Contest #7 That Works for My Students: Ozarks Writers League Youth Writing Contest

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Photo: Pixabay

Don’t forget to investigate any contest opportunities that may be available from a local writers group in your area. My principal received a flyer from a member of the Ozarks Writers League last fall. The flyer gave the basic details for the league’s annual youth writing contest. I’m always up for the extra motivation that contests provide for my students, so I added some projects to their “Writers Workshop” project list that could be entered in the OWL contest.

The contest had two categories, poetry and short story. Both of these categories are ones that I can always devote more time to, so I jumped at the chance to have students write poems and narratives.

Students could write on any topic, which really gets them excited to create! Of course, for some, that kind of leeway is overwhelming. For those kids, ideas will usually surface if we just have a conversation about their lives, families, hobbies, or memories.

As for poetry, there is a great poetry generator at PoeticPower.com. And to be honest, students will typically use the generator to get started, but will often veer from the templates once they get the juices flowing.

For the OWL contest, I copied off the flyer and kept several for kids to reference as needed. I also found some mentor texts and had those available as well. Those examples were not previous OWL entries (since we hadn’t entered it before and OWL doesn’t post winning entries), but merely mentor texts I just collected on my own.

Even though there were only two categories in which to enter, there were several awards given within those categories. Those categories were:

Short Story: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Honorable Mention for Attribution, Honorable Mention for Characterization, Honorable Mention for Romance, Honorable Mention for Empathy, Honorable Mention for Humor.

Poetry: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 1st Honorable Mention, 2nd Honorable Mention

When the contest deadline came around, I had to pay extra attention to the small print in the guidelines. The league required paper copies of all entries. They also had a short list of basic identifying information to be attached to each entry. To make this easier, I made a slip with blanks for students to fill out that we then paper-clipped to their entry. By the time the entries were ready, I had a stack of stories and poems about two inches thick!

According to OWL members who I spoke with at the awards ceremony, not many area schools participate in the contest. That’s okay… it just left us with several opportunities to win.

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2018 Ozark Writers League Winners

Here are the winners! Gabby F. placed 3rd in Short Story for her work “Foster Child”; Brooke S. won Honorable Mention in Characterization for Short Story for her work “Anxiety”; Zack S. placed 3rd in Poetry for his work “Sometimes on a Boat in the Fog”; Cristina H. placed 1st Honorable Mention in Poetry for her work “This is My World”; Sara C. placed Honorable Mention for Romance for her work “The Hopeless Romantic.”

OWL held a brief awards ceremony in February. Students who were able to attend received a certificate and small cash prizes that ranged from $5 to $20. I hyped the results up by posting the winning entries on the wall outside my class and recognizing the kids at an end-of-the-week assembly.

I plan to have students enter the contest again next year. Contests provide motivation and build confidence. Those are reasons enough to enter any contest, even the small local ones. Do some internet research or inquire on social media to learn about any writing contests for students in your local area!


Thanks for reading!  Click “like,” leave a comment and check out my posts about other writing contests for middle school students. Find those by clicking “Writing Contest” in the list of categories in the sidebar on the right side of this page. 

“Why do we have to write in cursive?”

Pure and simple: to compete.

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Photo by Cel Lisboa on Unsplash

 

Near the beginning of the school year, I read aloud the comment in the picture below to my middle school Language Arts students. I came upon this comment one day when I was reading this New York Times article about the death of cursive writing.

The writer of this comment is a university professor who has some interesting observations about students who know and use cursive writing. I usually read this aloud to the class after the first week, when students have had about three cursive quotes to complete at the beginning of class. Read about that activity here.

I pass out copies of the professor’s comments to students, inform them that yes, there are some typos in it (why didn’t he proofread this?), and then I read it aloud. It succinctly explains one reason, among others, why I believe I should teach cursive to my kids… to make them competitive with their private school peers, and with students around the world. Why should we expect less of public education students, I ask?

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After we finish reading the professor’s comment, I ask the kids what they think of his ideas and his rationale for advocating cursive writing. As we discuss Mulvey’s ideas, however, it becomes clear that many of students don’t understand the differences between private and public schools. So we talk about our public school and how it’s supported by the taxes their parents pay, and therefore, must abide by certain guidelines and standards set by our government.

