UPDATE – You can learn more about this writing contest at my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46cEHf0UoOU
Tired of grading endless stacks of essays? Want to lighten your grading load while still having students write and receive meaningful feedback on their work? The answer is to host this writing competition.
Students enter their writing into a series of peer-review competitions during this week-long activity. The beauty of this five-day lesson plan, which can work with any novel, is that you won’t need to grade any of the papers. Instead, the students will do all of the work and all of the learning – from each other. Follow the steps provided and your students will give lots of meaningful feedback to each other, all with the excitement of some friendly competition. The elimination process of the game (yes, some papers are struck down by “topic teams”) ensures that the highest-quality writing moves forward, and all students work to evaluate those pieces of writing. The victorious papers for each round serve as excellent models for students who didn’t survive earlier rounds of the game.
Students love the contest because it’s a low-pressure, fun-filled activity. All entries are anonymous (I have students write their I.D. #s instead of their names on the papers to be evaluated and switch paper stacks amongst my different classes to further protect their identities). Also, students who participate can’t lose any points or get a low grade. The writing activity is designed to offer incentives of bonus points for winning various rounds rather than punishing students who make missteps in their writing. All students, even the ones who lose in earlier rounds, stay active during every class session because they are busy evaluating the work of the remaining contestants through a series of detailed tasks.
While I love that my grading load is lightened for one of the novel units I teach each year (don’t we all need a little breathing room sometimes?), my favorite part of this inventive assignment comes near the end of Round #1, when the students debate with each other in small groups the merits of one paper over another. The students work together to identify the qualities of strong writing and I always hear echoes of my previous lectures in their rationales. It makes a teacher’s heart soar.
I use this assignment as an alternative to the end-of-unit essay only in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th quarters of the school year. In the 1st quarter of the year, students don’t yet know the hallmarks of strong writing and need to be trained by traditional essay-writing techniques. This lesson works best as a mid-year or late-in-the-school-year activity because it’s dependent on students having prior essay writing knowledge.
Although I’ve mainly used this assignment with literary analysis, it could be used for any mode of writing, including persuasive, expository, or cause/effect. Possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
Packet includes: A suggested lesson procedure with step-by-step directions; slide decks designed to lead students through two rounds of competition; an opening assignment sheet; a rubric for students to follow as they assess peer writing; and a reflections sheet for a post-contest assignment. All materials are in uneditable PDF format.
You will need to provide 12 writing topics connected to the novel your class is studying. If, for example, I wanted to use this contest with Romeo & Juliet, then I would need to brainstorm 12 topics. I use: flowers; stars; light/darkness; birds; lips; poison; weapons; Queen Mab; oxymorons; similes/metaphors; puns; and character foils. You, of course, will choose whatever topics work best for your novel unit.
Duration: 4-to-5 days, depending on whether you have students write their paragraphs in class or as homework
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Cover image credit: Pixabay, Public domain