes the I CAN’T writer is loud and is looking for others to join the protest.

No matter their modus operandi, all I CAN’T writers need the same thing.


When students refuse to write, it is because they lack confidence in themselves as writers. It is easy to pinpoint students who need confidence as writers, however, it isn’t always an easy need to fill.

We build confidence in students as writers when we build on their strengths. Sometimes this is a tall task, because most I CAN’T writers are a hot mess when it comes to writing. How do we build on strengths when the strengths are non-existent?

Tweet: “We build confidence in students as writers when we build on their strengths.” Ways to boost student writers.

Shift Your Mindset

Look for what students are almost doing as writers. Does the I CAN’T writer have some supplies out and ready to use? Is the I CAN’T writer sitting in a good writing spot? Does the I CAN’T writer make it easy for other students to work as writers? Has the I CAN’T writer written a handful (or one or two) words?

When we begin acknowledging the small steps of student writers, we build their confidence. Rather than seeing how far they are from grade level, begin to train yourself to see the things they are doing to position themselves to learn to write.

Take Off the Pressure of Words on the Page

In today’s world, writing is more than words on the page. With more multi-modal messages, students must learn to write using words, images, and sound. Sometimes I CAN’T writers struggle writing words, but they are able to articulate their stories or articles orally. Many I CAN’T writers are willing to sketch an idea and get their thoughts in order. When a student tells me “I can’t write!” I often ask them to talk or sketch their ideas instead. It is always easier to help a student write words when we’re working off of something concrete than when the idea is floating around brain space.

Instead of seeing I CAN’T writers, let’s start seeing NEED A BOOST writers and do things to build confidence. The more confident students become as writers, the more they are willing to write.
I’d love to hear what you do to boost confidence in your student writers. Join the conversation here!

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  1. Try the power of YET. When a writer says “I CAN'T” do something, add “YET” to the end of their statement. It's a simple but powerful word that gives students confidence to try something new.

  2. “Look for what students are almost doing as writers.” This is such wise advice, Ruth – moving students along in their writing begins with giving them hope in the process first.

  3. Ruth,
    Thank you for sharing 10 small but mighty celebrations chart. I have shared it with many of our teachers and it is now in our conferring notebooks for quick reference.
    Thanks again! Katrina