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It’s Never Too Late to Start! Week #1 of NaNoCOWmoo

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Did you miss the starting gun for NaNoCOWMoo?  It’s already a few days into November, and maybe you haven’t started your class on theNaNoCOWMoo writing challenge.

No problem!

It’s never too late to start.  Here are some ways you can still participate in NaNoCOWMoo:

1.  Recalibrate your weekly writing goals.  Instead of shooting for 12,500 words a week, just bump up your class’s goal to 17,000.  I know this sounds like a lot, but kids love challenges!  So do teachers!

2.  Encourage your students to do extra writing at home in the evenings or on the weekend.  Let parents know about your class NaNoCOWMoo goal, and encourage them to give their kids a little extra time to write each night.

3.  Check the NaNoCOWMoo leader board on the main writewithcow.com page.  See how many words your class needs to write to appear on the NaNoCOWMoo leader board.  Sure, they may have gotten off to a late start, but don’t let that stop them.

Your class can be just like the hare in the Aesop Fable about the race between the tortoise and the hare, except . . .

. . .the hare shows up late for the race, and the tortoise already has a head start,

. . . the hare doesn’t stop to take a nap.

. . . the hare wins!

The new moral of the story is:  It’s never too late to start!


How COW supports the Writer’s Workshop

An effective approach taken by many teachers in teaching the complex skills of writing is that of the Writer’s Workshop.  This approach can take many forms, as each teacher will adapt the Writer’s Workshop to the particular needs of their students and their own teaching style.  Generally speaking, the Writer’s Workshop includes some or all of the following elements:


During writer’s workshop time, students work independently on their own writing projects.  The organization of the class is generally flexible, with students working on various stages of the writing process.  A student’s writing project generally carries over from one writing period to the next.


Teachers will give students short lessons which focus upon one particular writing skill.  The skills taught in such lessons may be a response by the teacher to a perceived need in the class.


Students are presented with texts which model the types of writing they are undertaking themselves.


Students have the ability to choose the genres or topics they write about.


Students will share their writing and confer with a wide variety of readers, including other students, their teacher, or guest editors.

Whole Group Sharing

Students share their writing with the entire class.  In this way, they are writing for an authentic audience of peers.

How COW Supports the Writer’s Workshop

COW has been designed to be a flexible, adaptable, relevant tool for classes engaged in learning the complexities of writing.


Students can access COW at any time and from any location.  Their writing does not need to be limited to the classroom during Writer’s Workshop time, but can continue at home or at other times during the school day.  Keep in mind that each session of writing in COW has a minimum word goal (the default set at 100 words).  Be sure to allow enough writing time for students to achieve this minimum word goal.  COW allows students to return to their writing later to add chapters or to edit.


Teachers can use the text analysis statistics generated for each piece of writing in COW to focus the students’ attention on particular aspects of writing.  (For example, variety of sentence length, use of adjectives and adverbs, or consistency of tense.)


Teachers can create their own models of exemplary writing using COW, themselves.  A live writing demonstration on a SMART board or projector is a very effective means of modelling how a writer thinks as they write.


Teachers can create a variety of writing challenges, giving students choices. In addition, COW has a weekly writing challenge, as well as offering a free write option with a huge bank of prompts and thousands of bonus words.


Using COW’s edit mode, students can pair up for peer-to-peer editing.  Also, teachers can leave comments on each piece of writing, guiding students as they launch into editing their writing.

Whole-Group Sharing

By sharing their writing to the class bookshelf, an entire class can read an individual student’s work, thus providing an on-going forum for whole group sharing with an authentic audience.

COW provides teachers with the flexibility they need to facilitate the Writer’s Workshop, and provide their students with an engaging platform for writing and sharing.

Two Heads are Better Than One Writing an Original Fable

This week’s COW Writing Challenge will have students creating their own original fable. Their fable will end with the moral, “Two heads are better than one.”

Before presenting this writing challenge, it would be helpful to read a number of Aesop’s Fables to the class. The students can then become familiar with the style of this genre of story. Have them discuss the similar characteristics of the fables, including:

  1. They are generally short stories.
  2. They usually have animals as their main characters.
  3. They each have a moral or teach a lesson.

As you read the fables to your students, discuss the choice of animal for each character. How does the choice of animal suit the role of the character in the story?

Following the writing, be sure to have a sharing session in which the class can see the various way each fable arrived at the moral of “Two heads are better than one.”

Meet My Avatar This week's COW Writing Challenge

In this week’s COW Writing Challenge, we are asking our writers to write from the point of view of their avatar.  Writing in the first person, they are to tell us all about their avatar’s imaginary life, including where they live, who is in their family, what their school is like, or any other details they wish to include.  Their writing prompt will be:  “Hello.  Let me introduce myself.  My name is . . .”

Teaching Extensions

This COW Writing Challenge lends itself to exploring Point of View, in writing.  It provides a good opportunity to introduce the differences between first, third, and even second person narrative. 

a.  First Person Narrative:  I walked up to the door and knocked.  The door swung open and I gasped at what I saw.

b.  Second Person Narrative:  You walk up to the door and knock.  The door swings open and you gasp at what you see.

c.  Third Person Narrative:  She walked up to the door and knocked.  The door swung open and she gasped at what she saw.

Ways of exploring these different forms of narrative with your students include:

Read examples from novels using either first, second or third person narratives, and ask the following questions:

     1.  Why did the author choose to use this form of narrative in this novel?

     2.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of each form of narrative?

     3.  Of your favourite novels, which is the most common narrative form? 

     4.  Which narrative form do you prefer, and why?

Challenge your students to use COW’s Edit Mode and write three versions of the same story– one in the first person, one in the second person, and one in the third person.  Have them read through their three versions, and decide which one is most effective, giving reasons why.

