The New York Times announces its 2020-21 student writing contests

Photo by Stéphan Valentin on Unsplash

And get this: most are now open to middle school students!

Yes! The student writing contests hosted by The New York Times’ Learning Network are back! In addition, most are now open to U.S. middle school students starting in sixth grade (for international students, ages 13-18).

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this post about the Learning Network’s two new contests created just for 2020-2021. Click here to read that post, which I published the day after I attended The Learning Network’s webinar for educators titled “Giving Students a Voice: Teaching with Learning Network Contests.”

Students work in peer groups to improve their writing for submission to the judges.

In that post, I promised to write a follow-up that would cover the remaining eight contests. Well, here it is, and the list is below.

When you click on each listing below, know that many of the links will connect you to the 2019 rules and guidelines. That’s because, according to C. Ross Flatt, professional development director for The Learning Network, the 2020 rules are not finalized as of yet. To keep abreast of the updates, keep your eyes on the contest calendar because as each contest goes “live,” a link will be added.

Without further ado, the contests follow:

  1. Personal Narrative Writing Contest (Oct. 13-Nov. 17, 2020)… Students tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and a conflict that is resolved. Get mentor texts (past winning entries) here.
  2. Vocabulary Video Contest (Nov. 10-Dec. 15, 2020)… Students make a 15-second video explaining the meaning of one of the Times’ 2,000 words of the day. Get mentor texts (past winning high school entries) here.
  3. Review Contest (Dec. 8-Jan. 26, 2021)… Students write reviews in categories from books to restaurants to hotels. Open to middle school and high school. Get mentor texts (past winning entries) here.
  4. STEM Writing Contest (Jan. 19-March 2)… Students explain “complex and interesting” topics to a general audience in a “clear, engaging way.” Get mentor texts (past winning entries) here.
  5. Editorial Contest (Feb. 23-April 13, 2021)… Students write an editorial or opinion piece on a topic that matters to them. Get mentor texts (past winning entries) here. Read how successful this was for me in my years as a middle school teacher in this post.
  6. Podcast Challenge (April 8-May 18, 2021)... Students create a podcast on any topic of their choosing. Podcasts can run no longer than five minutes. Winners from the 2019-2020 contest were just released July 1. Listen to their podcasts here!
  7. Summer Reading Contest (June 10-Aug. 19, 2021)… Students choose an article from The New York Times that resonated with them and then tell the judges why. Get mentor texts (past winning entries) here. The current contest is still open through Aug. 20, so make sure you follow the contest calendar to stay up to date on the 2020 contest.
  8. Current Events Conversation (All School Year Long)… Students respond to the daily news via provided writing prompts. Click here for past winners.
Students don’t mind revising when they know that real-world editors, reporters and instructors will judge their writing.

Don’t forget…

  • The two other new contests that have been added this year. These address the challenges of living as a teen in the year 2020. Read my post about that contest here.
  • The prize. The Learning Network publishes winners on its site and some winners may receive publication in the print version of The New York Times. Check the rules for each contest for specifics.
  • The extra motivation and engagement that using writing contests offers. During the webinar, Flatt and Rachel Manley, another professional development manager, and Natalie Proulx, editor, discussed the benefits offered by the contests. These benefits include:
  1. An authentic audience (The contests are judged by New York Times staff and journalists….)
  2. Real-world writing/creating skills (For example, students can try out their science reporting chops.)
  3. Choice (Students may write within the genre of each of the ten contests in any style they choose.)
  4. Student Voice (Winning pieces are published in The New York Times.)

I plan to include some of these contests in my teaching during the upcoming school year. (And if you do the same, let me know how it goes by commenting on this post or reaching out via my Contact page.) Even though it may take some extra planning and coordination to add these contests to my curriculum, the real-world relevance that the contests bring to the classroom make the extra effort worth it.

Thanks for reading! For more creative ELA teaching ideas and lesson plans, and news about student writing contests, enter your email below. In return, you’ll receive a free printable PDF you can use with students to write Treasured Object Poems.

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Published by marilynyung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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