NaNoWriMo Novel Writing
Of all the experiences offered to my students in my classroom across more than twenty years, one literacy encounter stood head and shoulders above the rest in student engagement, impact on learning, and development of a strong sense of a learning community among my students: NaNoWriMo!
Encouraged by a co-worker to give it a try, beginning in 2007 each and every November became and odyssey of novel-writing for my students. For eighteen school days, we threw caution to the wind (and to the curriculum) in order to indulge and develop our inner authors. Don’t be dismayed…I was continually aware of those writing standards my students needed to attain; I just took an alternate route to achieving them. And that route laid permanent paths down for many of my students who still, as adults, participate in NaNoWriMo every year!
This blog post will guide you through how I maneuvered a month of non-stop writing in my classroom, how I graded my students’ work, and how we made the most of novel-writing to build a strong writers’ community in our classroom.
Planning for a Month of Novel Writing
The first thing you and your students will want to do is create (free) accounts on the NaNoWriMo Young Writers’ web page. Teachers will have access to a plethora of resources: curriculum, student workbook pdf documents, and classroom kits that contain everything a teacher needs to lay the groundwork for NaNoWriMo in the classroom (progress charts, certificates, etc.). Students set word goals (I always required my students to set a goal of 20,000 words for the month) and have access to countless resources to inspire them and move them past writers’ blocks. The website is very well laid-out and easy to use.
What Will My Students Learn from NaNoWriMO Novel Writing?
Beyond the basics of signing up on the site and incorporating the resources from NaNoWriMo, I needed to convince my administrators and parents that a month of dedicated novel-writing was a worthwhile pursuit. I taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade English Language Arts. Here is how novel-writing lines up with the common core standards:
What About Grades During NaNoWriMo Novel Writing Month?
I was hesitant to give grades to my students based solely on how many words they were writing each day. I felt that might lead to cheating, copy/paste, etc. So I developed writing assessments that students would complete weekly to turn in with illustrative excerpts from their novels that they printed out and attached to the weekly novel assessment reflections. In addition, I created a simple rubric for evaluating these student self-reflection novel assessments.
There are four novel assessments, which I printed out–each on a different color paper–and handed out to students in a stapled packet at the beginning of the month. By Friday each week, students needed to complete one of the assessments and turn it in with a printed excerpt from their novel that illustrated what they were reflecting upon. Students could choose which assessment they felt they could best complete each week, so there was no set order in which the novel assessments needed to be turned in.
Overview of the assessment reflections:
Since I received one of these assessment/reflections from each of my students each Friday of the month, the rubric for evaluating them had to be simple and straightforward: easy for me to grade with and easy for my students to understand. Here is what I used (included in the packet for download above):
Teachers may choose how many points to assign to each category of the rubric depending upon how grading works in your own classroom.
Building A Community of Writers Through NaNoWriMo Novel Writing Month
There were five anchor activities that served as community-builders during NaNoWriMo month in my classroom: NaNoWriMo Kick-off assembly, NaNoWriMo first lines sharing, Daily Word Counts, NaNoWriMo Write-in, and NaNoWriMo Celebration.
NaNoWriMo Novel Writing Kick-off Assembly
Each year this became more and more elaborate! All of my students, along with others students from other classes participating from my school, would gather in the auditorium, watch inspirational videos (some from you-tube and some made by my students), and get fired up about the possibilities that lay ahead for them as writers in the month to come. Some years I even invited the press to join us!
NaNoWriMo Novel Writing First Lines
I was always blown away by the first lines my students wrote, so I printed them off and displayed them around the classroom so students could read and appreciate each others’ work. Here are a few that might inspire your students:
The asphalt crunched beneath my feet, my vision clouded by the morning fog, my breath fogged as it left my quivering lips..Dylan
Alone, Celia sat on the cement school stairs that lead up to the blue doors of Rockford High…Dasiata
Once upon a time lived a bunny named Oliviana and she knew everyone in Bunnytown……Jalyn
The hand shot from the ground like an asteroid hurtling through space…Colin
I was once just like you, I had a normal life and a normal job, but that all changed when I had to make a transport of plutonium and uranium to and outer colony on a distant planet…Bryce
For those who struggled, I allowed use of the old standard beginning line. Here’s how they tailored them for their own novels:
It was a dark stormy night– it was Halloween night. Everybody was dressed up, and all the houses had jack-o-lanterns with the ugliest faces there could be…Spencer
It was dark, but not stormy. That is why we went to the hockey game….Jayson
NaNoWriMo Novel Writing Daily Word Counts
My students were required to report their word counts to me each day. In addition, it was up to them individually to make sure they were uploading their novels to the NaNoWriMo website. I kept track of their totals on the board. They knew that if their individual daily word count was much below average, they needed to step it up. Of course, there were those who did not write as much as others, but as long as they made decent progress, I encouraged them to press on. I really did not have a lot of trouble with kids not wanting to participate. For those who struggled with writing a novel, I allowed them to write in other genres or collaborate with a friend. I did not allow students to write “Fan Fiction.” They all had to come up with original characters and plots.
Usually, the eighth graders’ word counts were higher than the seventh graders’ whose word counts were higher than the sixth graders. When that failed to be the case, as in the word counts reflected in the above picture, the eighth graders really kicked in and strove to rise above the lower grades!
NaNoWriMo Novel Writing Write-In
This event was a favorite of many of my students. I called upon the other teachers on my team to help me out with this, and they did so willingly. One night during the month, usually the Tuesday of the third week (the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving), I had a “write-in” for students from 6-8pm. Students came to school in their pajamas, brought snacks, and got to hang out with their friends and write. The kids loved it, and this gave them a chance to rack up even higher word counts!
NaNoWriMo Novel Writing Celebration
As a wrap-up for novel writing month, I sought out and got the cooperation of numerous staff in my building. Immediately after school one day the first week in December, we had a “novel writing celebration” to which we invited parents, grandparents, etc. Students chose a paragraph or two from their novel that they would read to students, parents, etc. separated into small groups across the school building. Volunteer teachers served as moderators for these readings. I provided the below guidance for moderators so that the readings would proceed swiftly in each of the reading rooms:
I filled in the name of the student, since students were assigned (cross-grades) to particular reading rooms. The teacher-moderators only had to fill in the title and genre of the student’s novel (as provided by the students at the reading), then just had to check off that the student provided a brief overview of the plot of his novel and read 1-2 paragraphs of text. After the readings, refreshments provided by parents were available. If a student had a note from a parent that they could not participate in this after-school activity, I provided another venue for her to do the reading, usually with another teacher at lunch time, but otherwise, students who did not read at the celebration lost points for not participating. These celebrations were always well-attended and appreciated by parents. I also loved the fact that I got to share what my kids had been doing with other teachers in the building.
Beyond Novel Writing –Publishing
One year, I was privileged to obtain a grant to publish my students’ novels! This was, without a doubt, the highlight of middle school for many of my students. I used Lulu.com to publish my students’ novels. Students designed their covers and I had a wonderful parent who worked on getting the students’ novels formatted for publication. The grant allowed me to purchase a copy of each novel for the classroom and a copy for the student as well. In some cases, especially with sixth graders, I combined two or three student novels into one book, but if their novel met the minimum page requirement for a book on Lulu, they got their own individual copy of their own novel. In addition, for students whose parents or grandparents wanted to purchase additional copies of their student’s book, books could be ordered from the Lulu.com website.
The most wonderful part of having orchestrated NaNoWriMo in my classroom for so many years is the number of students who still participate in NaNoWriMo as adults!
Why not give NaNoWriMo a try in your classroom this year?