Contest #11 That Works for My Students: Stossel in the Classroom Argument Contest

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Photo: Pixabay

Each year for the past three years, I have assigned an argument essay contest to my eighth-graders. The contest is sponsored by Stossel in the Classroom (SITC), an educational website hosted by John Stossel, former consumer reporter and correspondent for ABC’s 20/20, and current Fox News contributor. According to the SITC website’s About page, the “program is sponsored by the Center for Independent Thought, an IRS 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit educational foundation, funded entirely by private donations.”

SITC offers teachers several teaching resources, including free DVDs featuring Stossel’s news segments with accompanying lesson plans and teacher guides, as well as its annual essay contest and its new video contest. The themes of many of the lessons and DVDs “challenge conventional wisdom” about many current issues, according to this explanation on the Center for Independent Thought’s website.

Here are some details about the essay contest.

Age Range for the Contest: Ages 12-18.

Odds of Winning: For the 2018 contest, 87 essays were awarded a prize out of 2,200 submitted. That’s about a one-in-25 chance. That’s not bad, I tell my kids. A couple of years ago, I remember the odds being about one in forty.

Topic or Prompt: Each year features a different prompt. The 2018 contest, which has concluded, was:

Natural disasters often bring people together, as they undertake rescue operations and work to rebuild their communities. People outside the affected communities usually offer additional support. But what about those that see a disaster as a way to make money? Watch John Stossel’s video about “price gouging” and write a 500-1000 word essay, arguing for or against laws that prohibit price “gouging” during an emergency. How do such laws affect disaster victims? How do they change the incentives of potential suppliers?

The video mentioned in the prompt appears on the website and is easily accessible by students. I usually show students the video up to two or three times so we can discuss it thoroughly. Our discussions usually require that we listen to the video again so we can catch exactly what was said and/or what was not said.  My students are usually engaged with the prompts, which always have a current events theme, which can often veer into the political. Regardless, the topics always give students something new and complex to think about.

This past spring, my students couldn’t believe the controversy surrounding price gouging. They had never considered the nuances present during times of a disaster when people are in desperate need of crucial supplies.

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John Stossel

Best Thing (to me) About This Contest: I would say that the best aspect of this contest is the multi-media approach that it provides. There are not many times during the school year when students must watch and listen to videos in order to develop a viewpoint, write a corresponding thesis, and then complete an argument.

Skills Addressed:

  1. In the Missouri Learning Standards, students are required to utilize technology, including the Internet, to write and publish their work. The SITC essay contest, because of its reliance on the Stossel videos, heavily involve technology. Students may also research on their own to gain the information needed for their essays; I also provide related articles and copies of Stossel’s book No, They Can’t: Why Government  Fails–But Individuals Succeed. I have ten copies of this book in my room. One year, the contest rules stated that students were required to quote the book at least once, so I ordered a handful from Amazon.
  2. Students must also provide a Works Cited page that lists their sources. The DAR American History Essay Contest also requires this. I also require it on several of our class assignments; I think it’s a good thing for students to get into the habit of providing their sources in a consistent format. It gets them ready for high school.

Length: 500-1,000 words. I like that the contest has a minimum as well as a maximum word count, since some of my students will want to write as little as possible if there is no minimum provided.

Deadline: Mid-February of each year. Check the rules page for exact dates for 2019. to submit these essays, teachers are encouraged to electronically submit their students’ essay en masse. This is a little cumbersome, but I know in the past, I have found time to do this at home.

Prizes: A total of $9,500 in cash prizes are awarded. First place receives $1,500 plus an expenses-paid summer trip with a teacher and/or guardian to New York City and lunch with Stossel; second $1,000. There are ten finalists who win $200 each; 25 semi-finals who win $100 each; and fifty honorable mention winners who receive $50 each.

Unexpected Bonus: Easily found mentor texts! Winning entries for the most recent contest and previous years’ contests are easily found on the website. These are super helpful to show students the level of quality this contest requires.

For More Info: Browse the SITC website, which has all the information you need to have your students enter the contest. I like how students can direct their ideas however they choose to make their argument. While there is a specific prompt, students are free to approach it as they desire.

My students have never placed in this contest. I believe we have entered it for the past three or four years. We spend about two weeks of class time working on it. Apparently, we should spend more!

Happening during the spring right before we begin preparing for state testing, this essay contest provides a good review of the most difficult type of expository writing: the argument.


Thanks for reading! Leave a comment with your thoughts or, if you’ve tried this contest in the past, let me know how your students fared.  Follow my blog for more contest information.

My students “swept” a national poetry writing contest!

I’m so excited about the recent contest that my students won! Here’s a news release that I sent to a local newspaper about it.

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Kirbyville Middle School students swept the junior (grades 6-8) poetry division of the 2018 Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards, a national contest hosted by the Outdoor Writers Association of America, Missoula, Mt. Read about the contest in this post.

Joel R., a former eighth-grader who graduated from KMS in May, placed first with his poem “The Lucky Snag”; Allyson W., also a former eighth-grader who graduated from KMS in May, placed second with her poem “Breathe.” Zach B., who will be an eighth-grader this fall, placed third with his poem “A Deer’s Morning Graze.”

