Yesterday I met for about an hour with Leslie Wyman, the managing director of the White River Valley Historical Society based in Forsyth, Missouri. I had contacted her last week by email to inquire whether there were any projects for which my students could provide basic research and/or writing.
I really didn’t know what I would find out, or even if there would be any opportunities for my students. In her reply email, however, she told me that several ideas came to mind! Wow, I thought, this is exciting!
So we met and talked about one idea in particular, which sounds very promising. I’m pondering the idea a bit further and hope to meet with her again next week to ask her a few more questions so we can, together, design a “real world” project for my seventh-graders.
Since 2014, The New York Times has sponsored an opinion-editorial contest on its Learning Network site. Last spring, all of my seventh-graders submitted entries for their chance to win. This contest engaged my students, especially because they knew they were writing for The New York Times.
Age Range: This contest is open to students aged 13-19.
Topic or Prompt: Students may write on any topic they wish. If they have trouble finding a topic, give them this list published by the Times. Consider narrowing it down first, since the size of the list can be overwhelming. Also, depending on the age of your students, skim through the list to eliminate any topics that aren’t age-appropriate. Some of the topics are too mature for my middle schoolers. Some sample topics from recent years include Is Social Media Making Us More Narcissistic? Another one: Do Teachers Assign Too Much Homework?
For a complete list of 2017 winners with links to the top ten, go here. Copy off a few of the winning essays to use as mentor texts.
Best Thing To Me About This Contest:
The clout of writing for the Times makes this contest special. My students hold this newspaper that’s been in publication for 162 years in high esteem and like knowing their writing may receive recognition from it.
Skills Addressed: Students must state their argument and support it efficiently with background information, examples, evidence, and counter-arguments. As for evidence, at least two sources must be used; one of those must be from the Times.
Click here for a rubric that shows what the judges are looking for. We discussed the rubric in class and used it as a checklist during peer response. I also used it during grading.
Share these tips from the editors with your students. Here’s one the editors offer: “Start strong. Grab our attention in the first few sentences, but don’t take too long to state your argument.”
Length: 450 words or less. This is about concision. Students learn to make every word absolutely necessary to the argument.
Deadline: Early April. Check back here in early 2018 for next year’s date.
Prizes: This year, 128 winners were chosen out of nearly 8,000 entries. This includes 10 top winners, 15 runners-up, 45 honorable mentions, and 58 writers whose essays survived to the third round. Winning essays are published on the Learning Network site.
The Unexpected Bonus: Students enter their essays online themselves here. This makes it super easy to submit entries. Students also must enter their sources in the online form. Examples are given so students format citations correctly.
For more information: Click here for complete rules.
If you learned something from this post, click like, leave a comment and share on social media! Follow my blog for more student writing contests and ELA teaching reflections. Thanks for reading!
I drove the twenty minutes to my classroom today to . . . start. There’s always a day or two (or three) before the big day when we’re required to return to school for in-service training. On days like today, when I’m often working alone, I just begin. Here’s what I did, with the help of my husband for the heavy lifting:
returned all the furniture that had been moved to one side of my classroom by maintenance staff to its approximate place in the room
untangled a giant wad of electrical and computer cords that had also been moved
connected my computer back to its dock
set up the sound system
tested the speakers; played Ed Sheeran for a sound check; yep… sounds good
tested my smartboard
connected the document camera
put the desks into loose rows that will probably change before it all begins
helped a new teacher across the hall begin to get settled
made a mental note to purchase an oil diffuser like the one used by the same new teacher
rearranged my small black bookshelves
put the carpet down
uncovered the big bookshelves
stared inside my closet. (But that’s all I did because it’s packed too tightly. Once I start unpacking it, there will be no going back.)
put some new stickers in my sticker drawer. (Never underestimate the value of a sticker.)
resolved to buy a new poster or two for my big poster wall
looked at some boxes of supplies and books I requisitioned last spring
decided to leave those boxes for another day
Now, I’m off to start a draft about Contest #4 That Works for My Students. Look for it tomorrow! Here’s a post about Contest #3. I love using writing contests in my ELA teaching.
If you enjoyed this post, click like and leave a comment. Follow my blog to catch that Contest #4 post! Thanks for reading.
If you’re planning to incorporate contests into your ELA classes and/or writers workshops, you can get started as early as Friday, August 18! That’s the deadline for the summer poetry hardcover anthology to be printed and published by Creative Communication. The books will ship in December. Teachers who have five or more students accepted for publication receive one free copy. Click here to visit their website. Read my recent blog post that outlines how the contests work.
