First-grade ‘novelists’

First graders can write their own novels, according to Lily Jones on the Teaching Channel.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Adults are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel. Her first graders aimed at 5,000 words for the whole class.

As we approached November, we talked about what makes a novel a novel (chapters, fiction, characters, etc.) and analyzed the novels we had read as a class. . . . I had students draw several possible ideas for their stories, sketch out characters, and give each other feedback.

Her students had experience with personal narratives, informational writing, persuasive writing and poetry, but rarely wrote fiction, writes Jones. “Students thrived when they used their imaginations to produce amazingly creative writing.”

Throughout the month, I stressed novel writing as a really big deal. I would call my students “novelists” as they came in the classroom and allow my students the chance to share a little bit of their writing every day.

Students were motivated by the chance to read their work at a local book store. “It was adorable and inspiring to see my students, many of who had just started learning how to read, read excerpts of their novels in front of a crowd.”

 Though most of my first graders had a hard time mastering concepts of plot and chapters, they were still able to produce interesting novels.

. . . Malia, who was obsessed with cats, wrote a novel called Kitten and Baby Tiger’s Adventures. The opening lines were priceless: “Wish, baby tiger. Wish upon it, my child. Wish.”

David, who loved playing wild games with Legos, wrote a novel called The New Weirdos. I loved how he included the wacky sounds he made while playing in his writing: “Aah! Waaaah! Uh, oh, Darth Cranky. Puh puh puh puh. The ship blew up!”

Even though they were only six-years-old, my students were developing their own author voices.

(Here are her lesson plans for NaNoWriMo.)

High expectations are fine, responds Robert Pondiscio on Facebook. But he’s skeptical about writing “novels” in first grade.

What rankles is the cargo cult aspects of this, calling 6 year olds novelists, etc. We could do with far less of this, especially in elementary ed.

. . . Whenever I hear a cultish Writer’s Workshop teacher call children “authors,” or here a staff developer talk about having kids “live a writerly life,” I’m reminded of the wonderful line from Joan Cusack in the movie Working Girl: “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.”

“Subject verb agreement is adorable,” adds Jennifer Midgley.

It would be more honest to tell first graders they can create their own “books.”

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