Today’s guest post by Vicki Meigs-Kahlenberg might sound a bit ambitious — even crazy: write an entire novel with your students during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). But Vicki, author of the new book The Author’s Apprentice, has some practical advice as you gear up for this challenging, rewarding, and possibly life-changing writing exercise with your students. Good luck and let us know how it’s going in your classroom!
Get your students writing for NaNoWriMo
October is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the sweater-weather, the changing leaves, and the pumpkin spice everything. But my absolute favorite thing about this time of year is gearing up for NaNoWriMo! During National Novel Writing Month teachers, students and folks from around the globe take part in the challenge to write an entire novel in the thirty days of November. It sounds crazy for anyone, so why on earth would you ever attempt to write novels with a class of heterogeneously grouped students who don’t even particularly care for writing in school at all?
Because it’s magical.
Much like the changing leaves, exploding with vibrant colors, so too will your students’ attitudes and efforts in writing change and explode with possibilities that even they had never imagined. I have been a middle school teacher for more than 20 years, and I can honestly say that nothing compares to writing novels together as a class. It is arguably the single most impactful academic experience that a student can share with his classmates. It builds confidence and motivation for students (in writing and in other areas of life), it reinforces what we are already teaching and makes it meaningful to our students, and it helps them to feel like they are a part of something that matters for real out in the world.
Here are a few tips for a successful dip into Lake NaNo:
- Integrate it into your existing curriculum to give authenticity, meaning and purpose to what you already do in your classroom.
Participating in NaNoWriMo presents obvious benefits for our students by connecting the writing work that authors do in the real world with the writing work that we do within our classrooms. It provides validation and a wonderfully authentic opportunity for students to apply the literary elements you are already teaching such as characterization, plot, setting, and conflict in their own writing. And they get to demonstrate their knowledge of literary devices such as flashback, symbolism, imagery, and irony throughout the month in the same way that real authors do.
Additionally, something unexpected occurs inside every student who takes part in this ridiculous challenge. After writing their novels, students will never read another story or novel without knowing the work that went into developing each character and his or her actions. They will no longer casually breeze by vivid details, deliberate word choices, or imbedded symbols. Learning the skills in the reading portion of the curriculum, and then fearlessly crafting and applying them in their own writing makes an impression. This synthesis of knowledge bridges the gap between reading and writing and brings new meaning and a heightened awareness into their everyday reading and writing lives.
- Write with your students.
C’mon, admit it. If you teach English or language arts, you know that somewhere deep down inside you have this dream of writing “The Great American Novel” one day. Carpe this Diem. If you truly want to make an impact with your students, you can’t just teach novel writing; you have to get in there and get your hands on that keyboard and experience novel writing side-by-side with your students. You have a writer’s voice. And the world needs to hear it.
- Build a true community of writers within the classroom.
Out in the real world, writing communities serve to hold its members accountable, to provide support and encouragement when needed, and to offer feedback at all steps in the writing process. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our students could come to expect this same kind of support system within our classrooms? Now they can at www.ywp.NaNoWriMo.org . Here, teachers can create a virtual classroom so that everyone can stay connected whether they are writing at school or at home. Teachers can post announcements, assignments, and even writing challenges (such as: “Find a way to include green Jello into your next scene. Go!”) to keep everyone excited and on their toes. Many of my students will also ask for support and feedback directly in the message feed. Sometimes it’s to help them move past writer’s block, sometimes it’s to test out a line or two for audience feedback, and sometimes it’s to help their characters make tough decisions. It is so comforting to know that even when we are writing on our own at home, we are never alone. And that makes all of the difference.
- Build a true community of writers out in the community.
You already know you are crazy for taking on this insane challenge with your classroom, so why not spread the word out there in your community? I’m serious; share with your community what you are setting out to accomplish for the month, and get them to join you in your efforts. Contact your local newspaper and news station to see if they’d be interested in reporting this story of your class taking on insurmountable odds to write novels in 30 days! Share your idea with local businesses and see if they’d be willing to donate goods or gift certificates for the students who meet their word count goals. (Our local ice cream parlor gave us free ice cream cone certificates as awards!) Host “write-outs” around town for your students to get together and write in the evenings or on the weekends in coffee shops, book stores, and even the mall food court! Don’t be shy. The more people see you and hear about what you are doing with your class, the more the excitement builds. No doubt that everyone you talk to will be amazed by your enthusiasm and dedication to your students.
- Celebrate a job well-done.
Participating in National Novel Writing Month shows our students that we believe in them, even when they think that what we are asking is impossible. Novel writing is both messy and empowering. Through the process, students develop writing fluency and stamina, and the ability to produce higher-quality on-demand writing. And that is worth celebrating.
Add comment October 19th, 2016