4 Activities for National Novel Writing Month in November

nanowritmoWe’re midway through autumn and school is in full swing. You are beginning to know your learners and all of the strengths that set them apart and make them uniquely fit for your class. But while students are asserting their personalities and making their mark on the classroom dynamic, why not consider an activity that will challenge them to work together toward a common goal? Thousands of writers each year take part in National Novel Writing Month, a month-long writing challenge where individuals strive to write an entire novel in just 30 days.

Now, before you throw your hands up and begin listing all of the limitations to doing such a writing challenge with your students, consider this: National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it’s commonly known among participants, is a self-guided challenge where you set the goals, you track your progress, and your only competition is time. Most adults will challenge themselves to write a novel of 50,000 words, or about 200 pages double-spaced.

But you are working with children. Moreover, you’re working with children who have likely never written more than one or two pages in a sitting, let alone over time.

But what these students will see in their work at the end of the month will affirm that they are capable of much more than they realized. They will find that their writing endurance has strengthened and that their access to ideas and creativity is more readily available.

There are many ways you can adapt NaNoWriMo’s challenge in order to provide the best experience for your writers, no matter their age. But first, you’ll need to agree to the challenge.

Raise your right hand and repeat these words:

I, (state your name), teacher of merit and advocate for student voice and creativity, do hereby solemnly vow that I will uphold my promise to support and encourage each of the students in my classroom as they pursue the loftiest, the most daring — nay — the most ambitious writing challenge they have ever faced. They will struggle. They will flounder. And at times they will want to run away screaming. But I will be there to encourage. I will be there to cheer. I will be there as their purveyor of awesome, and I will no doubt purvey a whole lot of awesome. Therefore, bring it on, NaNoWriMo! We will not stop until the final second of the final hour of the final day of November, where we will look back together on all we have written over the past 30 days. And we will know it is good. This I swear. On my honor. As their teacher.

Or you could just sign up your class by visiting https://ywp.nanowrimo.org/. That’s probably a whole lot faster.

Making Yours a NaNoWri-WOAH!

We’ve made the commitment. Now let’s consider how we can customize the NaNoWriMo experience to best meet the needs of your class and your writers.

First, know that the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program is packed with resources to support writers of all ages and backgrounds. There are Common Core-aligned lesson plans for K-12 classrooms, downloadable student workbooks, a free motivational classroom kit, and lots of other great printables to get you started and keep you organized. Sign up your class and take some time to explore the resources before introducing the site to students. Once you’ve created an account, anything you or your students write will remain on the site as long as the account is active, and everything you write remains private behind your login, so there’s no need to worry about work being compromised or deleted.

Now then, on to that daunting challenge of writing an entire novel. In one month. With children as young as 5 or 6.

Remember, this challenge is more about setting aside focused time to write a story. It is not a time to think about outlining or editing.

And since this is your challenge, you can make it whatever you’d like.

Here are 4 ideas to get you started:

1. Single-author Stories

Set aside a block of time each day when students can continue working on a single story. Keeping consistent scheduling and allowing for enough time that students can enter a flow state in their writing will contribute to your students’ success. At the end of the writing time, have students write a question with an unknown answer about their story at the bottom of the page. This will act as a prompt when students begin writing the next day and can help move plotlines forward.

Suggested Writing Goal (SWG): Page count = student’s age (for elementary students), age + 5 (middle grades), age + 10 (high school)

2. Multi-author Stories

nanowritmo2On day one, have students write the beginnings of their story as if starting out a personal challenge. However, over the next 30 days students will rotate writing journals or documents in order to move their stories forward. New authors have the course of the day to continue the story in any way they’d like, but they are expected to leave the story open so that it can be continued by a new author the next day. Because the story will be unfamiliar to them, each new writer should read the most recent 2–3 pages of the story before moving the plotline forward.

SWG: 25–30 pages

3. Speech-to-text Story

Why not let students compose their stories via oration? Most computers have dictation software that would allow students to speak their stories, which will help overcome the potential barrier of students’ current writing or typing skills. And since most of us can speak faster than we can type, this will allow for potentially longer, more robust, and more creatively expressive storytelling. Can this approach be considered writing and help develop future skills? I certainly think so!

SWG: 30–50 pages.

4. Ditch the Novel

Thinking “story” in terms of 50,000+ words can be overwhelming, and most children are not at a place where they are reading such expansive stories, let alone conceiving them. So, instead, try these ideas:

  • Spend the month having students write a short story collection based around a given theme.
  • Let them write a strategy guide for their favorite mobile or video game.
  • Have them write about the same topic 30 different ways.
  • Have them write 30 articles about different objects found around the classroom or outside.

Whichever way you choose to spend your 30 days of writing, the focused writing time will help build writing endurance, develop writing skills, and support more expressive, detailed writing. And it will be an accomplishment that the whole class can celebrate together.

So get your write on this November! And be sure to let us know what challenges you and your students set for yourselves in the comments below or by connecting with us on Twitter at @MatthewWinner and @demco. We’d love to cheer you on as you support your students in building their identities as writers!

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Matthew Winner

Matthew Winner

Library Media Specialist and Host of The Children’s Book Podcast
Matthew Winner is an elementary school librarian in Howard County, Maryland. He is the host of The Children's Book Podcast (formerly All The Wonders), a weekly podcast featuring insightful and sincere interviews with authors, illustrators and everyone involved in taking a book from drawing board to bookshelf. He is the author of Asha Went Walking, a webcomic for young readers illustrated by Lorian Tu-Dean, about a girl, her arctic fox companion and her magic bag. In 2013, Matthew was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker and was invited to the White House as part of the Champions of Change program. Visit Matthew online at www.matthewcwinner.com/blog or on Twitter at @MatthewWinner.