November is National Novel Writing Month and this fall, I’m writing a first draft of my first novel in thirty days! I have always wanted to take on Nanowrimo, but the idea of writing a novel has always scared me to death. This year, however, I think I’ll approach this behemoth with a group of my students who have expressed interest in going on this journey with me in Nanowrimo’s Young Writers Program.
Yesterday, I posted about Nanowrimo’s student program on my private class Instagram account. I asked those students who were interested to let me know in the comments. Several did exactly that!
So this summer, I’ll be collecting resources and doing some research on how to approach the program with students. I do know we’ll be setting a daily word-count goal, which means that we’ll need to meet daily for thirty days (after school most likely) to crank out our novels.
Our point in meeting for thirty days after school is not to create perfect first drafts, but adequate first drafts. Some of the drafts will be shakily plotted and some of them might have less-than-stellar characterization, but that’s okay! The point is to create a first draft that’s ripe for revision. In short, the program is designed to get writers actually writing their novels, not just thinking about writing their novels. Amen to that! How many times have I told myself that “someday” I’m going to write a novel?! Nanowrimo provides the framework to defeat procrastination and just get a novel written.
If you do a quick Google search of “Nanowrimo young writers program,” you’ll find a guide for educators. You can print out a PDF of a workbook for students. It explains how to build an online class profile with individual records of student progress. Students can create their own accounts that track their own word count progress. At the end of the thirty days, if they’ve met their goals, they win recognition and the capability to print out their novels.
Because the students will end with a first draft, we’ll probably print these out and consider them WIPs (Works in Progress), and then continue to revise them throughout the year. Perhaps by the end of the year, we’ll have a second draft!
But that’s a long way off and there’s much planning to be done. It’s good to know, however, in the meantime, that I have the first requirement taken care of: my students are enthusiastic to accomplish this goal with me.
Have you ever tried Nanowrimo? How did it go? Did you try it with your classes? I’m open to any information you have about Nanowrimo. Click “like” and leave a comment about your novel writing experiences!
Don’t forget to investigate any contest opportunities that may be available from a local writers group in your area. My principal received a flyer from a member of the Ozarks Writers League last fall. The flyer gave the basic details for the league’s annual youth writing contest. I’m always up for the extra motivation that contests provide for my students, so I added some projects to their “Writers Workshop” project list that could be entered in the OWL contest.
The contest had two categories, poetry and short story. Both of these categories are ones that I can always devote more time to, so I jumped at the chance to have students write poems and narratives.
Students could write on any topic, which really gets them excited to create! Of course, for some, that kind of leeway is overwhelming. For those kids, ideas will usually surface if we just have a conversation about their lives, families, hobbies, or memories.
As for poetry, there is a great poetry generator at PoeticPower.com. And to be honest, students will typically use the generator to get started, but will often veer from the templates once they get the juices flowing.
For the OWL contest, I copied off the flyer and kept several for kids to reference as needed. I also found some mentor texts and had those available as well. Those examples were not previous OWL entries (since we hadn’t entered it before and OWL doesn’t post winning entries), but merely mentor texts I just collected on my own.
Even though there were only two categories in which to enter, there were several awards given within those categories. Those categories were:
Short Story: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Honorable Mention for Attribution, Honorable Mention for Characterization, Honorable Mention for Romance, Honorable Mention for Empathy, Honorable Mention for Humor.
When the contest deadline came around, I had to pay extra attention to the small print in the guidelines. The league required paper copies of all entries. They also had a short list of basic identifying information to be attached to each entry. To make this easier, I made a slip with blanks for students to fill out that we then paper-clipped to their entry. By the time the entries were ready, I had a stack of stories and poems about two inches thick!
According to OWL members who I spoke with at the awards ceremony, not many area schools participate in the contest. That’s okay… it just left us with several opportunities to win.
Here are the winners! Gabby F. placed 3rd in Short Story for her work “Foster Child”; Brooke S. won Honorable Mention in Characterization for Short Story for her work “Anxiety”; Zack S. placed 3rd in Poetry for his work “Sometimes on a Boat in the Fog”; Cristina H. placed 1st Honorable Mention in Poetry for her work “This is My World”; Sara C. placed Honorable Mention for Romance for her work “The Hopeless Romantic.”
OWL held a brief awards ceremony in February. Students who were able to attend received a certificate and small cash prizes that ranged from $5 to $20. I hyped the results up by posting the winning entries on the wall outside my class and recognizing the kids at an end-of-the-week assembly.