My school’s first day is Wednesday, August 16. Hmmmm… not sure how we can make that deadline, but I’m gonna try! (And based on past experience with this publisher, deadlines are often extended by a week or two, so I’m crossing my fingers that will happen again.)
If you need poetry ideas, the CC website offers poem templates that will get your students crafting verse in no time. I’ll probably try those templates to get up and running ASAP.
I can’t think of a better way to start the year than with jumping right into an authentic writing assignment. It will be so fun all fall to look forward to that moment in December when my students hold their anthologies in their hands and become published writers!
If this post has helped you, click the like button and follow my blog to keep up-to-date on more contests and writing ideas!
Congratulations! You found Medium. You should stick around and see what this site offers English Language Arts teachers.
Wander aimlessly throughout this platform and its writers and publications. It won’t take long before you’ll unearth some very cool stories (btw, everything is called a story on Medium) about an unending supply of topics: from coding to human rights, from motivational thinking to tacos. Get lost in the good stuff on Medium and then plan to share this goldmine of writing with your students in the fall.
One way I share Medium with my middle school language arts students is by finding a story to use as a mentor text. If we’re writing, for example, how-to articles, I search in my Medium network for an age-appropriate one I think will intrigue my middle schoolers. Then I print, make copies and we read them in class.
Then we’ll do a straight-through “cold” read. Sometimes I read aloud; sometimes I have students do that on their own. After that first read, students are often surprised at the original, sometimes quirky, always engaging writer’s voices found on Medium. They can’t believe, for example, that someone actually wrote this. They also can’t believe the variety. Research-driven studies and silly listicles… it’s all here. Medium stories are a fresh change from the made-for-school reading they get so much of.
Then we pass around the highlighter bucket and we read the story again, marking it up and keeping track of the ideas it presents and the questions it poses. And then we talk. Here are the questions we throw around:
Do you like this story? Do you find it enlightening? Does it speak to you? How?
How does it begin? How does it end?
Where is the strongest moment in this story? Weakest?
What do we notice about how it’s built?
How many paragraphs? How many sentences in a paragraph?
What techniques does the author use? Repetition? Alliteration?
Does it have a topic sentence or a main idea? What is it?
How does the author develop and explore this idea?
Does the author use evidence? How is it presented? Is it effective?
If you had written this article, how would you have tagged it?
What techniques could you pull from this mentor text as you write your own how-to?
I know that looks like a lot of discussion questions. In fact, you may be thinking, Wow. Way to take a perfectly good story and ruin it with over-analysis.However, our discussions are casual and organic; we ask the questions that make sense for the story we happen to be reading. Everybody is free to contribute, of course, and they do because the stories on Medium are accessible, relevant and created by real, living and breathing, connected writers who blog about the world that exists beyond the concrete block walls of school.
So now that you’ve found Medium, delve deeper. Find a handful of stories that you’re enthusiastic about. Restock your highlighter bucket. Get lots of colors. Plan to read, talk about, and imitate some Medium stories with your students this fall.
Click like if: a) you liked this, or b) know some teachers who need to find Medium. Could that be you??? Follow this blog to stay in touch. I’ll be posting more Medium resources for teachers soon. Thanks for reading!
Here’s what I do to spark passion in my students for writing
part 1 of 4
And let’s get this straight right from the start: I am no expert. I repeat, I am no expert. I have a meager six years of teaching under my belt. However, I am more excited than ever to be doing this job at age 51. (gulp) That’s why I want to reflect on and share what works for me in my classroom… and what doesn’t. I truly hope you’ll follow my blog and start a conversation so we can learn from each other. It’s good for teachers to do that. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…
Writing means knowing a bunch of rules, right? Comma rules. Spelling rules. Fragment rules. Capitalization rules. All these rules are very important to middle school students who are bored with writing. In fact, some students think writing is only about “the rules.” And the sooner they can get “the rules” right in their crummy, boring assignment, the sooner they can turn it in and move on with life.
Students are bored when they don’t care about their writing topic. Conversely, when students care about their topic, they don’t mind struggling to get it right.
Picture this: one of your students turns in a cleanly edited, yet incredibly boring and lifeless story. It’s another story about their dog, for example. Not one comma is out of place, not one word is misspelled. Everything looks great, but it’s just so… dull. That same day, another student turns in a poorly edited, yet thought-provoking and fresh essay. It’s a piece about self-image and social media. Yes, there was a run-on here, a capitalization error there, but you stumbled through it because the ideas were compelling and intriguing.
