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NaNoWriMo In The Classroom

NaNoWriMo In The Classroom

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and aspiring writers all over the world celebrate by participating in a tough challenge: to write an entire novel, or 50,000 words, in 30 days. NaNoWriMo was founded by writer Chris Baty in 1999, and grew from 21 participants in its first year to more than 200,000 in 2010.

Writing an entire novel in one month may sound daunting, but the NaNoWriMo process focuses entirely on output– the goal is to write 50,000 words of prose, regardless of how unreadable or boring that prose may be. The NaNoWriMo website states, “Varying enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.”

This low-pressure approach to writing allows aspiring novelists to toss aside any reservations about how “good” their writing is, and just get down to the business of putting words on paper. It is precisely this laid-back attitude that may lend NaNoWriMo to success in the classroom.

Education blogger Donalyn Miller (also known as the Book Whisperer) writes about the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, which adapts the original NaNoWriMo goals for various age groups and provides writing and character development exercises to help students start on their very own novel-writing projects.

Miller writes of the program: “The coolest thing about it is that it can work with any population. Many teachers of reluctant writers (including ESL educators) love NaNoWriMo because their students find creative writing less intimidating. At the same time, advanced students get to challenge themselves in an exciting way.”

I can hardly imagine a better month-long project for a middle or high school English class to undertake. Creative writing is fun–you get to make up whatever you want!– and the open-ended nature of the assignment allows each student to work at his or her own pace and level of writing. I wish I had been able to participate in NaNoWriMo as a student. I still remember the eight-page story I wrote in 8th grade, and thought that it was the coolest thing we did all year.

The NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program seems like a great way to improve kids’ literacy skills through a fun, creative project. And the original NaNoWriMo program is perfect for adults who have always wanted to write a novel but never had the time. I will definitely be struggling to get my 50,000 words done before December 1st. Join me?

What do you think of NaNoWriMo? Will you participate this year?

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57 comments

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7:39PM PDT on Oct 30, 2011

In 7th grade, I participated in the adult version of NaNoWriMo and successfully completed my 50,000-word novel, the only one in my school to do so (including my teacher). It was one of the most rewarding experience of my life, and although the novel I wrote may never get out of the editing process, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

8:48AM PDT on Oct 24, 2011

lower the goal? i thought kids were supposed to challange themself? or does challange themself mean "get the hottie everyone wants"

yes, 50,000 is to much for a kindergardner, but I'd assume a 6th grader could do it. or is that over estimating ? if said kids can barly put together a sentince texting or posting on the internet, perhaps it should be lowerd to 5,000.

OH and only allow original text. I'm sure most of these kids can only write their own "If I was in the Icarly show" fanfiction, or "Twilight 2: another side of the story" about a vampire-werepather hybrid that the story is a mix of Twilight and True Blood.

4:42AM PDT on Oct 24, 2011

Also the kids do NOT have to write 50,000 words. They set their own realistic goals. And I know last year one of the prizes for winners (met the goal) was to get a bound copy of their book. I know for a lot of kids, especially struggling readers/writers, a real book on their shelf written by them would be a huge thing.

4:35AM PDT on Oct 24, 2011

I have a book that has been stuck at chapter 4 or 5 for years. I also have a 64,000 word book that I wrote during last year's NaNoWriMo that is actually pretty good, and will be much better once I edit it (I am planning to take an editing class soon). The idea of this is to save editing for after you get done writing, or it stops you from ever finishing. It worked for me, and I really had fun doing it, though my book is scary so at times I also scared myself.

We are doing YWP in my classroom this year. I think it is a cool program and they have so much support materials for teachers and kids.

Not everything that gets written in NaNoWriMo is drivel, by the way. The book "Water For Elephants" was written as part of NaNoWriMo, and was on best seller lists (and is now a movie, too). Other real books that have actually sold have also been written during it.

If you EVER considered writing a book, seriously, you should try this!

4:45PM PDT on Oct 23, 2011

I don't know if it's all that creative if the goal is the number of words over quality- but I get the drift- to get people over their paralysis and just start somewhere- and as time goes by and the idea forms, I am sure the writing will get better. That's why I hate straight grades for essays- a 70% C grade looks defeating. But if the student is told they get 100% for the quality of their ideas, and oops 40% for their atrocious spelling and poor grammar- I think the kids would be encouraged to keep writing, and also try to improve the grammar at the same time!

11:21AM PDT on Oct 23, 2011

@Don I.: This is a fun way for kids to improve their literacy skills. From the numerous errors in your post, it looks as though you would have benefited from such an activity.

11:03AM PDT on Oct 23, 2011

I like the idea

11:02AM PDT on Oct 23, 2011

Maren M. you're right about the writing skills. In nearly every aspect of a career or job there is some type of writing to be done. In some cases how well you present (write) could get you a promotion.

So absolutely writing is the one thing that can level the playing field of life. ;)

10:11AM PDT on Oct 23, 2011

Very good idea.
Thank you for the post.

8:59AM PDT on Oct 23, 2011

I think that it's a very good idea. I know that I would have loved such a class when I was
coming up.

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