I plan to have students enter the contest again next year. Contests provide motivation and build confidence. Those are reasons enough to enter any contest, even the small local ones. Do some internet research or inquire on social media to learn about any writing contests for students in your local area!
Thanks for reading! Click “like,” leave a comment and check out my posts about other writing contests for middle school students. Find those by clicking “Writing Contest” in the list of categories in the sidebar on the right side of this page.
Finally… here’s that follow-up post I promised plus the winning essay entry
Last winter, I wrote a post about a contest that my seventh-graders enter each fall: the Patriot’s Pen youth essay contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. At the conclusion of that post, I wrote that I would update you on the results of that contest. Well, ahem… I’m just now getting to that. Whoops.
The 2017 Patriot’s Pen essay contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars was another success this year. The first-place winner in this seventh-grade contest was Avery F. Second-place went to Bella F. and third-place went to Logan C. The winners were awarded certificates, pins, and $100, $75 and $50 cash prizes, respectively. This year’s theme was “America’s Gift to My Generation.”
The awards were presented by Hollister VFW Post Commander, Gerald Long (at right in photo below), and VFW State Inspector Paul Frampton (at left).
Avery F.’s first-place essay follows:
America’s Gift to my Generation
A whisper; a promising whisper. It doesn’t promise death, but rather life. It doesn’t kill but rather sacrifices. For when there’s something that we love, we really truly love, we must do any and everything we can to protect it.
For we are Americans. We grew up with a freedom many people only dream of having. Our ancestors fought many brutal wars so that we could lavish in a country and all be united. A country where diversity is alive; where we all can consider ourselves brothers and sisters, children of God despite our differences.
This is America’s gift to my generation: a country that was taught by the promises, the brave actions that good people like my great-grandfather, a veteran gunner on the USS Franklin during World War II, fought for. America was raised by people who wanted to ring the best out of the world and people from different cultures with different traditions and the same desire: a place to possess rights to embrace the different cultures, traditions, and languages that could someday, today be admired by people of all sorts.
When America was first born, there were seven key founding fathers. These men imagined a country of peace in diversity. They had the courage to separate themselves from injustice because they hoped for a country blessed with freedom where people were able to believe in what they wanted to. These men made a proclamation for “we the people” to follow known as the U.S. Constitution, a document that establishes our rights as equals, the privileges they fought for us to have.
Those whispers, those promising whispers don’t promise death; for when a battle is being fought, nothing can be quite positively assured. They rather promise life. When brave men and women volunteer for the military, they show their love, compassion that they have for their family, not just their blood family, but the family that we the people of the United States create when we unite ourselves as one under God. For when there’s something that we love, we really truly love, we must do any and everything we can to protect it. This is America’s gift to my generation.
I hope you’ll consider having your students enter this contest this fall. There is so much room for creativity within each year’s provided theme. Plus, my students love contests and especially this one with its cash prizes and recognition. Next year will be the fourth year my kids have participated. It’s truly a highlight of the year!
Thanks for reading! If you found this informative, click “like” and feel free to leave a comment. Follow this blog for updates on the 2018-19 VFW Patriot’s Pen contest. I already have some details that I’ll be posting soon. Stay tuned!
Copy off the paragraph below from writing guru Gary Provost and read it aloud to your students at the beginning of class or as a mini-lesson. Don’t just read it aloud… make sure they follow along on their own copy. It’s more effective that way. You’ll see the light bulbs pop on across your room as you read it. That’s what happens when I read it to my students. I usually read it once in seventh-grade, and then we revisit it once or twice in eighth grade. It’s awesome.
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals— sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
As you read this aloud to your students, if your kids are like mine, you’ll see their eyes raise from the page and lock with yours in recognition of what Provost is cleverly doing: literally showing them sentence variety and how effective it is.
You may have to explain a few things (What’s a stuck record? What does it mean when something drones? What does monotonous mean?), but I can’t think of a faster, more effective way to explain the positives of sentence variety.
Then collect the paragraphs, and remind your kids to apply sentence variety to the writing project they happen to be working on for the day…. assuming they’re not first-drafting. For my own writing, sentence variety comes into play during revision. If I’m lucky, it’ll happen during a first draft, but not usually.
That’s all for today! Thanks for reading! Click “like” if you found this useful and leave a comment with your own approach to teaching sentence variety. This works for me, but I’d like to know what works for you.
I love this assignment. And to think that I almost didn’t assign it due to the “busy-ness” of the last week and its field trips, assemblies, and other end-of-year activities. Through the words of my students, I’ve learned so much about what is important to them with regards to my classes, including those areas they know they need to grow in next year.