We also discuss how private schools use different standards and curriculum and have more autonomy in their choice of subjects taught and activities offered. I usually discuss a local private school that many of them are aware of. I know this private school requires that their students write in cursive and, as a result, those students reap the benefits of cursive writing.

Those students enjoy a competitive edge when compared to public school students who often aren’t required to learn and practice cursive. They also are on the same level as students around the world who learn cursive. This is in addition to the more often expressed benefits of cursive writing: deeper thinking, more carefully constructed thoughts, more complex ideas.

Why shouldn’t my public school students be allowed to have these competitive edges also? I tell them I am simply making sure they are getting as full and complete an education as the students at the nearby private school.

Our discussion, prompted by Mulvey’s comment, does three things:

  • it helps them understand why I spend time on cursive writing
  • it makes them think twice before complaining about cursive
  • it helps them get my point, which is that I care about them and their education and if we have to spend time learning something that will make them competitive later, then so be it.

And that usually solves the whole “Why do we have to write in cursive?” tirade.  Now they know my reasons and the purpose behind them. They want to be competitive, too, after all.


What are your thoughts on Mulvey’s views? Agree? Disagree? Somewhere in the middle? There are other reasons why I think cursive writing is important; I’ll discuss those other reasons to teach and practice cursive in the upper grades in my post on Thurs., June 14.

How I Add Cursive Writing to My Class

I don’t really teach it… I just help them practice it.

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An example of the five-minute cursive activity my middle schoolers do as soon as they walk into class about three days a week.

I’ve heard some teachers say that they simply don’t have the time teach cursive in their 53-minute class period. Frankly, neither do I. But I can do this: open class with a five-minute cursive activity.

So about three days week, I’ll go to Brainy Quote and click on their Quote of the Day menu and choose a quote from the several choices that are given. Then I enlarge the image so it covers my entire SmartBoard.

  • When students enter my room, they see the quote and know to copy it down in cursive onto a sheet of notebook paper.
  • They need to include the entire quote as shown on the slide.
  • There should be no misspelled words.
  • The author’s name should be included below the quote.
  • And then, they turn it in.

It’s a quick, five-minute way to practice cursive, and for those kids who struggle with cursive, it’s a review that isn’t too daunting or time-consuming. For those kids  who need it,  I print out the slide from Brainy Quote and lay it on their desk so they can copy it more easily without having to look up and down at the SmartBoard several times.

In addition to these cursive quotes, the bi-weekly spelling packets that students have as homework are also to be completed in cursive. Sure, they complained when I started doing this, but now they don’t. It’s just the way we do spelling packets.

For next year, I’m thinking about making my class (one of their eight classes during the day) a 100- percent cursive classroom. In other words, if they write by hand, then it will be in cursive.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worthwhile to do such a touch-and-go cursive activity. With all the emphasis on standards and tested items, cursive can seem outdated and unnecessary. However, I believe that writing by hand—and especially in cursive– sharpens your brain, slows down your thoughts, and forces you to make decisions as you write. For example, during note-taking, one must – as one writes—decide what to include due to its importance, or what to omit.

Tomorrow, I’ll post a short article I read aloud to my students that explains one reason I emphasize cursive writing in my classroom. Tune in tomorrow for that.


How do you approach cursive writing? Click like and leave a comment to let me know. It’s really an issue that I mull over continually. What do you think?

 

2017-18 VFW Patriot’s Pen Youth Essay Contest Results

Finally… here’s that follow-up post I promised plus the winning essay entry

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Photo: Pixabay

Last winter, I wrote a post about a contest that my seventh-graders enter each fall: the Patriot’s Pen youth essay contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. At the conclusion of that post, I wrote that I would update you on the results of that contest. Well, ahem… I’m just now getting to that. Whoops.

Here’s an announcement that I wrote at the time on my classroom website:

The 2017 Patriot’s Pen essay contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars was another success this year. The first-place winner in this seventh-grade contest was Avery F. Second-place went to Bella F. and third-place went to Logan C. The winners were awarded certificates, pins, and $100, $75 and $50 cash prizes, respectively. This year’s theme was “America’s Gift to My Generation.”

The awards were presented by Hollister VFW Post Commander, Gerald Long (at right in photo below), and VFW State Inspector Paul Frampton (at left).

