Yesterday I met for about an hour with Leslie Wyman, the managing director of the White River Valley Historical Society based in Forsyth, Missouri. I had contacted her last week by email to inquire whether there were any projects for which my students could provide basic research and/or writing.
I really didn’t know what I would find out, or even if there would be any opportunities for my students. In her reply email, however, she told me that several ideas came to mind! Wow, I thought, this is exciting!
So we met and talked about one idea in particular, which sounds very promising. I’m pondering the idea a bit further and hope to meet with her again next week to ask her a few more questions so we can, together, design a “real world” project for my seventh-graders.
Since 2014, The New York Times has sponsored an opinion-editorial contest on its Learning Network site. Last spring, all of my seventh-graders submitted entries for their chance to win. This contest engaged my students, especially because they knew they were writing for The New York Times.
Age Range: This contest is open to students aged 13-19.
Topic or Prompt: Students may write on any topic they wish. If they have trouble finding a topic, give them this list published by the Times. Consider narrowing it down first, since the size of the list can be overwhelming. Also, depending on the age of your students, skim through the list to eliminate any topics that aren’t age-appropriate. Some of the topics are too mature for my middle schoolers. Some sample topics from recent years include Is Social Media Making Us More Narcissistic? Another one: Do Teachers Assign Too Much Homework?
For a complete list of 2017 winners with links to the top ten, go here. Copy off a few of the winning essays to use as mentor texts.
Best Thing To Me About This Contest:
The clout of writing for the Times makes this contest special. My students hold this newspaper that’s been in publication for 162 years in high esteem and like knowing their writing may receive recognition from it.
Skills Addressed: Students must state their argument and support it efficiently with background information, examples, evidence, and counter-arguments. As for evidence, at least two sources must be used; one of those must be from the Times.
Click here for a rubric that shows what the judges are looking for. We discussed the rubric in class and used it as a checklist during peer response. I also used it during grading.
Share these tips from the editors with your students. Here’s one the editors offer: “Start strong. Grab our attention in the first few sentences, but don’t take too long to state your argument.”
Length: 450 words or less. This is about concision. Students learn to make every word absolutely necessary to the argument.
Deadline: Early April. Check back here in early 2018 for next year’s date.
Prizes: This year, 128 winners were chosen out of nearly 8,000 entries. This includes 10 top winners, 15 runners-up, 45 honorable mentions, and 58 writers whose essays survived to the third round. Winning essays are published on the Learning Network site.
The Unexpected Bonus: Students enter their essays online themselves here. This makes it super easy to submit entries. Students also must enter their sources in the online form. Examples are given so students format citations correctly.
For more information: Click here for complete rules.
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