And, by the way, this was a first-draft assignment, which meant we would not be taking the time to revise; however, students know that I expect them to polish their first drafts, making any corrections or revisions needed before turning in.
Here are a few golden lines from some of my sixth-graders, transcribed here without corrections, along with my own reflections and thoughts.
“I am so much better at punctuation that I was last year. punctuation has always been hard for me, because I always seem to be using the wrong mark.”
It’s nice to know this student feels progress in this area.
“I used to just say, ‘I walked to the store.’ Now I add alot more detail and say, ‘I cassually walked to the small, brightly colored store.’ So because I add in more detail the reader gets a better picture, and I won’t need to answer as many questions.”
Sensory language and imagery are emphasized in class and it shows. With her funny final remark, I think this student is relating that her descriptions paint a picture so clear that the reader isn’t left with questions. That’s progress!
“I feel like I explain things in all my stories instead of making it an interesting story that people would actually read.”
This student is beginning to understand “show don’t tell.”
“Granted, there are spell check softwares, but computers can’t fix everything, like tense and homophones.”
Yes! A student who sees the limits of technology!
“I can tell what transitions are I used to get them mixed up. And the same with fanboys. But now I can actually remember most of them and when I can use them and how to use them.”
This student is becoming adept at some of the most often used tools that writers use to express their ideas smoothly… conjunctions and transitions.
“Writing is a way that I express myself. It helps me have less stress and helps me worry less.”
This is a milestone in itself. This student will go far if she has this mindset in sixth grade!
“I feel Mrs. Yung makes you do a lot of writing so you get compturible it’s rough at first but by a month or two you will be find you’ll write for fun also.”
This student struggles with many basics, but has shown improvement over the course of the school year. He also wants to improve, which is half the battle. Goals for next year: learning to reserve enough time to polish and revise the writing.
“Mrs. Yung put writing contest so if you you get a prize or even in a book. I think writing is the easiest thing to do case you write about when you think about and it takes skill too.”
I know this assignment was a challenge for this student. He didn’t reach the word requirement, but did get his thoughts onto the page. Goals for next year: syntax, simple sentence structure.
“We wrote from just writing a big blob of words to dividing into paragraphs.”
A primary objective of elementary writing instruction is mastering the paragraph. Writing a draft of multiple paragraphs is indeed new territory and one we will continue to observe in seventh grade. I still see too many one-paragraph essays.
“Words are things that are beautiful to picture, things that glow in the world.”
This student obviously values words and does it with a creative flair. Score!
“I really like poems now. Last year I always thought poems had to rhyme but when I went to 6th grade I learned that they didn’t have to rhyme.”
“I have also learned that there are many types of things to write. My where I’m from poem this is a good example of something I was proud of. I put basically everything I know about myself in there.”
Variety is the spice of life and that goes for writing, too! While it’s good to focus on the standards, argument writing, et al, it’s important to show students the more creative side of the craft.
“Another thing is that I can put more feeling and emotion into my stories and essays, by using descriptive words and I feel like I could throw my voice into it.”
It’s gratifying that this student feels free to express himself on the page.
“Language arts isn’t my favorite subject actually science is but Language arts is interesting and has a lot of rules. Sadly I don’t quite understand all of them, because they are tricky and English is one of the hardest languages to understand this makes it more difficult. Also, I’ve been practicing it sense I was a little child.”
It’s easy to forget that English is a difficult language to master. It’s full of rules and contradictions to those rules. This response reminds me how important it is for me to provide students the writing tools and techniques they will need as they mature to more developed writing.
Thanks for reading! If you see enjoy my blog, please follow! I’m trying to find ways to make my site more valuable… more than just a place for me to “show and tell” what happens in my classroom. If you have ideas for stories or have specific questions about something you read here or about teaching in general, please leave a comment so we can share our experiences.
About a week before school ended in May, I asked my sixth- and seventh-grade students to write a 300-word reflection of the progress they made in my language arts class this past year. I find this assignment very valuable, both for me and my students because it provides three things:
a snapshot of how theyassess their progress in their own voice,
a last-minute glimpse of their end-of-year writing skills, and
an opportunity for me to reflect on my teaching.
Here are a few golden lines from some of my seventh graders, transcribed here without corrections. I bulleted my own thoughts and clarifications below each one.
“In eighth grade my goal is to have more of my writing published and to have a better comprehension in not only writing but in bigger and stronger vocabulary words.”
