Common Sense Review
Updated May 2013

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program

Wildly engaging contest turns kids into novelists in 30 short days
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Common Sense Rating 4
  • Lesson plans are detailed, Common Core-aligned, and best of all, fun.
  • Educators can create a Virtual Classroom to keep track of their writers.
  • A sample profile page with word count.
  • Forums give kids a place to vent and get advice on their works-in-progress.
  • Pep talks from famous writers motivate and inspire.
Pros
The light tone and fun activities ensure the novel-writing process isn't intimidating at all.
Cons
Every month should be National Novel Writing Month!
Bottom Line
Taking their successful grown-up writing contest and adjusting for kid success, NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program is brimming with advice and encouragement.
Polly Conway
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

Once teens get started, they'll get sucked into the challenge immediately. If they're already strong writers, great, but even non-writers should have fun trying. The site's interface is cute and clean.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

The main focus? Simply letting the words flow. But there are many resources kids can use to improve quality and structure. They're also learning to be "real writers" with a process that can transfer to future projects.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 4

An extensive FAQ and the Resources tab answer most questions kids could have. While the site doesn't host kids' full novels, it does show progress toward the final goal, as well as past years' activity.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Want to create an entire class of accomplished novel writers? NaNoWriMo gives teachers the tools to achieve this crazy goal with their educator resources. Bringing this writing process into the classroom is totally doable and could potentially instill real writing confidence in your students. As a homework assignment, kids can complete a chapter or page per night, then come to class and update their word counts. The sense of accomplishment almost outweighs the writing quality here, and NaNoWriMo offers foolproof ways to keep kids motivated and inspired. Writing can also take place during class time and can coincide with daily lessons on language and structure.

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What's It Like?

In this kid version of the National Novel Writing Month program, young writers accept the challenge to complete a novel between Nov. 1 and 30. It's a contest, but everyone who finishes wins. Kids choose their word count at the beginning, write their novel in a notebook or offline word-processing program, then update their word count online throughout the month. They can share their ideas and questions in the forums and can fill out a profile and share excerpts of their novel-in-progress with Writing Buddies (fellow young writers).

The site is simply outstanding. The front page features fun writing activities that can be pursued within a novel or on their own, including the Dare Machine, a prompt creator that dares kids to complete tasks like "Make one of your characters fall in love with the villain." Turning the huge task of writing a novel -- something that even most adults are intimidated by -- into a fun and doable challenge really works here. The folks behind NaNoWriMo are writers who understand the process and break it down beautifully for kids.

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Is It Good For Learning?

The formula is simple: Kids sign up for a profile or join a Virtual Classroom, then begin their novel and update the word count online daily. Kids get to make tons of choices on the site: what they want to write about, how long their novel should be, or whether to take a break and chat about video games in the Forums (even kid writers need to blow off steam!). Writer resources allow users to go deeper into the writing process, and kids can even get guidance by using one of the site's "100% Non-Lame Workbooks," featuring imagination-sparking activities. By sharing work with Writing Buddies, kids can get feedback and will also see how other kids are tackling writing challenges. Forums and profile content are moderated, and the site is extremely kid-safe.

Brainstorming, writing skills, and perseverance converge here. Kids not only learn writing techniques and structure but also get a true taste of the writing life as they work toward meeting their goal: a completed novel. With the 30-day time limit, kids will have to do some time management and also let their imaginations go wild as they don't have any extra time to self-edit or doubt themselves.

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