For so many students the sight of a blank piece of paper is a frightening prospect. Anxiety about how to begin, about whether they have enough ideas to finish, about what is expected and about whether they will make a mistake can all get in the way of putting pen to paper.
This post aims to give you some simple ways to take the anxiety out of beginning the task:
One of my favourite ways to begin a written task is to build it with Lego first. Building the story and enacting with Lego can help young people to give structure to their work, without adding an additional written planning process. It’s also a brilliant way to get engagement and buy in to a task in a non-threatening way.
I have an official story building Lego set, a gift to myself not long after I started my current teaching position, but standard bits of Lego would work just as well. Compatible characters can also be bought cheaply on places like EBay to enable your students to write about their favourite characters.
Use Prompt Cards
Providing simple questions or even single words as a prompt to begin each section can take the anxiety out of knowing what to write about. Filling a full page with a single idea feels much more overwhelming than writing two or three sentences about a series of connected ideas.
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Go On A Photo Walk
Visiting different scenes you want children to write about can be a great way to start. Why not take photographs at the beach before writing about a holiday, or visit a castle before writing an adventure story?
You’ll be surprised by how much inspiration you can get even from just walking around school. Take photos of the sky, or grass. Take photographs of busy classrooms and empty ones. It’s much easier to write about things that you can see and describe them in detail.
Use Photos Sent From Home
If you’re planning on writing diary entries or writing about what students have been doing during the school holidays why not ask families if they can send in photographs. It’s often difficult for students with autism to know which details of their holidays you want them to focus on and the task quickly becomes overwhelming.
Photographs give them immediate focus and act as a visual prompt to remind them which parts of their holiday/ day are important to write about.
Use Post It Notes
Sitting down with a student and helping them to break down a task using post it notes can really help to reduce their anxiety levels.
In fact with some students writing the wholetask on series of post it notes can work brilliantly. Filling a post it note feels far less overwhelming than filling a full sheet of paper, and I love seeing the look of satisfaction on a student’s face when they sit back at the end and look at how much they have written when all of their post it notes are stick together.
Watch A Film
Watching a film students are interested in is a great way of really engaging them in a task. Depending on the student in question it can sometimes be best to pause the film at various points, writing a couple of sentences at a given time, rather than waiting for the whole film to finish. Others will need to watch the film in its entirety first to avoid a Meltdown. If this is the case, after the film had been watched in its whole go back and freeze on important scenes as a reminder of the plot.
Use iMovie Trailers
If there is one resource I wish I had found earlier in life it has to be iMovie trailers. They are ridiculously easy to make, and because they are themed they make it really easy to make any task look exciting.
Why not use this one that I’ve made for you to encourage students to make their own set of trading cards. Trading cards can by used to demonstrate knowledge in just about every subject, and students love to make them. What’s more they are fantastic for differentiating for a student’s special interest and make writing feel so much less overwhelming than if it’s done in a text book.
Model The Task
Modeling opening sentences on the board before a student begins really can be helpful in reducing their anxiety levels. It shows them exactly what you are looking for and gives them a ready made structure that they can use.
Done well it can also be an activity which also enhances their vocabulary and enables them to produce a much higher standard of work than would otherwise have been possible.
Use A Writing Frame
Writing frames can be a fantastic way of both reducing pressure and adding structure in a none confrontational way. Simply by putting boxes with heading or questions onto a plain piece of paper, you are getting rid of the anxiety caused by having to fill a blank piece of paper. Adding colour and related images can further add to fuel imagination and increase a student’s willingness to participate.
Why not give some of them a go?
I’d love to hear how you get on!
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If you do want to learn more you might find our autism section a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.
Our online autism courses are also a great place to learn more.
As always if you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to get in touch, I’m more than happy to help.
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