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First- and second-place winners, Joel R. and Ally W.

The students each received cash prizes of $200, $100, and $50, respectively. Cash awards were sponsored by Majesty Outdoors, a nonprofit “focused on bringing awareness to the fatherless epidemic in our society,” according to the foundation’s website.

Winning entries will be printed in the December/January issue of Outdoors Unlimited, OWAA’s magazine.

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Third-place winner Zach Burton and me.

This is the second year KMS students have participated in the contest. In 2017, Elijah D. placed second in the junior prose division.

“I am so proud of KMS students. With this contest in particular, every student is able to find an outdoor-related topic to write about and then they stick with their poems or essays and work so hard on them, revising them until they are sent to Montana,” said Marilyn Yung, language arts teacher at KMS.

I’ll post the winning poems in a post later this week. Follow me to get those.

If you ever decide to have your students enter this contest, use these winning entries as mentor texts. That’s exactly what I did to prepare my kids for writing their entries.

In addition to sending out the news release, I also made a big deal out of the news on my private class Instagram account.

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I posted this meme on my class’ private Instagram account a few days before I announced it with a video.

I posted an Anchorman meme that there would be a “big announcement” coming soon. I also posted a video announcing the award.  (I should have embedded the video into this post, but I failed. Sorry about that!)

On another note… Don’t forget to let others know about your activities in the classroom. Get to know your local newspapers and other media so you can notify them when good things happen.

The editor to whom I sent the above release usually runs what I email to him in one of the two newspapers he publishes locally. Do a little research, find the names and email addresses of the local editor at your local media offices, and start communicating with them.

Get some publicity for your school and the part you play in your profession.


Thanks for reading! Click like if you found this valuable. Follow my blog for more writing contest news, and other posts about teaching middle school ELA. 

I love this back-to-school poetry project for 6th-graders from YA author Kate Messner

It combines poetry and revision (and publication!)

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“Sometimes on the beach, I see balloons floating and people walking.” Photo by Gabriel Baranski on Unsplash

“The Sometimes Poem” is one of my favorite ways to start the school year with my sixth-graders. I’ve used this project for two years running and I plan to use it again in August. It includes three skills: poetry techniques, revision, and submitting for publication. I credit children’s and YA author, Kate Messner, for her inspiration and ideas for this project.

In 2016, I attended the Write To Learn Conference and sat in on Messner’s presentation on revision strategies.  Her presentation allowed the teachers in attendance to create and revise their own “Sometimes” poems.

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This book contains real-life strategies real authors use when they revise their novels, articles, and short stories.

Here’s how I present this lesson that’s based on Messner’s slideshow and her excellent book, Real Revision. (My copy, shown at right, is old, but awesome.)  I’ve tweaked Messner’s slideshow for my own use over the past two years. First, download the Google slideshow. Then, skim through the slideshow to become familiar with the project. Notice that I have hidden some of the slides for this project. As you skim, you may decide to modify my changes to fit your needs and students.

  1. Ask students to write for three minutes to describe a place that they love. We use pencils and paper for this to get fresher ideas and more thoughtful writing. Laptops can be used later after revision and before submitting to the publisher.
  2. Before students begin, I share a paragraph I’ve written about my favorite place, which is on a swing in my yard. My paragraph serves as a mentor text.
  3. After three minutes, ask if students would like two or three more minutes, extend the time. usually, in my experience, students need a few minutes more.
  4. Students may share their writing about their favorite places.
  5. Have students listen as you read aloud from Messner’s own poem, “Sometimes On a Mountain in April.” Messner’s poem can also serve as a mentor text, but in addition, it shows students how their paragraph will soon be transformed into a poem.
  6. Show students your attempt at turning your paragraph into a poem. Read aloud one more time your paragraph, and then read to them your poem. Discuss with students how to pull details from the paragraph to create lines for a poem that are filled with imagery.
  7. Also show students at this point how to use repetition in their poem, just like Messner did. She added the words “Sometime on a mountain in April” about every three lines. This creates a poetic structure and rhythm to their writing.
  8. For me, this step is usually when students really begin to like what they’ve written. Have students transform their paragraph into poetry. You’ll need about five to eight minutes for this step, but allow more if students need it. For those who struggle, help them locate one detail that they can craft into a line of a poem.  After helping them do this one line, it’s their turn to find another.
  9. After students have six lines for their poem, tell them that it’s time to revise.
  10. Go deep with a quick discussion of theme… what the poem is REALLY about. On the surface, my poem is about sitting in a swing in my yard. However, it’s REALLY about appreciating the little things in life. In a word, contentment. I learned to spend a small amount of time on theme with this project, but not too much. If students can end up telling you what their poem is about on the surface AND what it’s really about, then you’re good. Let revision be the focus for this project.
  11. To revise, ask students to add more imagery and sensory language. To do this, have students add one fragrance to their poem. It should be a new line of poetry. Show them yours. It’s good to have your original six lines on the board. Then add the new fragrance line(s) below. Students may add as many lines as they would like, but one helps them see how sensory language enriches their writing.
  12.  Keep revising! Have students add one more of the five senses to their poem. They definitely have sight if they’ve written anything at all, and they’ve also added in a fragrance. Students should be adding a sound, a taste, or a texture to their poem now. Show them yours again, if needed, as a mentor text. With this step, students see that adding details is one way to revise.
  13. Revise some more! Have students scan their poem for these overused words: very, really, just. With this step, students see that removing unnecessary words is another way to revise.
  14. Keep at it! Have students remove five more unnecessary words. Tell students to look for the least important words. If kids struggle to find five, require that they at least remove three.
  15. Now revise with a partner! Put slide 95 on your screen and leave it there for the partner work. Have one student pass out a pink, green, yellow, and pink highlighter to each student. Note: Use any four different colors, but everyone needs to have the same colors. Read aloud this slide first with your students after they pair up.
  16. Students will use the pink highlighter to indicate areas that should be removed. They’ll use green to indicate confusing areas. Blue indicates areas that should be more precise or more detailed. Yellow indicates that a line or area is effective as is.
  17. Before students begin highlighting, pass out one sticky note to each student. Tell students that they are to write notes for your partner that explain your highlighting (if needed)  and to offer suggestions.
  18. When students are finished highlighting and writing notes on the sticky note, show them the “When your partner is done” slide. Have students rework their own poem again, considering their partner’s suggestions.
  19. Use this moment to revisit theme. Have students ask themselves “What is my poem about? What is my poem REALLY about? Is that theme clear in my poem?” You may need to help students think of words and phrases that will help them convey their theme. This is tough. Don’t stress it with your sixth-graders. It’s good that they are putting effort into this higher-level skill.

