Originally published June 1, 2017 ©Edutopia | The George Lucas Educational Foundation
My first post in this new blog focused on writing contests and how I use them in my middle school ELA classes to provide authentic writing experiences. As promised, my subsequent posts (starting with this one) will highlight a contest that I used in 2016-17 or plan to explore in 2017-18.
Every fall, the Veterans of Foreign Wars conducts its Patriot’s Pen essay contest for 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-graders. Contact your local post to get started. (Click here to find your local post.) The contest’s timing coincides with Veterans Day and announcing the winners during our school’s Veterans Day assembly adds to the festivities. I keep the names of the winners secret and call parents so they can attend. The local VFW post sends officers to present the awards. I make this a seventh-grade assignment and everyone enters. After the school-level contest, each school’s winning essays move on for judging at the regional, state, and national levels.
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Topic or Prompt: Each year the prompt is different but centers around a patriotic theme. This fall, the prompt will be “America’s Gift to My Generation.” Including a personal connection to the prompt is important each year. Students should write about a veteran they personally know, or write of a personal experience that directly relates to the prompt. For an example, use a winning essay as a mentor text. Read the 2016 winning essay here; watch it here.
Best Thing (To Me) About This Contest: The judges don’t favor the grammatically perfect essay; they are more interested in content and ideas. This is a contest that gives every writer in my class the opportunity to win. I love that.
- Theme. Students must show research and show knowledge of the theme.
- Development. Students must develop the theme in their essay by answering the five Ws in their essay.
- Clarity. Students must write clearly in an “easy-to-understand” voice that shows they understand the theme.
Length: 300-400 words. I like how this contest stresses concise writing. They quickly figure out that limiting themselves to no more than 400 words can actually be difficult.
Deadline: October 31, 2017. Essays must be provided to local posts only.
Prizes: VFW offers awards for national-level winners that last year totaled $54,500. All national-level winners win at least $500. Find a winners list here. There may be prizes at lower levels as well. Our local Branson-Hollister, Mo. post is extremely generous with prizes. For each school in the local area that enters essays, the post awards three prizes: 1st ($100), 2nd ($75), and 3rd ($50). I tell my students that three of them will win, so they need to do their best.
The Unexpected Bonus: My students also benefit from following the directions to correctly fill out the entry form that they attach to their essay. (Essays are judged blind.) They must use their best handwriting and write their signature. To me, the term “signature” implies cursive, so that’s what we do.
For More Info: Click here to download a PDF of the entry form and brochure that you can photocopy for your students.
Questions or comments? Something you know about this contest that I don’t? Have a contest success story? Leave a reply and we’ll talk.