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2017 VFW Patriots Pen Winners

Avery F.’s first-place essay follows:

America’s Gift to my Generation

A whisper; a promising whisper. It doesn’t promise death, but rather life. It doesn’t kill but rather sacrifices. For when there’s something that we love, we really truly love, we must do any and everything we can to protect it.

For we are Americans. We grew up with a freedom many people only dream of having. Our ancestors fought many brutal wars so that we could lavish in a country and all be united. A country where diversity is alive; where we all can consider ourselves brothers and sisters, children of God despite our differences.

This is America’s gift to my generation: a country that was taught by the promises, the brave actions that good people like my great-grandfather, a veteran gunner on the USS Franklin during World War II, fought for. America was raised by people who wanted to ring the best out of the world and people from different cultures with different traditions and the same desire: a place to possess rights to embrace the different cultures, traditions, and languages that could someday, today be admired by people of all sorts.

When America was first born, there were seven key founding fathers. These men imagined a country of peace in diversity. They had the courage to separate themselves from injustice because they hoped for a country blessed with freedom where people were able to believe in what they wanted to.  These men made a proclamation for “we the people” to follow known as the U.S. Constitution, a document that establishes our rights as equals, the privileges they fought for us to have.

Those whispers, those promising whispers don’t promise death; for when a battle is being fought, nothing can be quite positively assured. They rather promise life. When brave men and women volunteer for the military, they show their love, compassion that they have for their family, not just their blood family, but the family that we the people of the United States create when we unite ourselves as one under God. For when there’s something that we love, we really truly love, we must do any and everything we can to protect it. This is America’s gift to my generation.

I hope you’ll consider having your students enter this contest this fall. There is so much room for creativity within each year’s provided theme. Plus, my students love contests and especially this one with its cash prizes and recognition. Next year will be the fourth year my kids have participated. It’s truly a highlight of the year!


Thanks for reading! If you found this informative, click “like” and feel free to leave a comment. Follow this blog for updates on the 2018-19 VFW Patriot’s Pen contest. I already have some details that I’ll be posting soon. Stay tuned!

 

Read this before your students write

You’ll see light bulbs pop on across your classroom as you read it.

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Photo: Gisella Fotographie on Pixabay

Copy off the paragraph below from writing guru Gary Provost and read it aloud to your students at the beginning of class or as a mini-lesson. Don’t just read it aloud… make sure they follow along on their own copy. It’s more effective that way. You’ll see the light bulbs pop on across your room as you read it. That’s what happens when I read it to my students. I usually read it once in seventh-grade, and then we revisit it once or twice in eighth grade. It’s awesome.

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals— sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

To get more writing advice to use in your class, order Provost’s book. 

As you read this aloud to your students, if your kids are like mine, you’ll see their eyes raise from the page and lock with yours in recognition of what Provost is cleverly doing: literally showing them sentence variety and how effective it is.

You may have to explain a few things (What’s a stuck record? What does it mean when something drones? What does monotonous mean?), but I can’t think of a faster, more effective way to explain the positives of sentence variety.

Then collect the paragraphs, and remind your kids to apply sentence variety to the writing project they happen to be working on for the day…. assuming they’re not first-drafting. For my own writing, sentence variety comes into play during revision. If I’m lucky, it’ll happen during a first draft, but not usually.


That’s all for today! Thanks for reading! Click “like” if you found this useful and leave a comment with your own approach to teaching sentence variety. This works for me, but I’d like to know what works for you.

Also, request my free “reflection assignment PDF” by clicking the “Send freebie!” menu at the top of the page. Make sure to write “reflection PDF” in the comment box so I know what to send.

 

 

Words are things that are beautiful to picture, things that glow in the world.

Today’s post: Sixth-graders reflect on their writing

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Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

Today, I’m posting some responses from a reflection assignment I gave to my sixth-graders the last week of school. I asked them to write a 300-word reflection of the progress they made in my language arts class this year. Read more about the assignment and my seventh-grade reflections at this link.

I love this assignment.  And to think that I almost didn’t assign it due to the “busy-ness” of the last week and its field trips, assemblies, and other end-of-year activities. Through the words of my students, I’ve learned so much about what is important to them with regards to my classes, including those areas they know they need to grow in next year.

And, by the way, this was a first-draft assignment, which meant we would not be taking the time to revise; however, students know that I expect them to polish their first drafts, making any corrections or revisions needed before turning in.