So that’s the basic framework for this exciting poetry project. I have used it for two years with both sixth- and seventh-graders each August. It’s a great way to get back into the “writing zone” and it helps me get to know my students and their personalities. In fact, here’s a poem written by one of my students last year:

Sometimes in a Tree Stand

by Alex J.

Sometimes when I’m sitting in my tree stand,

early in the morning,

I can hear dogs barking through the hills

and can see the birds fly above us.

Sometimes when I’m sitting in my tree stand,

I can hear the leaves crunching when animals walk,

and sometimes smell the pine trees.

Sometimes in the tree stand,

I can feel the morning breeze.

Then time goes on.

The dogs go quiet,

and the birds settle down.

The leaves stop crunching.

And the smell of the pine trees

are replaced by the smell of the day.

The morning breeze dies down,

and I know it’s time to leave,

but I’ll come back tomorrow.

The heavy emphasis on revision subtly shows students challenging and fun ways to add sensory language and delete unnecessary verbiage from their poems. What’s more, it exposes students to theme and guides them in seeking elements of deeper meaning in their work.

But that’s not all! Have your students enter their “Sometimes” poem in Creative Communication’s Poetry Anthology contest. Their work just might be published in a hardcover book! Alex J’s. poem (above) was published and showed Alex that he has real potential as a writer. Read this post for more information about the anthologies.

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Creative Communication’s Poetry Anthology Collection includes volumes for 6th-graders (not shown).

I can’t tell you how great it is when students realize they’re sending their poems to a publisher. They will definitely step up their effort and take greater care with their work once they know their poems are going places! In fact, you may want to tell them at the beginning of the project that they will eventually submit their poems to a publisher. I assure you that it will set the stage for more engagement.

Thanks for reading! Try this project. I really think you’ll enjoy using it as a BTS project. Thanks to Kate Messner for her inspiration and materials!

Writing Contest #10: Holocaust Museum & Learning Center’s Student Writing Contest

Our kids need this contest.

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Here’s a winning art entry from last year’s Holocaust Museum & Learning Center’s Student Art & Writing Contest. No student name provided. Darn.

I’ve discovered another writing contest: Holocaust Museum & Learning Center’s Student Art & Writing Contest. I stumbled upon this contest as I was researching for a recent post on Medium.com about the lack of Holocaust literature in Expeditionary Learning’s curriculum. I have reblogged that post here.

According to the St. Louis-based museum’s website, “The Art & Writing Contest is a wonderful opportunity for young people who have visited the Museum or studied the Holocaust in their classrooms to respond creatively to what they have learned.” The contest is considered an “important outreach program” that is “dedicated to the memory of the 1.5 million children who perished during the Holocaust.”

Age: There are two divisions for both the art and writing portions of the contest. Students may enter one entry in each category.  Division 1 includes grades 6-8; Division 2 includes grades 9-12.

Topic:  Students are asked to write about the difficult and inspiring lessons of the Holocaust. Topics may include: acts of courage and heroism; resistance and rescue; indifference and its consequences; persecution, intolerance and injustice; preserving humanity in situations of great adversity; history and lessons of the Holocaust.

Skills Addressed:  Students must exhibit Research, Creativity, and original and accurate Interpretation of Sources. Judges are looking for: content, originality, and quality of expression and accuracy.

Mentor Texts: I have emailed the organizers to find out how files of past winners can be shared for student review. When I find this information, I will update this post. Check back soon!

