Using NaNoWriMo in the Classroom

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 -- Scott Sterling

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It’s grown from a celebration of creative writing into a national writing marathon. For most, the goal is to write a 50,000-word novel within the 30 days of November. Some people accomplish the goal. Others leave off somewhere in the middle, get sidetracked by the holidays, and never return to their manuscript.

That being said, the game-based challenge of NaNoWriMo might appeal to your students, especially those who like seemingly insurmountable challenges. Here’s how to get your students engaged.

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program

As a subset of the official NaNoWriMo organizing group, the Young Writers Program is designed specifically to help teachers and students participate in the process.

The first step is registering yourself as an educator and then having the kids register themselves as young writers. Registration comes with many benefits, mainly in the form of helping everyone keep track of their work and the ability to interact with other young writers and educators as they also go through the process.

There is also a pool of resources for teachers, including lesson plans, outlets to publish the students’ work, and a free classroom kit to help you and the kids celebrate their success.

Set a reasonable goal

50,000 words is unrealistic for most students (and adults). That’s why the Young Writers Program lets students, or their teachers, set their own goals.

What should that goal be? Consider the age of your students, their experience in creative writing, and how much time you think they have to devote to the project. A typewritten page is usually around 400-500 words single spaced. Is a page per day reasonable? Then the overall goal would be around 15,000 words.

Remember, unless you teach a creative writing class, you won’t have a lot of class time to devote to NaNoWriMo and still keep up with your regular curriculum. You’re asking for a lot of commitment outside of school.

Assessment

How do you assess the students’ projects come December? A rubric would obviously help, but keep your expectations realistic. Nobody will come out of NaNoWriMo with a Nobel Prize. Above all, NaNoWriMo offers more lessons about life than English. It’s about commitment, focus, responsibility, and community. Some kids will struggle to make their word goal and it will show in the tail end of their work. Others will simply lose focus and go off on a tangent. Those problems can be edited out further down the road if the student wants to publish their work. The important thing is that they set a goal and followed through.

Speaking of which, November has already started. Everybody get to work!