Besides subject matter, there’s one big difference between the dog story and social media essay. The essay can be revised, edited, and polished and still be engaging and original; however, the story, even though it needs no editing, will still require a major overhaul to garner interest from a reader. The commas are all there, but the ideas aren’t. In other words, just because the editing rules have been followed does not mean the writing is interesting.
So why did the student turn in the boring story? Because she didn’t care about it. She didn’t like the topic, the character she had created, who knows. However, the social media essay captured the heart of its author. This student had found a way to connect to the topic and, more importantly, discovered he had an opinion that needed and deserved to be expressed.
In order to get the freshest, most original, most thoroughly developed writing from my students, I must figure out ways to spark passion in my students for their writing topics. It’s my job to make them care about what they’re writing. It’s on me to send boredom out the door and down the hall.
Here are three things I do in my 6-8 ELA classes to help my students find topics they’re passionate about:
I give them lots of choices. Like gobs of choices.
I use this list of 401 argument topics from The New York Times. So many ideas! In fact, I often narrow the list down to fifty or so. Sometimes too many options are overwhelming. I also like to skim through the list to make sure the prompts I give my kids are age-appropriate since some of the prompts are for high school students and older.
I keep digging to find more and more prompts. Here’s another site. Again, if too many options are just too many, provide fewer.
I assign slice-of-life essays about the mundane, yet worthwhile, quiet moments of living. For ideas and plans from Two Writing Teachers, click here.
Sometimes I simply give students time to think. Often, kids just aren’t used to sitting quietly and thinking. With smartphones and other devices, there’s always something else to do besides think. Let students stare at the wall and allow ideas to surface.
This is the first installment in a series of six on this blog about helping kids find writing topics that they’ll feel passionate about. And if they’re passionate, they won’t be bored; instead, they will care. As a result, they’ll spend enough time on their writing so it’s fleshed-out, fully developed, fresh, provocative, and true.
The next steps I take with my students will be discussed in an upcoming post. I’ll be finishing that soon. Click the “like” button and share on social media if this has been helpful to you. Feel free to leave a comment and don’t forget to follow me to catch that post! Thanks for reading!
Three times a year, Creative Communication (CC) of Logan, Utah publishes hardcover anthologies full of K-9 poetry. I know what you’re thinking. Must be a pay-to-play anthology, right? The company judges the poems received and publishes the best ones, without regard to whether the student purchases a copy or not. Students upload their own poetry via the publisher’s website at poeticpower.com. The website, which is extensive with links to teacher and student information, is easy to navigate and search. So far, more than thirty of my students saw their poetry published last year. Students loved seeing their poetry in print! Several parents ordered the anthologies, which are handled directly by the publisher. Here’s a link to my class website where I talk up the contests and winners: Kirbyville Middle School Language Arts website.
Topic or Prompt: Student choice reigns! The website has many poetry ideas and lesson plans with examples. For mentor texts, use previous winning poems found on the website. When introducing the contest, make sure to show your students Taylor Swift’s winning poem that she entered in the contest when she was in fifth grade. That always gets attention! Here’s a link to the poem. Just scroll down to her picture and click to open a page to read it.
Best Thing (To Me) About This Contest: I love how this contest is competitive, but not too competitive. Everyone has a real opportunity to see their name in print. According to the FAQs on the website, “We take pride in the fact that we are selective with our entries. We reject more entries than we accept to be published. Our objective is to make it an honor to be selected for the anthology.” FYI: Each anthology is considered a contest since the top ten entries win prizes, but more on that below.
What About Privacy? First names only are published. School names are included. Students must receive permission from parents in order to be published. Teachers will receive a free copy when five students are published. You can also earn points for more books and school supplies with the rewards system. To read about the system, click here.
Idea Development. Students must meet the criteria of the particular style of poem I assign or the style of poem they have chosen from the website.
Conventions. Students must submit their best poetry.
Length: Poems must be no longer than 20 lines.
Deadline: There is one deadline for each of the fall, spring, and summer contests to coincide with your poetry units. See the website for exact dates.
Prizes: For each of the three grade levels (K-3; 4-6; 7-9), the top ten entries in the poetry contest will be given a $25 check, special recognition in the book, and a free anthology copy.
The Unexpected Bonus: Students rose to the occasion when they knew their work would be submitted for publication and possible top ten recognition.