However, there are some excellent links on the sidebar of this page that provide a Holocaust timeline, nearly forty Holocaust-related terms, common questions, and recommended readings (a solid list plus links to useful websites). Click on Classroom Activities to see a list of documentaries the museum recommends students see before visiting the museum. These would also provide prior knowledge before writing an essay or narrative.

Length: Entries may not exceed 1,000 words. Works must be double-spaced. Use paper clips, not staples.

Deadline: There is no deadline or timeframe currently shown on the contest website, not even for last year’s contest, but I have emailed the organizer to find this out. I will update this post when I receive that information.

Prizes:  There are cash prizes and certificates awarded. The organizers also display winning entries in the museum theater. Last year, first through third place in the middle school division won $300, $200, and $100 respectively. Two honorable mentions were awarded $25 each.

How to enter: Submit three copies of your paper-clipped entry. Do not exceed 1,000 words. Mail entries to: Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, MO 63146.

For more information: Here’s a phone number for the museum is (314) 442-3711. A contact name for Dan Reich is posted on the website also with this email address: DReich@JFedSTL.org. A phone number for Mr. Reich is also posted: 314-442-3714.

I’m excited to have a Holocaust-themed essay contest.  Writing about this time in history will be a plus for my students’ banks of knowledge about world history. Many students are not learning about the Holocaust today. See this post for more on that issue, including an important new study released in March.


Thanks for reading! Follow my blog to receive those updates on this post, which will include the new deadlines and/or timeframe for the next contest, and also whether or not there will be past winning entries to use as mentor texts with your kids. Have a great day!

Here’s the prompt for the 2018-19 VFW Patriot’s Pen Essay Contest

This contest is a winner for middle schoolers!

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Photo by Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash

The Patriot’s Pen essay contest for grades 6-8 is getting started for the 2018-19 school year. The first step: learning the theme. And (drumroll please!)…here it is: Why I Honor the American Flag.

This year’s theme will resonate with students as it recalls the national conversation about patriotism and specifically how we show patriotism toward our national flag during sports activities (think NFL kneelers) and other public events.  However, don’t limit your students to that angle. Your kids will get creative with the topic, so allow them that freedom to interpret the prompt how they see fit.

The deadline for this year’s contest is October 31 and while that sounds like a distant point in the future, once school starts, it rolls around pretty quickly.

Here’s my checklist for how I go about introducing the contest each year:

  • Announce the theme the first or second week of school just to let it brew in students’ minds.
  • Facilitate a class discussion where we discuss prior knowledge relating to the prompt.
  • Brainstorm some possible angles for the essay.  (If kids have a hard time coming up with ideas, that’s okay. We still have a month before we attack the contest in earnest, usually around the first of October.)
  • Set a day where the work will really begin. This is usually one month before the due date. This allows plenty of time for drafting, protocol peer review, revising, and editing. It also gives us plenty of time to send drafts home for parents to read objectively. Students often become so close to their material that they need someone totally new to the project with whom to share it. I have students attach a note that says “Fresh Eyes Needed” to explain the project to parents.

I also usually make a phone call to our local VFW chapter just to let them know that my students will be participating again and to confirm the due dates. The post commander usually comes in person to pick up the entries, so the phone call helps to solidify that pick-up date.

I assign this essay as an activity that only my seventh graders do to increase the students’ incentive to win.  And since our local VFW recognizes three of them with cash awards, their chances of winning are high!

First through third place winners receive $100, $75, and $50 each, respectively, as well as a nice medallion and certificate. Our local chapter is so generous and I appreciate their sponsorship of the contest. Check with your local chapter to learn how they are able to support your students.

The three winning entries from my class then advance to the next level for judging. Unfortunately, my first-place winner last year missed progressing to the next level by only one point! Nationwide, 132,000 students entered last year’s contest where the grand prize national winner receives $5,000.

So there you have it. The 2018-19 VFW Patriot’s Pen Essay Contest theme and a few details. For much more about this contest, including information about mentor texts and what the judges look for,  click here. If you haven’t had your students compete in many contests before, click here for my post about how motivating writing contests can really be.

I’m a believer in writing contests and I’m always on the lookout for new ones. In fact, tomorrow I’ll be posting about a Holocaust-related contest you might be interested in. I hope you’ll click follow to learn about it.


Thanks for reading! Click like if this contest is one you’d like to try. For high schoolers, click here to learn about the Voice of Democracy essay competition, where next year’s theme is Why My Vote Matters.

If you have a question or need more information, please respond below and I’ll get right to you with an answer. 

Here’s the 7th Grade Missouri State Winner in the 2018 DAR American History Essay Contest

Plus: How I used this contest to teach blended-genre writing

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I put World War I posters around my classroom during October and November to help students understand the era.  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Every fall, my sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders enter an essay in the Daughters of the American Revolution’s   American History Essay Contest. Last fall was the fourth year my students entered the local contest, which is sponsored by the Taneycomo Chapter of the DAR, Forsyth, Mo. I’m proud to say that I’ve had students win at the local level for three of those four years and at the state level for two consecutive years!