Here are a few golden lines from some of my sixth-graders, transcribed here without corrections, along with my own reflections and thoughts.

“I am so much better at punctuation that I was last year. punctuation has always been hard for me, because I always seem to be using the wrong mark.”

  • It’s nice to know this student feels progress in this area.

“I used to just say, ‘I walked to the store.’  Now I add alot more detail and say, ‘I cassually walked to the small, brightly colored store.’  So because I add in more detail the reader gets a better picture, and I won’t need to answer as many questions.”

  • Sensory language and imagery are emphasized in class and it shows. With her funny final remark, I think this student is relating that her descriptions paint a picture so clear that the reader isn’t left with questions. That’s progress!

“I feel like I explain things in all my stories instead of making it an interesting story that people would actually read.”

  • This student is beginning to understand “show don’t tell.”

“Granted, there are spell check softwares, but computers can’t fix everything, like tense and homophones.”

  • Yes! A student who sees the limits of technology!

“I can tell what transitions are I used to get them mixed up. And the same with fanboys. But now I can actually remember most of them and when I can use them and how to use them.”

  • This student is becoming adept at some of the most often used tools that writers use to express their ideas smoothly… conjunctions and transitions.

“Writing is a way that I express myself. It helps me have less stress and helps me worry less.”

  • This is a milestone in itself. This student will go far if she has this mindset in sixth grade!

“I feel Mrs. Yung makes you do a lot of writing so you get compturible it’s rough at first but by a month or two you will be find you’ll write for fun also.”

  • This student struggles with many basics, but has shown improvement over the course of the school year. He also wants to improve, which is half the battle. Goals for next year: learning to reserve enough time to polish and revise the writing.

“Mrs. Yung put writing contest so if you you get a prize or even in a book. I think writing is the easiest thing to do case you write about when you think about and it takes skill too.”

  • I know this assignment was a challenge for this student. He didn’t reach the word requirement, but did get his thoughts onto the page. Goals for next year: syntax, simple sentence structure.

“We wrote from just writing a big blob of words to dividing into paragraphs.”

  • A primary objective of elementary writing instruction is mastering the paragraph. Writing a draft of multiple paragraphs is indeed new territory and one we will continue to observe in seventh grade. I still see too many one-paragraph essays.

“Words are things that are beautiful to picture, things that glow in the world.”

  • This student obviously values words and does it with a creative flair. Score!

“I really like poems now. Last year I always thought poems had to rhyme but when I went to 6th grade I learned that they didn’t have to rhyme.”

“I have also learned that there are many types of things to write. My where I’m from poem this is a good example of something I was proud of. I put basically everything I know about myself in there.”

  • Variety is the spice of life and that goes for writing, too! While it’s good to focus on the standards, argument writing, et al, it’s important to show students the more creative side of the craft.

“Another thing is that I can put more feeling and emotion into my stories and essays, by using descriptive words and I feel like I could throw my voice into it.”

  • It’s gratifying that this student feels free to express himself on the page.

“Language arts isn’t my favorite subject actually science is but Language arts is interesting and has a lot of rules. Sadly I don’t quite understand all of them, because they are tricky and English is one of the hardest languages to understand this makes it more difficult. Also, I’ve been practicing it sense I was a little child.”

  • It’s easy to forget that English is a difficult language to master. It’s full of rules and contradictions to those rules. This response reminds me how important it is for me to provide students the writing tools and techniques they will need as they mature to more developed writing.

Thanks for reading! If you see enjoy my blog, please follow! I’m trying to find ways to make my site more valuable… more than just a place for me to “show and tell” what happens in my classroom. If you have ideas for stories or have specific questions about something you read here or about teaching in general, please leave a comment so we can share our experiences. 

“I would write like a dog with hooves it was hard.”

When students reflect, three things happen.

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Photo: Pixabay

 

About a week before school ended in May, I asked my sixth- and seventh-grade students to write a 300-word reflection of the progress they made in my language arts class this past year. I find this assignment very valuable, both for me and my students because it provides three things:

  1. a snapshot of how they assess their progress in their own voice,
  2. a last-minute glimpse of their end-of-year writing skills, and
  3. an opportunity for me to reflect on my teaching.

Here are a few golden lines from some of my seventh graders, transcribed here without corrections. I bulleted my own thoughts and clarifications below each one.

