Contest #6 That Works for My Students: Outdoor Writers Association’s Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards

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Here’s another writing contest for you to try with your students.

The Outdoor Writers Association, based in Missoula, Montana, is an organization of writers, editors, broadcasters, photographers, film makers, and other communicators who are, according to OWAA’s website, “dedicated to sharing the outdoor experience.”

The organization is involved in many outreach activities, including the Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards, a national contest for students who submit works in prose or poetry that is outdoor-oriented. Students may enter as many pieces as they wish, but only one will be chosen as a winner.

One of my eighth-graders won the second place prize in the prose junior division in the 2017 contest. Read about it here. You can read my student’s essay here: Natural Nostalgia.

Age Range: This contest is open to students in grades 6-12. There are two divisions: junior (grades 6-8) and senior (9-12).

Topic or Prompt: Students may write about kayaking, camping, hunting, ecology, fishing, boating, just walking outdoors… really any outdoor-themed topic.

Mentor Texts to Use: At the outset of the contest, we read previous winning poems and prose pieces for examples and ideas. While I do have some copies of previous winners that I used in class last year, I’ve been unable to find those online recently. Here’s a link from Outdoor News where I was able to locate a winner from the 2010 contest entitled, “My First Deer, My Dad’s Fifth.” Leave a comment on this post so I can help you find more mentor texts for this contest.

Best Thing To Me About This Contest: Student choice. The fact that students can write about any topic, as long as it’s outdoor-oriented is a big plus for this contest. My students wrote about hiking, taking their first deer, fishing, and just climbing a tree. Anyone can relate to this topic and has an outdoor memory they can reflect on. I also like that poetry is an option, although only one of my students entered a poem last year.

Skills Addressed:  This contest lends itself to narrative writing skills. Students must learn to sequence events logically, use appropriate transitions, and incorporate sensory language and imagery. However, there are other ways to approach the contest. For example, argument and opinion pieces may be entered. Again, choice is central to this contest. 

Length: No length requirement is listed on the contest’s guidelines.

Deadline: In 2017, the deadline was March 15. Make sure to adjust the deadline around spring break. Check back here to confirm the 2018 deadline date. Winners are announced in early August, which will seem like an eternity to your students! However, if one of them wins, it’s a great way to start the next school year!

Prizes: This year, Falcon Guides, a publisher of guidebooks for outdoor enthusiasts, provided prizes totaling $1,500. In addition, the OWAA eventually publishes all winning entries in its print magazine Outdoors Unlimited and on its website.  So far, however, I’ve had a hard time finding winning entries from recent years.

How to Enter: Entries may be submitted online via an email address. However, entries can also be mailed to OWAA’s Missoula office, which is what I chose to do last year, my first year to try this contest. I attached a slip of paper to each entry that noted the division (junior) and category (prose or poetry). This is a required step for all entries. Next year, I may try emailing the entries.

For more information:  Click here for complete rules.

Give this contest a try! I think your students will find engagement due to the wide variety of topics they can explore with this contest. Good luck!

 

 

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We have a winner!

Student’s essay places second in national contest

Congratulations to Elijah D., whose essay placed second in the Outdoor Writers Association‘s Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards.

IMG_5056 (2)Eli’s essay entitled “Natural Nostalgia” placed second in the nation in the junior prose category. He also received a check for $100. Eli graduated from Kirbyville Middle School in May and will attend Branson High School this fall.

For more information about this contest, please follow my blog to see my next post, “Contest #6 that Works for My Students: Outdoor Writers Association Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards.”

Let Students Talk, Think, and Think Some More

Here’s what else I do to help students find writing topics they care about and then start writing

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Photo by Anton Darius | Sollers on Unsplash

I know from teaching middle school (6-8) ELA for a few years that, in order for students to be passionate about their writing, they must first have a topic that they care about. When they care, they won’t mind taking the time to struggle to get their ideas expressed effectively. They’ll  persevere through the thinking and writing (and rethinking and rewriting) that inevitably happens when they are truly engaged and committed to their ideas. In a previous post, I listed three ways I help my students find topics they care about. Here they are:

1) I give them lots of choices. If they don’t like any of the fifty or more prompts I offer, they can write about their own idea.