Read this past article for information about the contest, guidelines, standards addressed, extra bonus, prizes, deadlines, and anything else I could think of that would be helpful to you.

Without any preview, other than the 2018 prompt, I’ve included below the 1000-word essay written by one of my seventh-grade students, Sara C. This essay was awarded first place among about forty entries submitted to our local county chapter. From there, it progressed to the state level, and placed first among all seventh-grade entries.

Here’s the prompt from the 2018 contest: The end of World War I was the beginning of a new age. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. Imagine you are living in 1918. State where you are living and how the end of the war will impact your daily life. Discuss the pros and cons of the changes this War introduced to society and how you imagine those changes will impact the United States in the years to come.

And here’s the essay that won “Best in the State of Missouri” by a seventh-grader: 

World War I: Remembering the War to End All Wars

We’re in the midst of the Great War. Women have assumed the jobs men had to abandon to fight with Allies. Ma and I work in the factory making uniforms for men at war. I want to take control for more than just work. I want to vote and be involved in the politics, the decisions, and the future of our country.

            My little brother, Henry, is fighting in the war. He is stationed in the fields of Flanders in Belgium. Little Henry… He should be here, but he’s a man. After he saw all the propaganda posters he decided he needed to help. He enlisted in the United States Army.

These posters were all over town, saying things like, “There is still a place in line for you. Will you fit in?” Or “Will you fight now or wait for this?” Then there was an image of destruction.

Ma and I were at a loss of words when told of his enlistment. It was hard on us. Now I don’t know if he’s safe. I may only hope for him to be okay. Not to starve, suffer a bullet wound, or get raided. I only have hope.

            Some of the other women have been getting angry. They want rights, as I do. Most only want equal pay. We get paid less for the same jobs, you see, and it isn’t fair. I’ve tried to explain the amount of our pay isn’t as important as the way we are treated, but few listen to me. They don’t want to face the truth in other’s eyes, women are just for taking care of children. We are lesser in our brains, or so men think.

            While I was walking home today I saw my friend Mildred. She was once so beautiful and lively. Now she’s very tired and her skin is stained yellow, she has become a canary after working in the munitions factory.

            “It’s just awful!” Mildred  exclaimed. “Remember Ruth? The little redhead?” she asked. I nodded. “Well, she dropped dead today. Out of the blue too,” she explained shaking her head.

            “What of?” I asked. “Was the toxins of the munition, or the Spanish Influenza?” Both have caused many deaths.

The flu was worst. It filled the lungs with fluids so people drowned. Sometimes it turned skin blue, too. It was a terrible thing for someone as small and fragile as a child or a large-built man to die of something beyond their control.

            “We don’t know yet. They say it was most likely from the flu. I think they’re trying to cover up,” she confides. “I believe it was the toxin we are exposed to. It’s not healthy.” Her face turns red with anger.

            In the field next to us kids are singing, skipping rope, and laughing. We heard them loudly chanting,  “I had a little bird, its name was Enza, I opened the window and in-flu-enza!” A woman scolds the kids as a group before grabbing a young girl by the wrist and pulling her inside their small house.

            “Mildred? I think I want to go to war,” I said.

            She looked ahead then laughed, tossing her head back. “Girls can’t be soldiers!” she wailed. “You’re too funny, Ruby. Way to lighten the mood!” she laughed again.

            “No, I’m serious. I may not be a soldier but I can go fix the soldiers up. They always need nurses,” I reasoned. “We could go help.”

            “Don’t be silly,” Mildred bursted. “What would your Ma do without you?” she exclaimed. “She’s already worried sick about Henry.” She looked at me waiting for an answer.

            “I suppose you’re right,” I sighed. “Someone needs to take care of Ma. And besides,” I said,  “I can’t very well fight for women’s rights on the battlefield.” Mildred rolled her eyes, said goodnight and entered her small house.

            I walk home and say hello to Ma.

            “Please don’t go today,” she begs as I step through the door. “The other girls can handle it,” she says.

            “Ma, please. Come with me,” I say.  I grab my jacket and bag.

            “No, no. I will not go,” she says crossing her arms. “When I was a girl of your age I was married and happy. Why in the world would you want to go and change things? You want to work?  No thank you, I’ll be sitting right here when you get back,” she says sternly.

            “Okay, suit yourself,” I say. “But I’m going to change America.” With that I left.

            I get mad when people tell me I’m wasting my time on something that’s meaningful and important to me. If I want equal rights I will get them. Look at all the work we women are putting in. Shouldn’t that be enough to show we are just as good, qualified, and patriotic as men?

I enter the meeting with my head held high.

            On November 11, 1918 the Great War, now known as WWI ended. We celebrate it as Veterans Day. We have parades and parties; many celebrations and the importance of why we celebrate should be heard; to honor all those who lost their lives for our freedom and safety, for all who suffered what we couldn’t begin to imagine.

            Women won the battle for suffrage. On August 18, 1920 women gained the right to vote. It was the opening of a door to all the rights women now have earned in the decades to come. The right to equal opportunities in work and society, the right that women can do anything a man can do. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton once said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”

  As a young lady, I’m proud. I’m proud girls can do anything men can do. As an American, I’m proud we have so many brave souls to give us the freedom we so desperately want. I would love nothing more than to thank each and every veteran individually.