“In eighth grade my goal is to have more of my writing published and to have a better comprehension in not only writing but in bigger and stronger vocabulary words.”

  • I love that this student wants to be published and knows that it’s a real possibility. It’s also gratifying when students acknowledge the value of a strong vocabulary.

“I have become a better writer honestly from writing more. It sounds dumb but it actually helps to write more.”

  • This should go on a plaque. I truly believe that “practice makes perfect.”  Now, of course, I don’t advocate quantity over quality, but, in my experience, there is something to be said for simply doing LOTS OF WRITING, which in turn earns LOTS OF FEEDBACK with which to improve. In addition, frequent writing has another plus: it builds up students’ stamina and their comfort level with writing.  When asked to type a two-page essay for their weekly homework assignment, my students don’t panic… they just start planning.

“Then I improved a lot on punctuation compared to last year because the more I learned about it and the more I practiced it, the more I used it and the better I got at it.”

  • Again, this reflection supports the benefits of writing frequently. The more we practice, the more comfortable we become with it. In my own blogging experience, writing and posting daily used to be a challenge, but the more I do it (practice it, essentially), the easier it is. I think it’s good to share in the struggles of writing with your students.

“Sentences were like idea changers.”

  • The student who wrote this really hates writing, so I was surprised to find this little nugget buried in his reflection. Interesting! It shows a recognition of the deeper thinking and re-thinking that occurs when we write and read. I do regret that I wasn’t able to turn this student “on” to writing this year.

“Then I started adding a little detail to thicken my stores adding more and more of the five senses, and now I think i’m right on the edge of terribly and decent.”

  • Love the honesty! Despite the errors, I feel that this student’s confidence is building ever so gradually. I’m looking forward to next year with this student. Maybe I’ll be able to show him that proof-reading will help his ideas come across better.

“I almost only thought i could only have one perspective of what you was writing about.”

  • This student is reflecting on a recently completed argument essay.  What I like about this comment is that this student has grasped the concept of “argument,”…that an argument is a discussion, a give-and-take conversation on a topic with multiple perspectives.  It bothers me that this student is still struggling with parts of speech, subject-verb agreement, and editing.

“When I start with an interesting lead that has recently been the last think that I do because before that I would spend time trying to figure one out an interesting lead and I wouldn’t leave myself anytime for actual writing.”

  • This is a little hard to understand, but based on some conversations I remember with this student during the school year, I’m fairly sure this student is trying to explain how, in the past, she would labor so long over an attention-getting lead that she would run out of steam (or time) to work on the main points of her essay. To prevent the “I can’t think of how to start” syndrome, I encourage kids to jump to the middle of their essays or to their conclusions or anywhere really, just to get words onto the page. The lead can always be developed later. This approach seems to work so far. My goal with this student for next year: write smoother sentences, read the sentences out loud, break long sentences into shorter ones.

“I would write like a dog with hooves it was hard.”

  • The first time I read this, I gasped. It’s raw and accurate. Priceless. This student struggles so much with syntax and sentence structure, punctuation, you-name-it; however, this student wants to learn and obviously has a gift for simile.  I love this sentence for its blunt honesty and voice. At the same time, I regret that after an entire school year of instruction, this student still struggles with run-ons.

“I do have good grammar most of the time (but not in first drafts).”

  • Bravo bravo! Here’s my take on this one: This student has moved on from the “one and done” mindset to the acknowledgment that revision and rewriting are just part of the process. However, I know this student really stressed over her reflection. To help, I told her she could just write down the answers to the questions in the “Clarity of Ideas” section of the rubric on the handout below.  I asked that she assemble her answers into paragraphs. It was a start, at least.
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This is a quick photo of the handout I made for my reflection assignment. 

You can tell from the students’ responses that I have a wide range of abilities in my seventh graders. For example, some students need help with basic sentence structure, while a few can regularly craft beautiful and flowing complex sentences. These disparities can be challenging at times, but this reflection assignment helps me with meeting the various needs of my students.

The reflection essay also makes me wonder whether I should assign these more often. I’ll share some reflections from my sixth-graders tomorrow.


Thanks for reading! Do you have a “reflection” assignment you use in your language arts classes?  What’s your experience with it? Please click like and leave a comment to share your ideas.