The National Council of Teachers of English holds a writing competition each year for eighth graders called the Promising Young Writers Program. The students have to write an Impromptu Theme under teacher’s supervision and submit a Best Writing Sample (poetry or prose), both not more than 10 pages in length.
Student participation is dependent on nomination by teachers; a selection committee is recommended, and nominees should show evidence of effective writing before they are chosen. The number of nominees is dependent on the average daily enrollment. For example, under 100–1 nominee; 500 or more–6 nominees.
As a coordinator of gifted ed. at West Junior High School in Lawrence, Kansas, with most of our programs open to all interested kids, I was uniquely positioned to assess students with interest and ability in writing. I took note of the seventh graders with such abilities and encouraged them to try out for the competition once they reached eighth grade.
The process of writing and revising on a subject that the students themselves selected was beneficial. They took time to think about their chosen topic. They created their piece for the Best Writing Sample. Thought about it some more; revised, and revised some more.
On the day of, they handed in their Best Writing Sample and sat for 75 minutes at the computer writing on the subject of this year’s Impromptu Theme.
Every year, my students were winners in the state of Kansas. I think the reason they were is that because I cared so much about it, it rubbed off on them. They internalized the success and became more confident about their writing ability. Word spread with these successes, and other kids wanted to try out. The importance of writing became more “in” at school.