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Monday, October 9, 2017

NaNoWriMo: A Teacher's Best Kept Secret to Inspire Young Writers!

I confess to experiencing a slump every October. While I am no longer in the classroom, I don't think I'll ever forget the weariness that set in this time of year. The beginning of year hype, drummed up by the convocation keynote and the "thumbs-up, go-get 'em" attitude from administrators, no longer inspired me.

One year, I secretly downloaded a free "Count Down App" on my Iphone. (I hang my head in shame). I indulged in watching the clock countdown to the last day of school.

In 2011, I was assigned to teach two elective creative writing classes. I looked forward to August and September because of the synergy coursing through my students' veins. New clothes, back-to-school pep rallies, kept learning engaging. October was ripe for writing scary stories and a dead-poet unit.

By November 1st, my students were experiencing sugar withdrawals from eating excessive amounts of Halloween candy. Major store chains began selling Christmas trees; giving my students the illusion that winter break had begun.

As a result, border-line panic hit. How could I hold my students' interests? Afterall, this was an elective!

An ELAR teacher on my campus learned about NaNoWriMo and passed along the word. Seriously, it was like manna from heaven!

What is NaNoWriMo YWP? NaNoWriMo YWP stands for National Novel Writer's Month Young Writer's Project. The goal for students is to plan and write a novel between November 1st and 11:59 PM on the last day of November.

This short video will allow you to see the benefits of the NaNoWriMo project.

I can tell you first-hand how the NaNoWriMo experience transformed my classroom and created pathways to authentic student learning and engagement.

In addition to the benefits expressed in the posted video, here are three additional ways this project transformed my classroom.

1. NaNoWriMo became a path to student engagement and creative written expression.

I always looked forward to introducing the lesson: "You are going to write a novel." Some students looked terrified at the novel-writing challenge, but by the time November 1st arrived, they were anxious to start their stories.

This is because NaNoWriMo has abundant resources to support students and teachers. For example, mid-October, I began integrating the Writer's Notebook into daily lessons. (See NaNoWriMo resource link here: Using a class account, my students were able to download and save a user-friendly file to a flashdrive or to their student document file. Students could complete self-paced lessons on plot mapping, character development, etc.

Students used Google docs to draft and write their stories. This allowed me to watch their novels in progress! I discovered Twilight fanfiction, zombie apocalypse stories, tragic romance dramas, adolescent underdog sagas, and coming-of-age stories. My students begged to keep writing to the last minute of class!

8th grade students write their novels using Google docs

6th grade students brainstorm topics for their novel
2. NaNoWriMo became a path to collaborative learning.

Collaboration is a future-ready skill our students will need to succeed in their careers. If you doubt this, think of ONE job where collaboration is not needed. Hmmm.

However, our educational system is designed to privilege isolated learning often under the guise of "individualization."  Walk down the halls of your school. Are desks in rows? Are students required to finish their homework alone? Would these student supporting student interactions outside of school be considered a form of cheating?

NaNoWriMo breaks down invisible barriers and allows students to become resources to one another.

For example, my students became collaborators in their writing. They would share their drafts with each other to find ways to develop a character or to resolve a problem in their story. Some students were natural born editors and helped others with the conventions of writing. Some students were especially creative and saw places where a plot twist could enhance a scene.

As my role shifted from being a "sage on stage" to a facilitator of student learning, natural relationships developed.

6th graders share drafts and get feedback from peers

3. NaNoWriMo became a path to authentic publication.

What if students could submit and have a completed novel published AND receive free copies of their book? I know. I didn't believe it either...until Melanie.

Melanie was a newcomer and her first language was Mandarin. She was also an avid reader. Think about the student who sits alone at lunch and reads or walks down the hall with their nose in a book, well, that was Melanie.

Melanie with her published novel
When I introduced my students to the  NaNoWriMo writing project, Melanie seemed relieved. Her writer's notebook replaced her nose-in-book lunch periods. She began coming to my room after school to talk about her NaNoWriMo draft.  Melanie shared her ideas and I was able to affirm her. She didn't need my ideas, Melanie needed to know that the answers were inside of her.

When the NaNoWriMo window closed, Melanie continued editing her novel. She had read the fine print on the NaNoWriMo YWP site. Little did I know that she had spent the winter break polishing and submitted a fifteen chapter novel, until she handed me an autographed copy! Inside the cover she had written:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can't say that enough. And, please, please, please wherever you read this, remember that you made half of it.
My heart felt thanks,

Melanie (last name omitted)

I recently reconnected with Melanie this fall. She is now a student at a Texas University on a full scholarship. While I am not able to say with conviction NaNoWriMo was the turning point in her life, I do believe she was given the confidence boost she needed.

Make this November part of your classroom success story by taking the first flying leap today!

Confession Reflection:

  • What are some contributing factors to teacher post-convocation stress? How might unconventional projects like NaNoWriMo alleviate stress?
  • What ELAR/English Common Core or state standards (TEKS)  are supported by projects like NaNoWriMo?
  • How would projects like NaNoWriMo support student agency?
  • Do you know of an educator who would benefit from the NaNoWriMo project? If so, spread the word!
To learn more about NaNoWriMo Young Writer's Project visit their website at:

This link will connect you to step-by-step instructions on how to sign up, set up your virtual classroom,  how to enroll your students, and resources to get your students started:

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