NaNoWriMo – how do I keep young writers interested?

NaNoWriMo is only a couple of days away now, and I’ve been thinking of how I can use it at school as a fun project that will really encourage writers.

At the school I work at, we’ve got loads of intervention programmes for low achievers, but not much in place for those that are doing alright. I think those students should be encouraged just as much as the low achievers, so they can be given the extra push that makes the difference between doing okay and doing really well. Therefore I’ve assigned myself the job of making literacy fun. I know of a handful of students at school that enjoy fiction writing, and if I can encourage stuff like this through NaNo then great!

On the NaNo forums you can access as an educator there were a few ideas on how to get students into the idea of writing. If you told students simply to write everyday in their free time they’d assume they were being punished, and reading the forums made me realise that just having students turn up after school to write wouldn’t work. Perhaps for adults it would, but then again, adults can be motivated with a glass of wine. The students I’m working with are aged 11-16, so I tried to think of things that would interest them and encourage them to stay involved throughout the whole month. My main tactic? Pizza.

Creating the 'write' environment (sorry).
Creating the ‘write’ environment (sorry).

The ideas I’ve come up with are based around short, frequent targets. Just the idea of how long a month lasts is a much more drawn out idea to children than it is to adults. Remember counting down to Christmas, a birthday or holiday as a child, and how only a few days would seem a lifetime? Giving students the last day of November as a final target date would become too far away and too dull to maintain an interest.

Instead, I’m going to encourage my students to split their month’s word count target into four, and on the Friday of each week, if everyone has reached their target, or something close, then we’ll have rewards and a celebration. Mainly surrounding pizza. We’ll do the same thing on a slightly larger scale to mark the half way date, and have one huge celebratory party at the end of the month, where the students can invite their friends and teachers.

I’m going to hand out goody bags too, to get them started off. T-shirts might be something I use as a finishing token, along with a certificate and school presentation, but I’d really like to reward them with something purely fun once the month is over, like a day out of school to a theme park or similar.

On a nightly basis though, the real challenge will be keeping the students interested enough to keep going. I think this will be mostly about providing the right environment. I plan to fill my room with bean bags, somehow make the lighting a bit less harsh and provide snacks each night too.

Even then, asking them to write for an hour will be too much and so I plan to spend our after school club doing activities between 15 minute stints of writing. And most importantly, I’m going to write too. We’ve said the same for reading at school: if the students see their teachers doing it too, they’re less likely to see it as school work and more like a genuine thing to take part in.

For the time in between the writing stints, there will be things that promote both content ideas and creative thinking. This could be short discussions to share ideas or active games which releases some tension from our brains, particularly at the start of the session, immediately after school.

For idea generating, I have some record cards kept on a keyring. Each one has a different writing prompt and students can flip through this whenever they like to help them think of something to add to their story. It contains everything from “someone knocks at the door” to “you think you hear a pigeon speak”. I’m trying to cover the possibilities the could arise!

If you’re doing anything similar for NaNoWriMo, with or without others, or just have some writing ideas to share, please let me know what you do too and hopefully we’ll all reach our word counts at the end of the month!

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