De-struggle Writing: Prove Ability!

Leading researchers cite multiple reasons for why writers struggle (Berninger, 1994; Graham et. al, 1993; Green,2009; Syal & Torppa, 2019,); however, consistent in their research is one stated and/or implied factor:

Multiple experiences with ‘failure’ breeds feelings of inability


This blog describe two approaches that build feelings of ability in new and/or struggling writers.


Let’s start with ‘failure.’

What does ‘failure’ look like?

Failure experiences include: Forgetting what you were going to say because you were focusing on spelling words correctly; the red on that graded essay because of all the fragments and run-ons it contained…… although your expression was fluent (if those errors were ignored); going ‘blank’ when given an assignment because you just didn’t know where to start or how.


How do we help ourselves, our students, our new writers feel able?

Prove to them and show them how to use certain neuro-linguistic skills that ease the writing process.

What are these skills? Here are two:

  • Procedural memory: Dr. Martha Burns (CSHA, 2017) tells us that children who struggle with attention and language difficulties retain one very strong skill: procedural memory. This is the same memory system that allows one to master riding a bike, throwing a ball, or learning to cook.

Prove it:
Say or have a student tell you a basic procedure such as making a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Be sure to state that the student was able to recall that procedure (sequence of steps) through procedural memory and that this skill can make learning to write an essay easier.
Teach and learn the steps to creating each type of writing product. Say the steps and practice the steps until they become habit.


  • Neuro-linguistic matching: Put simply, NM allows you to compare sentences you hear with sentence forms and words embedded in your long term memory. In other words, you simply say a sentence aloud to determine if it makes sense or not. If you are not sure or feel it doesn’t make sense, don’t use it/write it. Create another way of saying that idea.

Prove it:
Do the 2 Sentence test.  Say two sentences one with mixed up word order and one with the correct word order. Then ask: Which one makes sense?
Hit boy the ball. The boy hit the ball.
Your brain compares the words and sentences you said and heard with the sentences and words stored in your long term memory. This allows you to recognize when your sentences make sense. (Yes, this is a very simplistic explanation. You would otherwise need to explain the Interaction and Connectionist paradigms but the result would be the same.)
Students learn to say their sentences aloud to measure whether the sentence makes sense or not. They also to talk out a whole essay (now that’s a blog for another time J).

Our Talk to Write program utilizes both these approaches to helping our struggling writers ease the writing process and write effective organized essays. The Talk to Write program was successfully piloted, is research based, and includes all the materials and instructional videos you need to use it in your classroom, with your tutees, or your student.


Learn about our TW products and services HERE.

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