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.

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!