Bibliography

American Experience Influenza 1918. Directed by Robert Kenner. WGBH Educational Foundation. Public Broadcasting Service. 1998.

“Spanish Influenza in North America 1918-1919” Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics. Harvard University Library Open Collections. Accessed 17, Oct. 2017.

Grant R. G. World War I. The Definitive Flawed History. DK Publishing. 2014. Print.

“In the Aftermath of World War I, Nations Were Forever Changed.” ThoughtCo.com. Newsela.com. 2017. Accessed 4 Nov. 2017.

Keene, Jennifer. “World War I” GilbertLehrman.org. Gilbert Lehrman Institute of American History. 2017. Accessed 17 Oct. 2017

“Outbreak of World War I” History.com. Newsela.com. 2017. Accessed 14 August. 2017.

Sara’s essay is not perfect. It switches points-of-view; there are some grammar issues. However, it does contain lots of period detail and a thorough knowledge of the myriad social changes brought on by the war. Sara paid direct attention to the prompt and made sure her essay addressed all criteria.

How I used this contest to teach blended-genre writing

I decided to use this essay contest to teach my students how to blend genres in their writing. To start, I did that by writing my own first draft of a story that shifted from narrative to expository about halfway through.

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Penelope Willard of the Taneycomo Chapter of the DAR and me at the essay awards ceremony, the 2018 George Washington Tea. The flowers were to recognize that my students have placed first in Missouri for two consecutive years.

I read my first draft aloud while students followed along on their own copy. I read it straight-through first and then we picked it apart, paying special attention to where exactly I “stepped out of” my story and began my informational writing.

You’ll see that this first draft is incomplete and shaky… some of my character’s names weren’t even decided yet and some of the plot’s action was abbreviated or even missing at this stage. Also, the point of view changed to third-person near the end, which I would need to fix.

With this mentor text, I told my students, I merely wanted them to see how to write narratively and then how to “step out of” the narrative and into informational writing. The bolded text at the top was just my note to students.

This is a start at my attempt at a blended genre essay… this is BOTH narrative and INFORMATIONAL….

How does it work in your opinion???

World War I: Remembering the War to End All Wars

“Well, don’t you think that since I worked alongside men and other women and other… well, Americans… that I ought to at least be able to cast a vote?” I tossed my head to the side. A strawberry blonde curl fell across my eyes.

I could tell my face was red and I hate it when my face turns red, but I was so sick and tired of having to explain this to people, most of all Mary, my closest friend, or who I thought was my closest friend.  I straightened my wool skirt. I pulled the curl away from my eyes and tucked it behind an ear.  I felt an argument sparking between us.

Mary turned to me, “But, Fiona, if they let women vote, then we’ll have to  …”, she hesitated.

“Be responsible? Intelligent? Up-to-date on what’s going on in the world?” I interrupted. I was flabbergasted. To think that we had both worked in the munitions factory, and had even moved to Chicago because there were so many jobs what with the war raging in Europe. To think that our jobs were contributing to the cause to fight the German Empire filled my heart with patriotism and duty.

===

Here’s where I step out of my story and start writing informationally:

The Great War ended on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918. It was the dawn of a new era for the world and for American women like Fiona who had felt the rumblings of progress when they filed one by one into the factories and offices while their men fought overseas. Knowing that they were keeping the country producing weaponry, food, and  the other supplies for the homefront and for our allies caused them to feel the burdens that had been borne primarily by the men of the country. With this knowledge, it only seemed obvious that now they had earned the right to vote alongside the men they had filled in for during the war. Suffrage was justified.

===

Here’s where I step back into my story and resume writing narratively:

This conversation was the exact same one I had been engaged in with various people… friends, other women at the factory, my parents. It seems that no one takes it as seriously as I do, and I don’t understand why. We owe it to our men – the ones who’ve fought in and survived those horrible trenches– to be responsible. Why should they carry all the load? It’s not fair to them, I have tried to explain so many times.

It seems the only people who understand me or agree with me are the suffragists, the women who have been wanting much longer than I have to see that women get the right to vote. I’ve been to a few of their meetings… loud, raucous events that you would think would have more of an impact  than they do.

“Well, Fiona, I know you’re convinced this is the next step for women, but I guess I’m not so sure,” Mary ended the conversation. She picked up her bag, turned and walked away from me. We had arrived at the factory that morning early, done our jobs, and now we were returning to our homes. Separately. I wasn’t sure this would dispute we were in would end amicably. I wasn’t so sure she was truly my closest friend anymore.

The next evening, I attended a suffragette meeting downtown. Alone. Mary wouldn’t go with me.

“I know it’s probably a good thing, but I’ll let those women decide how to get the vote,” she had told me earlier when I inquired whether she wanted to go.

“Well, I’m not going to let others decide what I’m going to do and when. It’s the year 1918. The war is over. And I can’t vote. It’s ridiculous,” I told her.

