Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Nuts and Bolts of Preparing Students for NaNoWriMo

This is part of a SERIES of posts about engaging my students in National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo, a challenge to complete the manuscript for a novel in the course of a month.
NaNoWriMo's winding down and I've been continuously impressed by my sophomore students' level of energy and excitement around completing their first-ever novels. My last post in this series will include their voices and their individual experiences-- the positive ones as well as a few that may serve as cautionary tales (if you're considering trying this yourself). In the meantime, these next few posts will focus primarily on the instructional planning and the supports that were in place before, during, and after November's write-fest. This one details the prep leading up to the first day of NaNoWriMo. Enjoy!

Phase 1: The Hero's Journey

  • Each step and archetype of the hero's journey was explored through multiple forms of storytelling such as mythology, literature, poetry, song lyrics, and films.
  • Students were challenged to reflect on their own lives relative to the hero's journey and the archetypes that impact them as hero's of their own story.

Phase 2: Genre Study

  • Using a Google Form, students generated a list of their favorite genres of fiction.  They then voted on the one genre from the list that they'd use for a genre study and how the hero's journey unfolds in the narrative.  This year's choice: fantasy fiction.
  • Individuals proposed novels to use for the study by creating "billboards" and adding them to a class slideshow so that students could vote for the top six choices. 

  • Book clubs (literature circles) were formed for each of the 6 novels. Each book club determined their own reading schedule, developed a contract conveying group norms, members' roles, and expectations, and met at least once a week to discuss the novel.  Students were given class time to read (individually or in groups, depending on the group's agreed-upon norms) and annotate with the purpose of identifying stages of the hero's journey and whatever archetypes they could find.

  • Book clubs were tasked with completing a slideshow by the end of the three weeks that detailed the fantasy novel's hero journey and archetypes.  This essentially created the conditions that made group discussion more purposeful in that members had to agree to which hero stages they would include in their group's presentation.
Phase 3: Hello NaNoWriMo!
  • As groups engaged in their genre study, they were given a number of writing prompts for creating their own hero journeys.  These "zero drafts" were shared on their blogs and during "open mic" sessions at the end of class, which-- in turn, fostered a supportive culture for sharing and providing constructive feedback on ideas. is where our blogs live
  • NaNoWriMo was introduced by sharing fun videos about the annual event created by experienced NaNoWriMo participants. 

  • A parent letter was sent home introducing NaNoWriMo with a request for prize donations (for word wards, goal achieving, etc)
  • Students engaged in lessons and activities provided by the NaNoWriMo site along with a free student booklet. I used most of it but modified the lessons so that they were on Google docs rather than an edit-able pdf file.

  • As the Book Clubs went into their final stretch (mid-October), students chose one of their stories (from their collection of zero drafts) to further develop by creating character profiles and by experimenting with different ways of organizing plot outlines.

  • Students had a couple of practice writing sprints to guage how many words they could type within the span of an hour, and-- using those numbers, determined which writing goal they would choose: 15K, 30K, or 50K, which was then broken down into daily word count goals (500, 1000, or 1667).
  • Calendars were distributed to help time manage and keep track of word counts and goals.

  • Contracts were signed (the contracts NaNoWriMo provides in the student booklets are both funny and reassuring to first-timers).
  • In the final days of October, having already developed the concept and characters for their novels, students created book covers that included graphics and an enticing blurb for the back cover. These were posted on a discussion board to generate excitement and to provide positive feedback as a writing community.
Example Book Cover
  • On the last day of October, students were encouraged to bring a writing totem to school for the start of NaNoWriMo (totem = good luck charm).  Some of the totems were profoundly personal. Nicole chose to write the story of her grandfather's army days and so her totem was his actual dog tag (more stories like that to come...)
Students' totems from both classes
I hope this has served to help rather than overwhelm. As soon as I have some time freed up, I'll add links to most of what's listed above.  In the meantime, if there's any particular detail you'd like me to elaborate on in a separate post or a resource you'd like to have access to, please let me know in the comments.

Next: Instructional Supports Provided to Students during NaNoWriMo