drafting · procedures · process · Reflective Practice · reluctant writers · writing process · writing workshop

Word Count

I’ve had a daily word count for awhile. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I think it was while writing Day by Day. However, it was while becoming serious about writing fiction that my word count became as much a part of my day as brushing my teeth. I think this is true for many other writers too. We are often driven by a word count.

While listening to Lucy Calkins and Mary Ernworth speak last week, one thing they mentioned was the need for students to learn to write long and strong. I’ve been spinning this idea around in my head. At first I wasn’t sure this push for more, more, more was really something I agreed with, however, the more I thought about the term — long and strong — the more I began to agree with the idea. It is something I do as a writer. I try to write both long and strong — I want 1000 words each day, and I prefer for them to be meaningful words.

I shared this idea with some third graders last week. They are in the drafting-collecting-planning phase of a unit, so it makes sense to want to write long and strong. I asked students to see how much they could write in a single period. At the end of workshop, one boy said, “Woah! I wrote, like, 63 words!” As you can imagine, this started a mad dash of word counting. The energy was high at the end of workshop, and I realized concrete goals, such as word count are important to a writer’s life. It is important to mine, so it makes sense that it could be a motivator for students.

The next day I brought in a chart titled: Writers set goals. Below the title was space for a bar graph. The x-axis indicated the date and the y-axis listed word tallies — 200, 400, 600, all the way up to 2000. At the end of writing workshop, we tallied the word count for the class. In one third grade room in was just over 1200 words. In the other room it was 1187. Again the energy was high for writing. They couldn’t wait to get back to it the next day and see if they could match (or beat) their tally.

Now this isn’t something I would do every single day in writing workshop. However, it is a concrete way to build stamina. I’m realizing kids can write a lot more than what I’ve expected of them. Something I’ve learned from my word count goal is some days it’s better to write a lot of crummy words than no words at all. If all we ever expect of students is they write strong, but we never encourage them to write long, then there will be many days that they write little or no words. As with all things it’s about balance…I’m falling in love with the term long and strong because I think it poises kids to develop fluency in writing, while at the same time still expecting meaningful words.

8 thoughts on “Word Count

  1. @Mrs. V — I’m glad you noticed the class total versus an individual total. As others have mentioned, word count is ONE way to establish stamina. It would be unkind to post everyone’s word count as we don’t all measure stamina this way.

    @kowedekind — Absolutely! Just like we teach many different ways to plan or revise, there are many different ways to measure stamina. This is one way — not the only way! 🙂

    @Tam — I’m glad Neville is out of the corner the evil writer put him in! LOL!


  2. I also love the wording “long and strong”. I did not hear that wording in order to use it with my students, but it captures what I told them in a longer way. I can see how discussing this meaning would be great because then it would be a phrase to use frequently.

    While reading your post I was glad that the daily tally was by class, rather than individuals to try to emphasize working together vs. individual competition, which could deteriorate some aspects of the workshop community.


  3. I think different writers set goals in terms of stamina in different ways. Some adult writers I know set word count or page count goals. I set time goals. Sometimes I write a lot in that time, sometimes a little. My style is heavy on revise as you go, so I’ve learned to be ok with the fact that sometimes I don’t get a lot on the page. And other times I get a ton. I think it’s important to honor the way that stamina looks in each different writer.


  4. “Long and strong” has been a T.C. phrase for as long as I can remember. I used to use it with my kids all of the time since they wanted to know “how many pages should I write?” I used to tell them to write “long and strong” and not to worry about pages. What matters is the strength of the writing. Kids really love this term. Glad you do too.


  5. I do believe the more they write, the better it becomes. Until blogging, I never considered the count. When teaching, we talked about the count, but mostly I emphasized saying what you mean & using the words that it takes to say it. That’s for middle schoolers too. I can see how the third graders would be excited with a concrete way to see how much was done. I like the words ‘long and strong’ and think they would make a good discussion in most any class. Thanks for more food for thought, Ruth.


  6. In the writing workshop expectations suggested by Nancie Atwell, she lists a number of pages of draft expected. This seems appropriate for 7th and 8th grades (which she teaches). However, I’ve never been able to stick to it and hold students accountable. I think many of my 8th graders would be more motivated by a word count goal. Word count is less intimidating than the idea of filling entire blank pages. I also like the idea of the class total to build writing community and re-energize a class of writers!


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