“Well, ridiculous or  not, I’m not going to that meeting. You’ll have to go alone,” she had said. And so I went alone.

The meeting began at 8:00 p.m. The meeting hall was full but not crowded. Mostly women and girls were there, huddling in groups at the beginning. Around 8:15, a woman took the stage. “Ladies, we are here tonight to once again discuss the Suffragist movement. WE must remain strong. We must convince other women that their opinions, their attitudes matter. The victorious Allied forces owe American women a debt. Because we worked, the Allies won. Through working, we fought in our own way. Because we worked, our men are back home and our country is on the move. The future of the United States of America and its women is bright!” Those in attendance clapped, filling the meeting room with thunderous enthusiasm.

As I watched the activitiy on stage, I noticed the speaker motion to a young man who was standing to the right of the stage. He was in uniform, and  well… there’s just something about a man in uniform. The man walked forward to Stanton, removed his cap, and bowed his head to the audience. Who was he, I asked myself?

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce _______, who has just returned from the battlefield of ______________.  I asked Mr. ____ if he would tell us of his experiences in the Great War and also relate to us his thoughts – and the thoughts of his fellow soldiers — about suffrage. I believe you will be encouraged by his words as we continue to fight for the vote.”

Sgt. ______’s speech goes here:

I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm for the suffrage meeting I had attended. When I spoke with Mary at the factory the next morning, there was a frostiness in the air between us. She listened, but barely. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t supportive. How anyone could continue to keep the voice of women out of politics and economic matters baffled me. When I mentioned my short conversation with Sgt. _____, she listened with curiosity at first, and then with disdain at the mention of Sgt. _________.

“Well, of course, your advocacy for suffrage only builds when there’s suddenly a handsome soldier involved!” She deposited her handbag into her locker, turned the key, and stomped off to her sewing machine. I stared after her, then headed for my own station.

Could I let this friendship go? Was I ready to take that step? Women usually work together, stick by each other, and  support one another.

I arrived early at the next meeting of the suffrage society, …. Was placed on a committee of young women to plan events to ensure that suffrage will pass. My committee was tasked with setting goals for the members as we work together to ensure passage of the 19th amendment.

First on the list: women should be allowed to vote alongside men, and to eventually hold office alongside men, whether it’s the office of head garbage collector, mayor, or even President of the United States!” I chimed in, amazed at my own bravery and high-minded idealism. This movement, born out of necessity from the horrors of the Great War, was changing me!

Has another conversation with Sgt. __________… it goes well and holds promise for the future for her personal life.

She decides to give up the friendship with Mary. It’s a tough decision, but having a say in elections is more important to Fiona than a friendship full of constant disagreement. Once she makes this decision, she knows she has made the right one. She feels that suffrage is more than just an idea, it’s a movement, a tidal wave, progress. It’s one of the few good things that came out of World War 1 and it will positively impact the future of the Uniteid States.

And it’s only a matter of time.

( 1,018 words)

Using my self-written mentor text was key to helping students see how they could write a story that they could, while in the same paper, “step out of” in order to explain facts, details and other information about the war.

Nearly all my students understood how to take the blended-genre approach to their entry and most used that approach. None of my IEP kids took the blended-genre route, which was fine. I knew they recognized when the genre shifted from narrative to informative; however, writing that on their own (with help) was difficult, and they tried. At least they were exposed to the technique… maybe next year!

This is the main reason I love the DAR American History Essay Contest: It has always allowed kids to write narratively, but the prompt can also be elevated to show kids how to blend genres. That’s an advanced skill, and one that isn’t addressed in the Missouri Learning Standards until ninth grade. It’s nice to know that my students have a “heads up” on this advanced writing move.


Thanks for reading! If you learned something with this post, click “like” and then leave a comment to let me know exactly what resonated with you, or if you have a question… ask away!

Also, follow this blog for a future post where I’ll share how I’ll prepare my students for the 2019 DAR contest. The theme? The Passage of the 19th Amendment, Women’s Right to Vote.

I’ll share about finding helpful videos, texts, and other resources, plus how I make homework assignments that build prior knowledge and lead up to the contest.  I also have students focus on precise details that can infuse their essays with realism. 

So far, these methods have worked for me and have helped my students win and build their writing confidence— my ultimate goal.

Writing Contest #9: NCTE’s Promising Young Writers

An any-genre writing contest just for your 8th graders

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My 8th graders from the 2017-18 school year worked hard (most of the time, anyway), despite having my class at the end of the day!

Full disclosure: this is a contest I have NOT tried with my students… yet. I’m a member of NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and for some reason, I just found out about the group’s Promising Young Writers contest a few days ago while surfing their website.  You can join NCTE here, and then learn more about this contest here, but for now, here’s a consolidation of what this contest is all about, prompt, deadline, and other details.

Age Range: Eighth-graders only. That’s interesting, isn’t it?! I think if I market this contest to my students as a “rite of passage” contest, as in “Not every middle schooler gets to do this contest, just the older ones…” then it might add some caché to the competition. My eighth-graders know that their final year in my class is a doozy with our “human rights dissertation,” but that project ends in the spring. The fall semester could use a similar premium project just for eighth-graders, and this could be it.

