Over the past few years, I’ve worked hard to help my high schoolers increase the volume of reading they do. I book talk popular titles. I give them time to read a book of choice in class. I’ve incorporated student-led book clubs. All of this gives my students what they need to increase their reading volume, but what about their writing volume? Over the summer, I spent some time thinking about ways to increase their amount of writing.
I already incorporate quick writes each day. Students receive independent work time so they can make some progress on a writing piece, but I usually have my own requirements for that piece. Currently my seniors are finishing up college application essays, and my freshmen are adding a second scene to their single-scene narratives. I’m telling them what genre to write in. Though they can choose the topic, I am assigning a task and giving them a rubric. My students need a challenge. They need to push themselves to writing independently outside of class just like I encourage them to do with their reading. Enter National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, for short).
What is NaNoWriMo? National Novel Writing Month began back in 1999, and its goal was to encourage participants to write 50,000 words throughout the month of November. I’ll admit that I did not know about NaNoWriMo until a few years ago when I read Vicki Meigs-Kahlenberg’s The Author’s Apprentice. Her 8th graders participated in it, and she was so impressed with the results that it became a staple in her classroom each year. If her 8th graders could do it, couldn’t my 12th graders? I decided that this year would be the year to try it.
The Author’s Apprentice: My seniors will finish up their college application essays this week, and then we will begin preparation for NaNoWriMo. In order to prepare myself, I am rereading The Author’s Apprentice. Meigs-Kahlenberg has her students prepare by starting with weekly writing challenges. These challenges push students to read like writers and eventually imitate what writers do to improve their own writing. This way, if students get writer’s block during the process, or are just stuck for an idea of where to go next, they know they can visit the worlds of the authors they love for ideas.
Brave the Page: I also just finished up NaNoWriMo’s book, Brave the Page, which is written more for student writers, but I got some great ideas from it. The introduction is written by none other than Jason Reynolds, one of my students’ favorite authors every year. He gives a great pep talk to young writers. The section that follows reminds students that all of them are already writers. The inspirational quotes and tips will motivate all readers, no matter the age. Be sure to check out the audio version too! Authors like Jennifer Niven, Marissa Meyer, and Daniel José Older give their own pep talks as well. I plan to use them throughout the month when I see students needing more than just my encouragement.
NaNoWriMo Website: NaNoWriMo has a Young Writer’s Program for educators that we will be using. Teachers can create groups, which I did for each class. Students can chat with one another, and provide inspiration that sometimes a teacher cannot. As their teacher, I can make challenges to push them along. If desired, there is a whole high school curriculum that educators can use. With all of their resources, educators’ minds will be eased.
Mental Prep: As teachers of writing, we often know that simply getting started is the hardest part for many students. Next week, my seniors and I will begin preparing by starting to bring our notebooks with us everywhere. (I say “we,” for I will be writing along with them.) When an idea comes to us, we will write it down. We will use our quickwrite time to create lists about past events in our lives, things that made us laugh, things that made us upset, etc. We will collect “favorite first lines” from the books we love. We will talk about giving ourselves goals, and planning out when our “writing time” will be outside of class. We will talk about those all-important deadlines, but also remind ourselves that we are not failures if we don’t meet them. We already have writing routines, but we will create new ones to prepare for the amount of writing that is coming our way. In other words, we will mentally prepare for 30 days of consistent dedication to writing.
Time to Get Started!
So, I think we are ready! Well, we are as ready as we’re going to be. I know I cannot plan for every single issue that could arise, but I’m thankful that my students have a trusted writing community that will encourage and assist them every step of the way. When November 1st hits, my students will begin writing more than they ever have, and I can’t wait to see the results! My hope is that this experience will inspire many of my students to create independent writing routines, even after November ends.
NOTE: I look forward to sharing how NaNoWriMo is going for us next month.
Sarah Krajewski teaches 9th and 12th grade English and Journalism at Cleveland Hill High School near Buffalo, New York. She is currently in her 18th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. At school, she is known for dedicating her time to helping students become lifelong readers, and for being a devoted reader herself who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three readers. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.