Sunday, December 4, 2011

Contest Helps Students Develop Reflective Writing Skills

Now that NaNoWriMo is over, it's time for us to refocus our writing classes on non-fiction writing.  There is a national contest on a wonderful topic that may be just the thing to help us!

The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, in partnership with Target Stores, is running a reading-writing competition called Letters About Literature.  In it, students write a personal letter to an author of one of their favorite books to tell them why that book changed the way they think about themselves or the world.   The book can be fiction or nonfiction, even poetry, speeches, short stories, or graphic novels, but it can not be a comic strip or song lyric (even if published in a book).  Also, the author can be living or dead.

The competition is divided into three levels.  Level 1 is for 4th-6th grade (students must be at least nine in order to participate) and letters are expected to be 100-400 words long.  Level 2 is 7th-8th grade, with letters that are 300-600 words.  Level 3 is for high schoolers (9th-12th grade) with a recommended 500-800 page length.  Students can enter through their schools or as individuals, and homeschoolers are specifically encouraged to enter (apparently a number of winners have been homeschooled).

While the exercise is worthy just in itself, there are some great prizes for the winner.  Two national winners for each level will get to choose a favorite library (school or community library) to receive a $10,000 grant from Target.  Those winners will also each get a personal Target gift card for $500.  There will also be four national honors awards for each level; the national honor awards come with a $1,000 grant to a favorite library and a personal $50 Target gift card.

The website also has a great 36-page Teacher's Guide with lesson plans and worksheets to help students write an appropriate reflective essay on their chosen book.  The worksheets not only develop generic essay writing skills, such as crafting an engaging opening paragraph, but lead students to see the difference between a reflective essay and other types of writing, such as book reports, literary analysis, or a simple fan letter.

All in all, this looks like a wonderful project to me.  I've already discussed it with my son, and we definitely plan to be working on it this month to be ready to submit something by the deadline, which is January 6, 2012.  It combine something we love (books) with something we need to develop (nonfiction writing) with a focus on appreciation, which is a virtue that we trying to expand on during this holiday season.

We hope lots of you will join us in this competition.  If you do, please enter the book that you (or your child/ren or student/s) choose to write about in the comments below.

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