Challenge Your Students to Do NaNoWriMo

By Eric Braun

November has started, but it is not too late to get kids involved in an interesting writing project. If a novel is too ambitious, a novella or a couple of short stories can spur the creative juices.

Minneapolis writer Eric Braun on Thursday, November 20, 2013.Have you considered having your students participate in National Novel Writing Month? You should!

For the uninitiated, every year during the month of November, certain hardy souls (more than 300,000 adults and 90,000 young people in 2013) take on the task of writing an entire novel within those thirty days. It’s a super way for people to experience the joy (and 21st century skill!) of creating. Participants try something really hard and give themselves a chance to pull it off. Or not pull it off—that’s okay too. It’s the trying that matters.

It’s also a meaningful way to participate in the deeply human need for stories. We all love stories. We get a happy vibration of satisfaction and belonging (or something like that) in our tummies when we see a good movie, finish a powerful book, or hear a witty joke. If that feeling is really potent—like if we just read the best novel ever—it inspires us to try your own hand at storytelling. It’s in our DNA. It feels good.

So why not challenge your students to feel that goodness by participating in NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo logoDoes it sound intimidating? Do you think your students are too

  • Young?
  • Busy?
  • Anti-writing?

Well, maybe they are. But maybe they’re not! What if all they needed was a little push and support from a dedicated, caring educator like yourself to learn that they love to create? What if completing something kind of awesome, or almost completing it, or just trying to complete it, would be a huge confidence booster for them? What if it was fun?

NaNoWriMo is all about letting your inner editor take a break for 30 days so you can crank out the words. For adults, that means 50,000 words. But kids can set lower—yet still challenging—word-count goals. You can do it as a class or challenge students to do it on their own.

Are you still unsure? Still think your students are

Too Young?
NaNoWriMo has a separate website just for young writers. It’s got resources like lesson plans and workbooks for teachers working with kids as young as kindergarten and up through twelfth grade. It’s got charts, pep talks from published writers, an encouraging community, and more. Did I mention as young as kindergarten!?

Too Busy?
Guess what? When students participate in NaNoWriMo, they are working toward Common Core State Standards for reading and writing. The NaNoWriMo website features lesson plans laying this out clearly. So taking class time to teach novel-writing and let students work on their novels is a great way to do what you’re going to do anyway: teach Common Core State Standards for ELA and Literacy.

Too Anti-Writing?
A-kid-drawing-or-writing wikimedia commons upload by dotmatchbox by flickrLots of kids hate writing—or at least think they do. When I taught freshman composition, I required students to turn in a journal entry every day we met, with increasing word-count requirements every week. By the end of the semester, they were writing over 3,000 words a week. They hated it. They complained, they said it was worthless. But here’s the thing: by the end of every semester, those kids were writing a lot more fluently and confidently, just from doing it.

So maybe your students will hate it, especially at first. With the number of words kids will write, though, they eventually will turn off their inner editors—otherwise known as inner haters and inner self-doubters. According to the NaNoWriMo website, upon finishing the month, participants report improved self-confidence, creative writing skills, overall writing skills, and time management.

The point of NaNoWriMo is not to produce a publishable novel in a month. Nobody can write a publishable novel in a month (except maybe Joyce Carol Oates). The point is to write. When the month is up, kids can decide for themselves if they want to take the next important step: revising their novel. If they do, they’ll learn a ton more about writing. Even if they don’t, they can always say they wrote a novel. That’s awesome.

Will your class be doing NaNoWriMo this year?

Eric Braun is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.

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