Competitions are an aspect of resourcing the English curriculum we tend to neglect. In all the frenzy of delivering the curriculum and covering the ground for assessments and exams, we overlook an exciting opportunity.
There are a number of benefits to external competitions:
- They provide students with a real audience. All too often students write into a vacuum. Their work is often read only by their teachers and they know all too well that it is classed as ‘marking’ and seen as a chore. Sending work off to a ‘proper’ panel of judges (who could be researched to make them all the more real) with a genuine interest in reading students’ is intriguing.
- Students are more motivated to produce their best work, using editing and redrafting techniques they might otherwise not bother with.
- Parents/carers are often brought on board by this process – students are far more likely to announce, ‘We’re sending our work to Anthony Horowitz’ than to say ‘I gave that story in to my teacher.’ You can send letters home and encourage the family to get involved. For parents this can be an opportunity to support students in a way that is fresh and new to them too.
- It’s a great way of involving senior staff in what is happening in English and getting them to encourage students to submit their very best work.
- Many competitions provide excellent resources which are inspirational in their own right.
- Prizes usually benefit the school as well as the students in some way so if, like every state school I know, you’re short on funding, those extra books could make a difference.
- They can provide a great way of stretching more able students.
- Poetry competitions can be really good for less able students as it is all about the ‘feel’ of the poem rather than the mechanics of the writing and poems are a lot shorter!
- For disaffected students (and, of course, boys) rap competitions may appeal.
There is a wealth of competitive initiatives out there. The websites below provide a round-up but a straightforward internet search will throw up plenty of others.
If this is something that appeals to you and your classes, just remember the following points:
- Make sure you meet submission deadlines – there’s nothing worse than telling everyone form the students to the headteacher that you are entering a competition and then forgetting to post or email the entries on time.
- Read the rules carefully – if there is a specified minimum or maximum number of words, stick to it.
- Encourage all students in a class to enter, regardless of ability. This will boost confidence in lower ability students, especially if you emphasise that we never quite know what the judges will connect with.