Saturday, October 20, 2012

Caution - Novelists Ahead!

The kids were back in school for 3 days today after 2 weeks and 2 days of their fall break! I was dying to introduce NaNoWriMo to them and it was the first thing we did the morning they returned. If you aren't familiar with NaNoWriMo, and missed my earlier post on it, then you MUST go back and read it.

This November my kids, as well as all of the 5th and 6th graders will be writing novels! As I introduced the program to my class you can see some of the students getting a bit worried and others really excited. By the time I have gone over the basics, have shown off my two complete NaNo novels, and conveyed to them my excitement, most of them were catching the NaNo bug.

Before the students returned to school I sat down with our new principal to give him a heads up on the program. When I finished, he sat back in his chair and said, "well, I have to say something about this..." At that moment I was thinking that he was going to shut the whole thing down, and then he said, "I'm joining you guys, I want to write a novel too." You cannot imagine my elation! I warned him that what he was getting into was intense, and that every 5th and 6th grader would know and be bugging him throughout the month. He assured me that he wanted in. 

Not only is our principal in, but several of the 5th/6th grade teachers are going to write too (but modifying their word-count, not the full 50,000). I've been trying to get the librarian to do it to for the past few years, but this year I think she is finally serious! When I went to tell the resource teacher her and a para decided that they too wanted to travel this perilous, yet rewarding, trek. 

Now, I realize that is isn't November yet, but it is critical for NaNo novelists to do some planning and preparing before November 1 comes knocking. Each 5th and 6th grader has a NaNoWriMo workbook that is taking them through the development of their characters and plot. And finally there is a great lesson on showing versus telling and how this helps improve writing and increase word count. The Young Writer's Program has great, and FREE, workbooks to download on their site. These resources would be great for many writing activities, not just NaNoWriMo. I've chosen only about a third of the workbook to use as we don't have time to get through everything before NaNoWriMo begins. 

On Thursday I helped students come up with their word-count goals for the month. Because NaNoWriMo is meant to help students send off their inner editor for the month we are not worried about quality (editing happens after November) but rather quantity. So they are simply graded on words written divided by their word-count goal. My students are always ambitious. Having done NaNoWriMo with students for two years already I kind of know if goals are too little, just right, or too much. I love that differentiation is already built into this as well! For 5th graders, 3,000 words is average. ELL, SPED, and struggling writers fall between 1,000 and 2,500 words and those students who love writing will be closer to 4,000 and above. I remind students that if they have sports, clubs, church activities, etc., that they may want to decrease their goal because they might not be able to write on those days. If students are really stuck on goals that I think are too much for them I tell them that they can have that for their personal goal, but we adjust their school goal. I LOVE their ambition, but I want to help them feel successful and not stressed out. It also helps to teach them about making appropriate goals for themselves. 

By Friday most of the class already knew what they wanted their novels to be about. I love their ideas and I love that the students spend their recess telling me about what they story is going to be about. They are so creative, and I love that most don't have that voice in their heads that we adults do, you know the one, the one that tells us our ideas aren't good. So, we jumped into our workbooks and began the creation of our characters. 

I have also been planning my novel. This will be my third NaNoWriMo, I was a "winner" last year and the year before. It is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever done. I don't plan on ever trying to publish my novels, but just knowing that I could write a novel in one month, and having just one copy for me, was enough to make me feel great. I HIGHLY recommend NaNoWriMo for adults and I think that the rewards for students are the greatest. In my years of teaching this one month makes even the most struggling and reluctant writers more creative and confident. So, get over to the NaNoWriMo and Young Writer's Program sites and get signed up. November is less than 10 days away!

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