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NaNoWriMo a Great Way to Teach Literacy

by on October 26, 2015

It’s easy to engage young readers.  Librarians do it all the time with reading programs and story hours.  Yet how can those in the library profession engage older readers?  By encouraging them to write their own stories.  The month of November is perfect for integrating writing into library literacy programs: it’s National Novel Writing Month!

NaNoWriMo, as it’s affectionately known, challenges writers seventeen and older around the world to complete at least 50,000 words in November.  Many libraries host writing events for writing groups participating in the event.  However, NaNoWriMo has also developed the Young Writers Program (YWP) for younger writers and educators.

Where to Begin

How can you integrate the NaNoWriMo YWP into your library’s literacy program?  Start by registering as an educator on the website.  Once you’re registered, you will have access to myriad resources created especially for the event.

If you’re targeting a specific age group, like teens, check out the workbooks NaNoWriMo has created for middle and high school writers.  These books contain tips for tackling some of the greater obstacles of NaNoWriMo, like self-editing.

These are great resources if you’ve taught classes at your library but never taught writing before.  What better way to teach it than by doing it with your writing group?  The workbooks, which are downloadable, even include contracts that can be signed by participants, affirming their commitments to the YWP and their chosen word goal.

NaNoWriMo has always injected humor and a dose of reality in its goal-setting.  The middle school workbook contains two sheets of chore coupons that can be exchanged with family members in order to motivate your young writers to hit their daily targets.  The high school workbook, instead, contains a customizable calendar.

These workbooks are used in conjunction with a set of lesson plans tailored for multiple grade levels.  The lesson plans are detailed and even contain links to Common Core standards.  While these lesson plans are a great start, don’t forget to vary your curriculum.  As a librarian, you know you can never have too many resources.  When I taught writing, I utilized Linda Rief’s Read, Write, Teach.  Even though I was an English teacher, as a natural writer, I struggled to translate my process into the classroom.  Having a structured writing curriculum helped.

The Virtual Classroom

Your next step if you are going to teach writing to ten or more community members at your library is to order your classroom survival kit.  This clever kit allows you and your community of writers to track progress publicly.  A little competition hurts no one, and that’s part of what motivates the NaNoWriMo community.  Don’t forget to put yourself on the list!

Give yourself a button and declare every day of November: “I Novel.”  Make sure your participants get one.  They may even end up with more than one depending on your state.  In California alone, there are 419 classes registered with the YWP.  In Idaho, there are forty-five, a relatively large number for such a small population.

These classrooms are registered through your educator account.  You can connect with your students through this classroom, share announcements, and track their progress.  Your writers will be writing at home, hopefully even connecting with writers throughout the world.  Anyone in the YWP can start a Word War with anyone else.  This competition should be encouraged as a motivator, especially toward the end of November.

At the Library

When you’re not teaching lessons, clear out computer labs and lounge spaces for free writes.  This is when your writers get to practice silencing their inner critics.  Time these free writes for an added kick in the competition.

If you’re hosting writing events in October in anticipation of NaNoWriMo, integrate writing critiques.  Not only are these a great way to teach the writing process, they are also a great way to teach social and communication skills to youngsters, especially during Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.  This can prepare your students for myriad situations, including possible publication of their work.

Who knows?  You may have the next Christopher Paolini among your young writers.


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  1. […] students or teens, ALA’s Public Library Association offers tips for incorporating NaNoWriMo’s Young Authors Program at your […]

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