How to Teach Language Arts to a Reluctant Learner

a young student sits, chin on hands with a negative facial expression

If your son tends to dawdle instead of completing a page of grammar exercises…

If your daughter draws pictures instead of working on writing assignments...

If you’ve seen your child’s shoulders slump when asked to read...

Then you might have a reluctant learner when it comes to language artsFrom making excuses to complaining to avoiding the work, these behaviors point to a problem. But there’s good news! Your children can learn the skills they need and even enjoy the process, too! 

Find Out Why Your Students Are Reluctant

First, find out why your students are reluctant to learn language arts. It’s important not to assume that it’s a character issue. 

How will you know the difference? Character issues are often seen in other areas of life, not only when it comes to completing their language arts assignments. If your children are trying to get out of all work, including chores or anything that requires effort, it may be because they need consistency and discipline. 

But if you see these behaviors only when working on homeschool language arts, there may be underlying issues that aren't related to character. Some possible reasons include:

  • Learning disabilities or processing disorders. Talk to your doctor or a specialist. Research options for getting a diagnosis so you can make a plan. The good news is that early intervention can help kids learn to cope and even flourish despite their challenges. 

  • Vision issues. A simple appointment with an optometrist or opthamologist will tell you what they need.

  • Maturity. Sometimes children are not developmentally ready, so the best thing to do is wait. But waiting doesn’t have to be passive! Read aloud to them. Tell stories together. Write down things they have to say. You’ll be developing the skills without expecting more than they are ready for. 

  • A lack of foundational skills. There are building blocks to learning language arts. If children struggle with the physical act of writing, then it will be hard for them to do creative writing. Be sure to focus on the foundation and find ways to build upon that foundation until they are ready to take the next step. Look for a language arts curriculum that is developmentally appropriate.

3 Ways to Teach Language Arts to a Reluctant Learner

1. Optimize the Learning Environment 

Create a better learning environment, conducive to focused work time. 

Often people define themselves as early birds or a night owls. Generally these are the times they are most productive. When do your children seem most focused?

  • Is it first thing in the morning?
  • Right after lunch?
  • Or even in the evenings?

Use those times to your advantage.

Children can also be very sensitive to the atmosphere around them.

  • Do they need a calm, organized area?
  • Is the temperature comfortable?
  • Is a chair better for this activity or does sitting at a desk help them concentrate?

You may have to try a few different things to find what works best, but it will be worth the time.

2. Use a Natural Approach

A natural approach to teaching language arts capitalizes on how children have been learning since the day they were born. You probably didn’t approach teaching your kids how to talk by putting an alphabet chart on the wall or giving them a board book titled The Syntax of the English Language. And you probably didn’t make them say a sentence correctly ten times so they would remember proper usage and structure. 

Instead you immersed them in language by talking to them. They naturally absorbed the rules of language. Sure, they made mistakes, but you actually thought those mistakes were cute. You knew that over time they would learn not just what to say but how to say it. 

A natural approach to learning language arts, like the one BookShark uses, continues to trust that process. 

How to Teach Language Arts to a Reluctant LearnerKids learn to write by writing, read by reading, speak by listening. They copy and dictate from books by real writers. They narrate what they have been reading. And in this process, sometimes riddled with cute mistakes along the way, students become proficient at writing and reading and speaking. 

3. Get Creative

Use a timer. Students can feel overwhelmed if they can’t see the end in sight so they don’t even want to try. Help them to get past this roadblock.

Set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, give them a quick physical break like jumping on an indoor trampoline or riding a scooter down the street and back. Or allow them to follow the timed lesson with a subject they enjoy more. 

Build their language arts muscles by starting slow. Shorten a copywork or dictation passage or break it up over a couple of days. Let them experience success before increasing the difficulty. 

Focus on just one skill at a time. If they are doing copywork and struggle to write neatly, have them focus only on how they are forming the letters. Don’t worry about a spelling mistake made when trying to get a letter just right.  

Partner with your child. Take turns. They read a page, then you read a page. They write a paragraph, then you write a paragraph that they dictate to you. 

Allow them to do some work orally. Language arts skills are built even when the physical act of writing isn’t happening. Good communicators know how to organize their thoughts. Therefore, any time your kids can express themselves clearly, they are practicing an important skill that will translate to writing later. 

Let them do something with their hands. When you’re reading aloud, allow them to build with LEGO, create with playdough, or draw a picture.

Make narration a normal part of life. Simply say something like,  “Hey, why don’t you tell Mr. Jimenez about the story we were reading!”

You Can Teach Language Arts to a Reluctant Learner

Creative avoiders can exhaust, frustrate, and even anger their parents at times. You don’t have to dread teaching your kids, though. Look for the signs to see if you have a reluctant learner. 

By evaluating why, optimizing their learning environment, using a natural approach like BookShark’s, and getting a little creative, you can help your children succeed while keeping your sanity in the process. 

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