2) I regularly assign slice-of-life essays about the ordinary moments of life that, while small, reveal our humanity and common experiences.

3) I simply give students time to think.

The fourth thing I do to help students find a good topic is this: I let them talk.

Nothing builds enthusiasm as much as inviting students to share their ideas, connections, and memories. Writing ideas bubble up around the room as others share their experiences. I carry a dry erase marker on me at all times so I can rush over to the whiteboard and jot down a random idea like “snowboard life lesson thing” for Gwen or “spaghetti disaster” for Casey.

Usually, after they’ve talked for a while (about 15-25 minutes), I’ll notice students here and there pulling out pen and paper to start writing. I use that as my guide. I make a quick announcement that it’s time to start writing. I invite them to grab a clipboard and find a spot on the floor around the room or at a table where they can be productive. Many choose to stay at their desks. If they sit with a buddy, they must still be productive.

Then I turn off the fluorescent lights and flip on the white Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling. It creates an inviting glow that signals it’s time to settle in for writing.

Those kids who pulled out their paper first to write will usually be my star students. Because I know those kids can easily dive right into writing, I make sure to keep an eye on those who may need help getting started. I let everyone know it’s okay if nothing gets written down that day, but the goal for the next is to have a semblance of an idea at the beginning of class. And then I let those strugglers stare at the wall some more. I pour out the patience.

One of the most introspective pieces ever composed in my classes was written by a student who stared at the wall for most of the class period. At first, I thought Joe was just biding his time, but when I checked with him, he told me he just couldn’t think of anything. So I let him stare.

The next day, he rushed into class with a sheet of notebook paper covered on both sides with some wonderful personal thinking about being young, making choices, and about how it can actually feel bewildering to have so many options in life. A truly interesting piece with ideas I never expected this student to harbor. In fact, I still keep a copy in my “Why I Teach” binder. Rereading it reminds me that I should be patient when discussion doesn’t ignite everyone’s imagination right away.  Some kids just need more time to think.

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!

 

2017 Branson Tech Institute: My Takeaways

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An added bonus to attending the Branson Tech Institute was meeting and getting to know three teachers who are new to Kirbyville Schools. From L to R: new KMS science teacher Andrea Hoskins; me; new KMS special services teacher Shelby Ross; and new music/band/honor choir teacher for both KMS and KES, Phyllis Brixey.

I attended Branson Tech Institute, an educational technology conference, July 17-18 at Branson High School. The Branson School District extended invitations to attend the conference to area schools, including my district, Kirbyville R-VI. (Thanks to my district for paying my registration fee!)

About a dozen different classes were offered during each of nine sessions. Classes were categorized into grade level and subject areas. The district also provided a single link on Google drive for the presentation materials, handouts and links from all the sessions. A gold mine! Here’s a list and brief description of the sessions I chose to attend.

Chromebook Cart Management: This was a refresher course presented by Branson faculty member Kim Good. It showed me ways to keep my own computer cart organized in my classroom. Good news! My school already does what she recommended!

Google Forms: Quizzes, Data Collection & More: Presenter and Branson teacher Courtney Brown taught the basics of Google Forms. Even though I have attended other classes on Forms, I still don’t use it regularly in my classroom. However, I feel that this will change this year. I will be having students complete one on the first or second day of school this year. I’ll use it to give me an update on students’ writing style and interests, and home Internet access.

Curating Great Resources for ELA: Presenter Melody Alms taught this course on internet resources specifically for teaching ELA. My biggest take-away: CommonLit.org, a fantastic site for fiction and nonfiction literacy resources. So much to discover!

