Happy summer, everyone! Here is the second half of my article on the contests I run with my middle schoolers.
Fortune Writing Contest. In this contest, students must write a better fortune than the ones they find in traditional fortune cookies. This contest is more of a lift for me, as I need to buy fortune cookies, steam them soft in the microwave so I can extract the original fortune and insert a student-written fortune. It’s such fun, though, to watch kids open a cookie and find a student fortune!
2022 Winner: Look forward, don’t look back, unless you’re driving, then you want to look back when merging. —Mia, 6th
Photo Finish. Before this contest, I hold a lunchtime meeting in which students cut interesting photos out of magazines and catalogs. During the contest, they must choose three photos from among all the cut-out photos, then write a story (at least three sentences!) that incorporates those photos. It’s another colorful contest, with all of those stories posted around the library!
Scenes From a [Virtual] Hat. This pandemic contest came from a game in the TV show, Whose Line Is It, Anyway? With some help from colleagues and AISL, I devised a bunch of prompts, like “Most useless spell Harry Potter could learn,” “Things you don’t expect to hear when you put your ear to a seashell,” and “Scout badges we’ve never heard of.” I loaded them all into a wheel of choice widget that students could spin, and then they had to write a response to whichever prompt they got. This is another one I only ran once, though I would love to run it again!
2020 Winner: Failed ideas for Project Week: Axe throwing. –Hannah, 5th
Six Word Memoirs. This contest was inspired by a book: I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure. After some confusion about what a memoir is, though, I retitled the contest; it’s now the “Your Life in a Six Word Sentence” contest, as I was tired of getting lists of words! This contest actually inspires students’ most thoughtful writing, and on occasion, has alerted me to something I think our counselors should look into. You never know what you’re going to get!
2022 Winner: A bit messy, a bit magical. –Virginia, 7th
Story in a Tweet/Story in Twenty-Five Words. This contest began when tweets were fairly new, with the original length of 140 characters. When that changed, I adapted the contest to keep the challenge of squeezing a whole story into a few words.
2020 Winner: She walked inside the house admiring the furniture, taste-testing the food, and tried out the mattresses. Unfortunately for Goldilocks, she was not at IKEA. –Emily, 8th
Two-Sentence Horror Stories. An SLJ article by Rozanna Baranets inspired this contest. I challenged students to write either a funny or scary two-sentence horror story. They excelled!
2022 Scary Story Winner: Everyone always asks how many trick or treaters I get. But no one asks how many leave. –Savannah, 7th
2022 Funny Story Winner: Through the darkness, a silhouette emerged. I screamed in horror as it said: “I’m here to talk about your car’s extended warranty.” –Andrea, 7th
Unlikely Superheroes. This contest came from a game in the TV show, Whose Line Is It, Anyway? I challenge student to create an unlikely superhero with an unlikely power, and a ridiculous crisis for them to solve. Extra points if students write a short story showing how the superhero used their power to solve the crisis. This was a pandemic contest, and though it was a lot of fun, I didn’t get a ton of entries so have only run it once.
2020 Winner: Superhero: Taco Teen, who can create extra spicy tacos out of thin air. The tacos can dissolve enemies from their spicy salsa. Crisis: Two big cutting boards come alive and are trying to poke the city with the extra sharp knives! –Jon, 5th
World Book Contest. This contest requires a full set of World Book encyclopedias in print, with “World Book” written across the combined spines. The challenge is creating new words with the letters available.
Zip Code Poetry. A teacher alerted me to this NPR article about “Zip Odes” in Miami, and it seemed like a great idea for a contest. For this one, students chose a zip code connected with them (home, school, grandparents, etc.), wrote it vertically, and then penned a poem with the same number of words in a line as the corresponding number in the zip code. For zeroes, they could draw a picture or leave it blank. Obviously, this will work better in parts of the country without a lot of zeroes in the zip codes!