My love affair with NaNoWriMo started long before I ever stepped into the classroom. While in graduate school, I was introduced to this crazy endeavor called National Novel Writing Month. The premise is simple- every day of November a writer pens 1,667 words adding up to 50,000 words total. At the end of the 30 days, a first draft of a novel rests in your hands or at least a majority of a novel rests in your hands.
Thanks to the encouragement of my bosses and mentors at Ole Miss, I decided to give it a shot. The skills, confidence, frustrations, and joys of writing I experienced during those 30 days shaped me as an educator, writer, and procrastinator.
Obviously, my 5th graders do not write 50,000 over the course of the month but I do believe that they take the same lessons with them from the project.
How does it work in the classroom?
About mid October, I hand out my travel guide or road map for the project. In the two weeks leading up to November we start to build our story or several stories to see which one sticks. We talk over plot ideas, pick apart our favorite books to see what we like, read picture books, and declare our goals. For my students, everyone’s word count goal is individualized for them. To figure out the goals, my kiddos write for 10 minutes, I take their word count, multiply it by the number of class times we’ll meet in November, times the minutes we’ll spend writing. Simply- Words x Classes x Minutes in class= word count goal.
Every year, I have students freak out when I write numbers like 3,500, 5,000, or 7,000 on their desks. Every year, I have students begging me to lower their word count. Every year, I have students ask to raise their word count. Every year, I have students who blow me away with their imagination, perseverance, and grit.
Over the last 3 years, Saint Andrew’s 5th grade students have written over 1.11 million words over the November school days! That means that the average student writes over 4,500 words!
I told my students that I was going to be writing about NaNo and asked if they had anything they wanted to share, here are a few of my favorite responses:
“Nanowrimo may be like climbing Mount everest but it all is worth it in the end and if you ever are stuck take a minute to be thankful that you have enough stamina to even think about doing it”
“NaNoWriMo is the best! Why can’t they make on for every month. I was almost always on top of my word count goal!”
“NaNoWriMo is a great experience for kids. This project gets children into the habit of creativity and curiosity. Many children after this project, have been inspired to write when older. Kids are now willing to work more on the things that inspire them. It boosts their creativity and it teaches them valuable thoughts.”
“NaNoWriMo helped me grow as a writer and many ways and was a very fun way to write constantly in the month of November.”
“It was stressful at times but fun most of the time.”
“It was a very fun experience writing a story with characters that you made up. The more you write your story, the more you get to know and like your characters and the world you created. It is a way to get away from life and to be able to do whatever you want to do. It feels like freedom.”
“Don’t make the article boring” (I’m trying my best anonymous student, I’m trying my best)
What did I learn?
- I need to be in the trenches with my students
- I get more grey hair in the month of November than all of the others combined. Writing 50,000 words during the school year while pushing 80 kiddos to push themselves in the same manner is hard.
- It’s hard, but we are doing it together. It gives me a way to relate and talk with students about projects and the writing process because we are all in the same boat.
- My high flyers loved that they were beating me in the percentage rate and other students took comfort in knowing I was bringing up the rear with them.
- Give yourself a similar challenge when you hand out your next paper or project, it will change how your students see the project and you as their teacher.
- Gripe sessions have a time and place
- During NaNo, the students had a weekly assignment to post on FlipGrid about how the project was going.
- This activity gave the students a way to vent, communicate, commiserate and share victories without taking any class time. Win-Win!
- Although it turned into a reality show-esque confessional booth it was so much fun to watch and react. As a fellow NaNo writer, I posted weekly too.
- Non content area victories in a content area project need to be celebrated
- It’s always great when an entire class “gets” your material, it’s a completely different and wonderful experience to just celebrate all that went into the parts that made up the grade.
- Hard work, determination, and patience these are skills and traits that students take to every class and should be celebrated and pointed out in every class.
NaNoWriMo (For adults)
Young Writers site (Classroom version)