Twitter for Beginners: Even though I have started to more actively use Twitter this summer, this session taught by Katie Kensinger taught me some basics that I just didn’t know. By the way, I only have one Twitter account (many teachers have both personal and professional accounts). My Twitter account includes shares from this blog and my personal writing blog; my profile includes links to both blogs. I only tweet about topics related to my writing and teaching.

Social Media in the Classroom: This course focused on the use of Instagram in the classroom. Branson teacher Sarah Yocum shared her private class Instagram account and procedures. Very interesting. I had toyed with this idea previously this summer based on an Instagram post made by a former student. Read about that here. As a result, I have started my own private account for my ELA classes at Kirbyville Middle School. You can see my first four posts in the sidebar of this blog. I envision posting photos for writing prompts, writing tips, class photos (with parent permission, of course).

Parents, students, and my Kirbyville colleagues may request to follow the account; however, I don’t follow anyone in return. Students must have a parental permission form signed before they can follow the account.

Because not all students have Instagram (especially in middle school), students won’t “have to have” access for assignments; the class Instagram will be supplemental. Posts that must be seen for an assignment will be on the smartboard in class or given on a handout. This will be just a new way to interact with students in a medium they are comfortable with.

EdPuzzle: This class taught about a free interactive site that allows the teacher to select a video and then edit it, thereby tailoring it to their instruction.  The program also contains analytical tools to evaluate student progress and mastery. While I found this very valuable, it seemed to require more time to learn than I am willing to invest at this time.

ESL — Modified and Meaningful Instructions with Technology: This class was focused for literacy coaches and provided a wealth of information and resources that I need occasionally as I interact and teach students for whom English is their second language. I wish I had learned this material about two years ago when a Spanish-speaking student who knew no English entered my classroom. Biggest takeaway: We must provide our ESL students with the common speech alternatives to academic terms, even going so far as providing them English vocab tip sheets for them to access when doing assignments and tests.  For example, there are many synonyms that are helpful to know when we talk about addition in math class. Some of these are how many altogether, sum, plus, add it up, and others.

GoFormative: This session discussed the use of this tool that evaluates learning of all students. Found at goformative.com, this site lets teachers create instant quizzes over videos and material you select to teach. I could possibly use this for reading comprehension checks and vocabulary lessons.

Green Screen and Stop Motion: Taught by Paula Bronn and Kari Houston, this class gave teachers the basics of incorporating dynamic and exciting presentation options for kids. I can see kids producing professional presentations from exotic locales (based on the images they find to project on the screen). The possibilities are really endless and it’s hard to wrap my mind around all that could be achieved with this tool. Added bonus of this session: I learned I don’t actually need a green screen. Green paper will suffice. The only hardware I would need would be an Ipad and a tripod. They even showed us how to make stop-motion videos with claymation and Lego figures. Here’s the main site I would check out first: Doink.

Poster Sessions: On Tuesday morning of the event, all sessions hosted a table in the commons area. Each attendee was given a card to have initialed by the presenter at each table. One goal of the poster sessions was to get the initials of 15 presenters to win a door prize (I won a drawstring backpack). However, the biggest goal of the poster sessions was simply to give attendees a chance to gather information on sessions that they didn’t actually take a class for, due to time constraints.  Smart idea and very beneficial!

To conclude, my greatest takeaway from the entire conference is to make sure that technology propels a student’s education forward.  Technology is an incredible gift, IF teachers use it intelligently, effectively and efficiently.

In other words, technology doesn’t always win against tried-and-true tools such as pen and paper, but being informed about technology’s benefits and potential uses does help me connect better with my students who have lived their entire lives surrounded by it.

When you return to your classroom before you’re required to return to your classroom

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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.

Heads up! Student poetry contest deadline August 18

 

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Photo: Pixabay

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!

 

 

 

Dear English teachers who have stumbled upon Medium during your summer break,

Originally published here July 19, 2017 on Medium.com in From a Teacher.

 

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Photo: Tran Mau Tri Tam on Unsplash

 

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!