Topic or Prompt:  The 2018 prompt was “Truth and Reconciliation.” The prompt for 2019 will be available October 1-15 (I emailed), so check back then. However, we can infer from the 2018 prompt about the nature and quality of the next. The prompt and its description is quite lengthy. Here’s how the prompt is introduced:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1997), former Chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee, has proposed that the “future” of our planet depends on “forgiveness.” Writing is a powerful tool for bringing difficult truths to light and for helping people, in response to those truths, to reconcile with others, as well as with themselves. This year, we invite you to write about, and to write for, truth and reconciliation in your life.

Wow, right?! Sounds meaty to me… full of opportunities to think deeply. This intro was followed up with some ideas to develop the theme. Some of the questions it posed are:

  • Have I ever been forgiven and experienced reconciliation? How did that come about? Why was I forgiven? How did I learn from the experience?
  • What is a difficult truth that I (or my family, faith group, friends, community) have faced? How did I come to accept that truth? What was that process? What were the effects of accepting that truth?
  • Have I (or my family, faith group, friends, community) ever been healed by truth?
  • What aspects of my life need truth and reconciliation? How could this be achieved? What obstacles may need to be dealt with? What will the benefits be?

The prompt also provided a reference text for students to use. Desmond Tutu’s book, No Future Without Forgiveness.  In addition, the site’s Note for Teachers suggested that teachers use the literature and resources on the NCTE website.

Mentor Texts: The website does not currently provide winning entries, which is a bummer. However, I emailed NCTE to find out if that would be a possibility and yes, I was told that the committee will select a couple of winning entries and post them on the site. Yay! Knowing what the judges have awarded in the past really provides some extra scaffolding and differentiation for some students. Others, of course, don’t need the mentor texts; they just take off on their own.

Skills Addressed: This is interesting. According to these guidelines, any genre can be submitted. A student can submit a personal essay, graphic novel, podcast, scientific report, eulogy, sermon, letter to a politician, etc. I noticed that poetry was not listed; however, I also asked about that in my email, and was told that poetry can be used.

Judges grade the writing holistically. Your students need to pay special attention to:

  • content
  • purpose
  • audience
  • tone
  • word choice
  • organization
  • development
  • and my personal favorite, style

Start your workdays for this contest with mini-lessons on these key elements their writing will be judged on.

Another interesting note: at the bottom of the “Note to Teachers,” teachers are encouraged to allow their students to submit any appropriate writing done outside of school. I’m not sure if or how that could work. Again, I’ve not done this contest before with my students so this year will be experimental. I will know so much more in a year!

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Photo: pxhere

Length: Maximum four pages.

Deadline: In 2017, the final deadline was February 15, but submissions could be sent in electronically beginning December 15 by using the “Submit An Entry” button on this page. And, based on my experience, this should be the final deadline for my class. (With Christmas break followed by a brand new semester, no one is going to want to drag out something from the previous month and then finish and turn in during February. Not happening!)

A timeline for teacher planning purposes is provided. Last year, it suggested students begin their first drafts November 15.   I think this should be moved up to middle October, however, to allow enough time for revisions prior to the December 15 date.

I checked with NCTE about deadlines for next year, and I was told deadlines would mirror those from 2018. In fact, I was also told to check the site in early October for updates.

Also, the contest organizers request that teachers send in a limited number of entries. In other words, you can’t send everyone’s in. There’s a chart on the website that shows how many entries teachers are allowed to send. Me? I can send one since I have fewer than 100 students. If you have 100-199 students, you may send two. It scales up from there. Teachers with 500 or more can send in six entries.

This being the case, adjust your schedule accordingly! You may need more time to do your selections, especially when you find out that students (drumroll, please!) must send in ANOTHER piece of writing, the one they consider their best effort. It can also be in any genre, but must be in a different genre from the themed prompt entry. Both entries must be clearly marked, “Best” and “Themed.” The “Best” entry should be no longer than six pages. Gee… this contest has a lot of interesting rules and I’m ready to take it on; however, I may need a student to help me keep all the dates, requirements, and myriad details in order.

Prizes: Results are announced in May. Works that are judged “superior” receive a Certificate of Recognition and their name and your school’s name appears on the NCTE website.

Okay, I know I’m going to get a bunch of groans when I tell my students that there are no actual prizes, such as cash or publication. And, yes, it’s a pity that NCTE doesn’t provide more incentive. Still, this is a notable contest simply due to its sponsor. This is a contest a winning student should let their high school counselors know about so the award can be listed in their transcript file.

I love writing these posts when I find a new contest because they help me get my thoughts in line for entering my students’ work later. It’s totally possible I’ve left out some pertinent information, especially since this contest has such a unique procedure and process. If I discover any such omissions, I will include them in a future short post, and if you’re following me, you’ll get a handy notification of that when I do.


Thanks for reading! Click “Like” if you’re interested in this contest. Leave a comment to share your ideas or share this post to spread the word about this contest. 

If you’ve never offered writing contests to your students, read this post: Writing Contests Deliver Student Buy-In.