I love that this student wants to be published and knows that it’s a real possibility. It’s also gratifying when students acknowledge the value of a strong vocabulary.
“I have become a better writer honestly from writing more. It sounds dumb but it actually helps to write more.”
This should go on a plaque. I truly believe that “practice makes perfect.” Now, of course, I don’t advocate quantity over quality, but, in my experience, there is something to be said for simply doing LOTS OF WRITING, which in turn earns LOTS OF FEEDBACK with which to improve. In addition, frequent writing has another plus: it builds up students’ stamina and their comfort level with writing. When asked to type a two-page essay for their weekly homework assignment, my students don’t panic… they just start planning.
“Then I improved a lot on punctuation compared to last year because the more I learned about it and the more I practiced it, the more I used it and the better I got at it.”
Again, this reflection supports the benefits of writing frequently. The more we practice, the more comfortable we become with it. In my own blogging experience, writing and posting daily used to be a challenge, but the more I do it (practice it, essentially), the easier it is. I think it’s good to share in the struggles of writing with your students.
“Sentences were like idea changers.”
The student who wrote this really hates writing, so I was surprised to find this little nugget buried in his reflection. Interesting! It shows a recognition of the deeper thinking and re-thinking that occurs when we write and read. I do regret that I wasn’t able to turn this student “on” to writing this year.
“Then I started adding a little detail to thicken my stores adding more and more of the five senses, and now I think i’m right on the edge of terribly and decent.”
Love the honesty! Despite the errors, I feel that this student’s confidence is building ever so gradually. I’m looking forward to next year with this student. Maybe I’ll be able to show him that proof-reading will help his ideas come across better.
“I almost only thought i could only have one perspective of what you was writing about.”
This student is reflecting on a recently completed argument essay. What I like about this comment is that this student has grasped the concept of “argument,”…that an argument is a discussion, a give-and-take conversation on a topic with multiple perspectives. It bothers me that this student is still struggling with parts of speech, subject-verb agreement, and editing.
“When I start with an interesting lead that has recently been the last think that I do because before that I would spend time trying to figure one out an interesting lead and I wouldn’t leave myself anytime for actual writing.”
This is a little hard to understand, but based on some conversations I remember with this student during the school year, I’m fairly sure this student is trying to explain how, in the past, she would labor so long over an attention-getting lead that she would run out of steam (or time) to work on the main points of her essay. To prevent the “I can’t think of how to start” syndrome, I encourage kids to jump to the middle of their essays or to their conclusions or anywhere really, just to get words onto the page. The lead can always be developed later. This approach seems to work so far. My goal with this student for next year: write smoother sentences, read the sentences out loud, break long sentences into shorter ones.
“I would write like a dog with hooves it was hard.”
The first time I read this, I gasped. It’s raw and accurate. Priceless. This student struggles so much with syntax and sentence structure, punctuation, you-name-it; however, this student wants to learn and obviously has a gift for simile. I love this sentence for its blunt honesty and voice. At the same time, I regret that after an entire school year of instruction, this student still struggles with run-ons.
“I do have good grammar most of the time (but not in first drafts).”
Bravo bravo! Here’s my take on this one: This student has moved on from the “one and done” mindset to the acknowledgment that revision and rewriting are just part of the process. However, I know this student really stressed over her reflection. To help, I told her she could just write down the answers to the questions in the “Clarity of Ideas” section of the rubric on the handout below. I asked that she assemble her answers into paragraphs. It was a start, at least.
You can tell from the students’ responses that I have a wide range of abilities in my seventh graders. For example, some students need help with basic sentence structure, while a few can regularly craft beautiful and flowing complex sentences. These disparities can be challenging at times, but this reflection assignment helps me with meeting the various needs of my students.
The reflection essay also makes me wonder whether I should assign these more often. I’ll share some reflections from my sixth-graders tomorrow.
Thanks for reading! Do you have a “reflection” assignment you use in your language arts classes? What’s your experience with it? Please click like and leave a comment to share your ideas.
I’ve posted the poem below that one of my eighth-grade students wrote, which won Gold and Silver Key Awards, respectively, at the regional and national levels of the 2018 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Read yesterday’s post here to find out more about the contest, such as guidelines, tips, and how to enter. Hint: it’s more involved than other contests.
Colors by Brooke S.
“Claire, what’s your favorite color?”
Because it reminds me of when I was little.
When I was happy.
“It’s just pretty.”
“What’s your least favorite color?”
The color of the containers prescription pills come in.
Because it symbolizes dying and death.
Because it’s the color of weakness and vulnerability.