Here in Central New Jersey, many read the Asbury Park Press.  Every third Tuesday of the month, the press features young writers whose offerings have responded to a prompt.  Both high school and middle school students respond to the same prompt.  Repeatedly, I amazed by the writing of the middle school students. Young writers in grade seven can and should entertain some of the same issues that are offered to students in grade 12.  We at NJCTE concur with this approach.

Our prompt for the NJCTE Writing Contests invites challenging speculation that may lead to an awakening.  Students are offered a range of subject matter as they are directed to write about a personal experience involving race, ethnicity, class, religion, or gender enlightenment.  Needless to say, there is no right or wrong answer.  Honest engagement with the prompt and careful thought will emerge for both reader and writer as a winning essay.

Write a personal essay or narrative about an experience of race, ethnicity, class, religion or gender enlightenment that was significant for you.

 We would like you to steer away from general to more personal experiences and observations.  For example, you may choose to write about particular toys that were or were not given to you because of your gender, the expectations of important individuals in your life, decisions about where to sit in the cafeteria or what classes to take, conflicts over what information to share or not share in school, decisions about where to go and if you should go to college; the possibilities are wide ranging.

This prompt may bring to your attention a preconception previously unnamed, but it may also enable you to speak about your strengths and joys, about what unites us instead of what divides us.

The prompt challenges thought and engages students in social awareness which can lead to enlightened, responsible citizens.  And, after all, isn’t that really what an education should do?  Participating in a writing contest gives students an opportunity to communicate their ideas and shape their prose for a much wider audience. They are writing authentic reading for others.

The deadline is February 20. Please see the NJCTE website for details on how your students can submit their work.

As a classroom teacher, you have been given the agency to encourage your students to respond to the prompt in a meaningful way that does, indeed, result in an “Awakening.”  Every teacher who submits entries will be recognized.  We at NJCTE have found that this recognition generates enthusiasm for writing and community support in other areas also.

We hope you find the prompt lends itself to mini-lessons on form, development, paragraphing, word choice, synthesis, analysis, voice… The list is endless.  Incorporating the prompt into the daily lesson plan is easy and beneficial in many ways.

I hope that my reasons will convince you to engage your middle school students in this most worthy enterprise.

Written by Susan Reese, NJCTE President, former Chair of the NCTE Achievement Awards in Writing Advisory Committee

Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English


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