Young Authors

On Thursday, I got to spend a lovely day buried in the writing of children. I sat in a room with two of my favorite colleagues and we read stacks of stories written by students and submitted by their teachers for entry into our school's Young Authors contest.  We read several "never-ending-stories" with page after page of nothing but dialogue. There were a couple poetry anthologies, a few nonfiction pieces, and some memoirs.  Many of the kids took risks which appealed to me. I also appreciated thoughtful and creative presentation. But a piece with voice always stuck out. Even though we used a rubric as we read and commented on each piece, our own personal preferences colored our decisions about the winning entries.

I'm not sure how I feel about writing contests. Is there any evidence that it encourages young authors? Do competitions motivate students to write more? Do writing contests promote writing instruction? What do you think?

What is your opinion on writing contests?


  1. I think they are great for the kids who win!!
    The concept of showcasing the writing of children is absolutely wonderful, even better to make a trip out of it. There is great value in having structured dialogue with other young writers and to have one's writing valued by adults and peers.
    I am not a huge fan of the contest aspect, but I'm also not sure if I can provide a reasonable solution or compromise. When I was in the classroom, my students didn't know the classroom contest was taking place until after the writing piece had been chosen. To me, the idea of a competition goes against the kind of equity I am trying to promote and maintain within a classroom.

  2. I don't like contests. I never have. I happen to believe we should strive for the internal joy not the external.

  3. I love the idea of the process, writing the piece and everything it takes and how wonderful to get to read them, but selecting the winners...aren't they all winners?
    I used to feel the same way about theater. I loved the process of creating a play but I refused to participate in a countywide contest for the "Best".
    The process is enough.

  4. My daughters both went to Young Writers conferences but there were not prizes. At school, they did a Writer's Celebration and every child had a piece to share. I think for our younger kids, we just need to encourage taking the risk to write something and share it.

  5. You ask a very good question. Competition is a wonderful motivator for some students. The problem with a contest is that there are people who do not win first place. I like the idea of publishing the work of a whole classroom in the library. Books made my classrooms instead of just individuals. An opportuinty to have an audience and a motivation to get your piece seen without the possibilites of losing.

  6. I'm not sure how I feel about them or not. I want my kids to write because they want to write. I do have writing contests posted in the classroom if anyone wants to participate. I haven't had anyone participate in several years; however, I did have one student enter five years ago and his poem was printed in one of the contest's anthologies. He was honored. I think students should have a choice in whether or not they want to participate.

  7. At our school, we have a literary magazine that does not judge the submissions; everyone is 'in' who submits. Where the evaluation comes from is at the classroom level. The teachers see a piece of writing they believe is good, & encourage the child to send it to my group (I am the advisor of a small staff of older students). We put it together electronically, & publish monthly. As the students are so computer savvy, it takes very little time, everyone loves to see their work in 'print' & parents can see it on the school's website. Each classroom teacher keeps track to make sure that at least one piece is published during the year by each student. So far, it's working. In my own writing groups, I've helped students who choose it, to send work to different places, online & print, to be published or to 'win' a contest. We work hard to make it worthy, & more than one has been successful.

  8. Kids don't have to compete in writing contests. They should be doing it because they like to write, and they are finding their voice. And the fact of the matter is, there are a myraid of ways to communicate with writing, not all of which are valued by everyone.

  9. Contests are tricky because of the whole winner loser thing. And I think contests external to the classroom are different than contests within. As a young writer I got several confidence boosts along the way in entering an external contest, even though I didn't win. The first was that my teacher encouraged me to enter my writing at all. The thought that it would be worthy of such a thing was new and exciting. Then there was the revising. I suddenly saw this task in a new light since my audience was changing from people I knew to strangers. Then I got an honorable mention - winning had not really occurred to me and since I had no expectation of that, the idea that strangers had read my writing and valued it at some level was exhilarating. This little bit of validation did wonders in convincing me that what I had to say was worthwhile. The contest was worth the risk since, as a child, I was already happy with the thought that I had my teacher’s approval.


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