As a former 6th-grade English teacher, I miss teaching kids how to be writers. As a school librarian, I realize that reading and writing go hand in hand and there is no reason writing cannot be a part of my library. For the last three years, I have sponsored a writing club for 4th- and 5th-grade students. Our membership started out at 25 students, and we have grown to 56 students this year. The main objective of the Writing Club is to let kids have fun with writing. Each year, we start off with getting prepared for National Novel Writing Month in November.
What Is NaNoWriMo?
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is a month-long activity where you, along with thousands of other writing enthusiasts, commit to writing the first draft of a novel in 30 days. Even better, there is a Young Writer’s Program (YWP). The only difference between the two is that adults commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days (1,667 words a day), and students create their own word count based on their ability level. (I signed up for the adult version and am determined to meet my goal this year.)
The focus is quantity over quality. The process teaches you to give your imagination free reign and not worry about grammar, spelling, or structure. This allows you to create the first draft of a novel that is ready for the revision process.
Preparing Students for NaNoWriMo
During September and October club meetings, we talk a lot about the writing process. I explain to students that writing a story is like building a puzzle. The pieces in the puzzle look nothing like the picture on the box. When you open the box and dump the pieces on the table, that jumbled mess of puzzle pieces is your first draft! During NaNoWriMo, for 30 days, our only job is to dump all the puzzle pieces out of the box.
Choosing a Word Count Goal
To discover our individual word count goals, we spend time doing a ten-minute exercise called “Just Write.” I challenge my students to write non-stop for ten minutes about any topic of their choice. If they run out of ideas, then they just write: “I don’t know what else to write….” They can change topics as long as they are writing for ten minutes non-stop. After that, they count how many words they wrote in ten minutes. When my students complete three Just Write entries, they take the average of their word count.
The average becomes their daily word count goal for NaNoWriMo. Students will multiply that number by 30 to get their total writing goal for November. For example, if I write 110 words for my first Just Write entry, then 120 words, then 125 words, my average would be: 110 + 120 + 125 = 355. That total divided by 3 is 118 words. That average multiplied by 30 is 3,658 words. That number is how many words I will try to write during the month of November.
Each student’s word count goal is different. I only give them a ten-minute writing block because anyone can find ten minutes in a day to write. Because of this strategy, many of my students exceed their total word count goal.
Planning Your Novel
During October, I create a packet of pre-writing resources that are offered to teachers on the YWP NaNoWriMo website. They focus on skills like character development, plot structure, and creating dialogue. Students work on their packets during their own time. They are not required to fill out the entire packet, but it is there for support. Once students start writing their draft in November, their story may veer off the path they planned in their packet. That’s perfectly fine; in fact, that is how some of the best stories are made.
I always make sure that we have more club meetings during the month of November so students have time to write and support each other. They love to talk about their novels and what they are writing about. I also plan one after school Write-In event. I find a location for students to meet after school. In the past, we’ve had our Write-Ins at local coffee shops and the public library. This year I am hosting our Write-In at my own library from 5:30-7:30 p.m. during a parent teacher conference night. During our Write-Ins, hot chocolate and snacks are provided. The kids come and write anytime during that two-hour block. I conduct word sprints. During a word sprint, I time students to see how many words they can write in a 5-minute block. Students also get small prizes for coming, usually a NaNoWriMo sticker, a tiny notebook, pen, or pencil.
Once November is over, students are exhausted and do not even want to look at their draft. Their packet and the YWP website has some great revision and editing information they can use during the rest of the year if they decide to take their novel to the next level. However, my goal in this activity is for students to understand drafting, the first step in the novel writing process.
Other Writing Club Projects
During the rest of the school year, our club focuses on creating a school newspaper or a literary magazine. Last year we created a school newspaper, the year before, we made a literary magazine. I let the students decide what they want to create and how they want to create it.
Starting a writing club is a great way to promote literacy in your library. If you promote writing in your library, please share in the comments below. I would love to hear your ideas.
(I created a Writing Club Permission Slip for those students interested in joining the writing club.)
Author: Colleen R. Lee
Colleen R. Lee is a former middle school English teacher and Elementary Teacher. She is currently the Elementary Librarian at Greenfield Elementary School in Chesterfield County, VA. She is frantically working on the first draft of a YA Fantasy during NaNoWriMo this month. Follow her on Twitter @MrsLeesLibrary.