One of the most significant decisions an author makes when writing a book is deciding upon which narrative voice to use.  Making students aware of the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of the first, second and third person narrative voice is vital to their development as emerging writers.

COW’s Writing Session Word Goal Goal-setting in the Quest for Writing Fluency

When starting a writing session, how many times have teachers been asked, “How much do I have to write?” If you’d asked Ernest Hemingway, his answer would have been to write a minimum of five hundred words a day.  For Jack London, his goal was a thousand words.  Stephen King?  Ten pages.

Concrete writing goals are useful for all writers, be they accomplished or just starting to learn the craft.  The reason?  The most difficult part of writing for many writers is just getting started.  Like a runner who finds the first mile difficult before they catch their “second wind,” writers also have to overcome their initial creative sluggishness before they get rolling and write with fluency.  Having a concrete word goal to work towards helps the writer push through this initial stage of writing lethargy.

COW’s Writing Session Word Goal

In each writing session with COW, students are given an incentive to write a minimum number of one words.  The default setting is one hundred words.  By writing at least one hundred words, students will be awarded Alieo Credits for that piece of writing.

The Writing Session Word Goal also discourages students from starting a piece of writing and abandoning it prematurely before the narrative can be fully developed.  COW encourages students to develop a “stick-to-itiveness” with their writing.

Meeting Individual Student Needs

To meet the individual needs of your students, teachers have the ability within COW to change the Writing Session Word goal for individuals.  If you deem the one hundred word minimum to be too high for some of your students, you have the ability to reduce that number.  Conversely, teachers can raise that number if they feel students need to be challenged further.

How to Change the Minimum Word Goal in COW

1.  Select My Classes in the navigation bar.

2.  Select the class from the teacher dashboard.

3.  Select Settings

4.  Under the column Word Goal, makes changes to students.

The Five Word Writing Challenge

This week’s COW Writing Challenge is called the “Five Word Writing Challenge.” The bonus word list the students will use is only five words long. These words are:  terrified, five, boomerang, turtle, and fuzzy. (If they use up all of the bonus words on this list, don’t worry. They’ll be fed more bonus words from the Alieo Bonus Word List.)

The key to this writing challenge is the sharing of stories after the writing session. When the students share their stories either orally or on the class bookshelf, the other students in the class will be able to see the various ways the other writers have used these same five words.

By sharing these stories, it really shows the individuality of each writer’s creative direction. The class will experience many “Ah, ha!” moments when they see how each writer has used the five words in their own unique way.

Can a Writing Assignment Change Lives?

Never underestimate the importance of a teacher in the lives of children.  Although it may feel like you’re swimming upstream against a strong headwind, your efforts have a profound and lasting impact upon the lives of your students.

This applies even to what may seem like a small part of what a teacher does:  the writing assignment.

Here is a an amazing article about the profound impact felt in the lives of those students fortunate enough to receive one particular writing assignment.  It shows how writing can have a powerful effect upon the way we move forward in our lives and radically alter the way we see ourselves.

The Mysterious Doorway


This week’s COW Writing Challenge revolves around this image.  Door #17 was part of an art installation in Nova Scotia.  As soon as I saw it, I was intrigued by the possibilities. 

1.  If you go through this door, where do you end up?

2.  If you knocked on this door, who would answer?

3.  Why is there a ’17’ on the door?

4.  Who put this door here, and why?

5.  If the door was locked, how could you open it?

Doorways offer all sorts of possibilities. They symbolize hope, possibilities, moving on into something new, and, of course, intrigue.  What really is on the other side of that door? 

Doors have played a significant role a number of classic stories.  In The Secret Garden, a door leads children into a magical garden.  Alice had to pass through a tiny door to enter into Wonderland.

So, what wonderful, magical realm exists on the other side of door #17? 

How to Become a Better Writer There's one simple rule.

In learning every craft, there’s always the dilemma of quality versus quantity.  Do you ply your craft deliberately and carefully, producing less, or do you plunge into a creative frenzy of producing more with less deliberation?

Joe Bunting is the author of the Amazon bestseller Let’s Write a Short Story, as well as the co-founder of Story Cartel.  He offers some interesting insights into how a writer can best see improvement in their craft.

If you don’t have time to read his article, here’s a quick summary. “To be a writer, you have to write. Every day.”  

COW provides an easy platform for students to do daily writing practice.  Students are further motivated to write more often with COW’s Monthly Writing Goal.  If they write twelve times in a single month – which is only three times a week – they will receive a free special item from the avatar store.

Once Upon a Time The Classic Fairy Tale

For this week’s COW Writing Challenge, students will be writing a classic fairy tale.  Their prompt will be (what else?) “Once upon a time . . .”  The bonus words for this writing challenge are familiar fairy tale elements, including dragons, step-mothers, castles and giants.

Most children grow up hearing, watching, and reading fairy tales from a very early age.  Given their familiarity, fairy tales are a great platform for examining literary conventions.  Before setting students off on this week’s COW Writing Challenge, it’s worthwhile taking the time to reread some of these classic tales, then examine some of the common elements.

Some Common Elements of Fairy Tales

  1. Fairy tales do not need to include fairies.
  2. They are set in the distant past.
  3. They include supernatural, make-believe or fantasy elements like magic.
  4. There are clearly defined good characters and bad characters.
  5. Things usually happen in threes.
  6. The plot involves a problem or conflict that needs to be solved.
  7. The ending solves the conflict and is usually happy.
  8. The tale teaches some sort of lesson or demonstrates something important.

When students complete this writing challenge, have them keep these key elements in mind as they compose their own classic fairy tale.

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