image of girl writing in notebook with title: How HLS uses NaNoWriMo in the Classroom

By Lisa Montoya, third and fourth grade teacher

I love writing. I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) for the first time in 2010, and I loved the whole process. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a novel during the month of November. Writers keep track of their word count and try to reach 50,000 words in their story before the end of the month.

During that first NaNoWriMo experience, I learned that the NaNo organization had a program for kids, so I decided to use it with my own children in 2011 (I was homeschooling them at the time.) We worked through the entire NaNo curriculum and loved everything about it.

Then I used the curriculum in my classroom at Worms, Nebraska, starting in 2013. I have used NaNoWriMo in my classroom and with the entire school every year since I came here to Hampton Lutheran.

Using NaNoWriMo in the Classroom

I use the NaNoWriMo curriculum, or at least parts of it, it in the classroom as we get ready to write in November each year. Preparation starts in October: We choose our word count for the year. We talk about setting, characters, plot, and word choice. We might even sketch out what our characters look like or where they are from. We have even drawn maps of the world or places that they live. I encourage my students to develop a plan in October so they know where they are going to start come Nov. 1.

Once November arrives, we write. Each teacher is in charge of how their classroom approaches NaNoWriMo. Some have set writing times and stories that they are working on, while others use writing they are doing in the classroom or blog posts.

In my classroom, we have a set time every day to work on our NaNoWriMo stories. And all of November, my students spend any spare moment working on their stories. They can write more when they have finished their classwork, or even at home if they choose. At the end of each day, students tell me their word count for the day, and I add that to my spreadsheet so we can keep track of their progress.

My classroom is a busy place the last few minutes of school, as I get these word count updates from all kindergarten through sixth grade students at the end of the day. I give out little prizes to the students when they make it to the 50% mark and then again when they reach their goal. Students get very excited when they see the stars going up on our chart that marks their progress toward their NaNoWriMo goals. And I love all of the conversations about their characters and plot. NaNoWriMo has shown the students that they are writers.

4 Ways HLS Implements NaNoWriMo in the Classroom

Here are some ways we encourage HLS students to get creative and write in November:

1. Focus more on goals than word count.

I never want word count to be the main focus of our NaNoWriMo time. My main focus is getting the students writing. I loved how proud kindergarteners were a couple of years ago when they finished their stories and made their goal. They started calling themselves authors. I have also had seventh and eighth graders who wrote 15,000 words in November and amazed themselves that they were able to do this.

I help my students set reasonable goals, whether that’s word count or simply finishing a story. I keep track of the word count goals for the whole school, so I know exactly how many words each student wrote the previous year. I also have a chart that helps me to decide how many words students at each grade level should be able to write. I don’t want students’ goals to be something they can never reach, but I also don’t want their goals to be too easy. Some students spend time at home writing, while others will only write at school, so we can adjust each student’s goal with this in mind.

2. Write with the students.

I like to write with my students. When kids see their teachers participating in the activity and valuing it, they tend to value it more themselves. It also gives the teachers something to bond with their students about.

3. Talk about the students’ stories.

I like to talk about the stories as we work on them. In class, we share places we are stuck in our stories or talk about great ideas we have had. Talking through the writing process helps kids feel confident in themselves and be inspired by their classmates’ ideas.

4. Publish the stories!

I like to help students publish their stories (bound with nice covers and special binding tape) so that they can have a book to pass around and read to others. I have times when we can read aloud our stories to the rest of the class. Giving students the opportunity to share their work with others helps them take ownership in their work and motivates them to keep writing.

How NaNoWriMo Helps Kids Love Writing

Kids love to tell stories, and NaNoWriMo gives them control of the stories they tell.

My students really enjoy NaNoWriMo. This year in mid-October, a couple students were talking about the NaNo medals I gave out last year and what they had for a word count goal. So we opened up my spreadsheet from last year and talked a little about it. One of my fourth graders thought he should set his goal at 12,000 words this year. I had to smile at that—that goal is much higher than I would recommend. But last year he wrote over 6,000 words.

Several students from different classrooms have already asked me if we were going to do NaNoWriMo again this year. One of my students told me that maybe in November we should take a field trip to a publisher. So I would say that they are excited about NaNoWriMo. 

I encourage writing all of the time in my classroom. Throughout the school year, we make poetry books, picture books (about dragons!), and story journals, and I mix in other special writing projects just for fun. By the end of October, my classroom really gets excited for NaNoWriMo. I love NaNoWriMo and what it can bring to the students!

Do you have experience with NaNoWriMo, either in a classroom setting or by yourself? Tell us about your experience on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.