On the surface, any writing contest is a great idea. It can really stretch kids to compose their thoughts on important subjects like Martin Luther King, Jr. and teaching tolerance. You would be surprised at some of the connections they make.
However, I have also found that managing such a contest can be more than a little bit frustrating.
The two main culprits? Lack of promotion by other teachers is the first one and the second one is the simple difficulty that most people (students and adults) have with writing.
Administrative support is crucial
If you find yourself in charge of a similar writing activity, get the administration on your side in order to combat lack of teacher interest. Unless the principal clearly states that he is fully behind the contest and really hopes to see active participation, it is quite likely that at least 80% of teachers will shove the flyers into the outgoing student mailboxes and never mention them at all.
This is kind of sad because they are depriving the children of a great creative opportunity and an excellent way to make writing much more personally meaningful, but it’s a reality.
Aside from announcing the writing contest at staff meetings with principal support, you will have to take the time to go into other classrooms and actively promote your announcement flyer directly to the students. This way the piece of paper is not just one more thing to be shoved into their backpacks, but something they are actively thinking about and therefore much more likely to participate in.
To be honest, you are also going to have to do some reminding, asking teachers to promote the contest and checking in with students to see how they are doing.
Create effective writing prompts
As for student interest, you need to recall that kids have difficulty getting started with writing and many of them will not willingly take on an extra task. You can help alleviate this issue by providing extra guidance in your instructions to lead them toward appropriate topics.
Examples might include encouraging them to talk about a situation from their own life. For example, when they faced inequality or when they observed it in action. This brings it down to their level of understanding and will start ideas flowing through their minds.
Since Martin Luther King Day in particular should be all about acceptance and celebration of differences, be sure to encourage students to explain how they personally responded to inequalities they have observed. Or, if they didn’t do anything, what lessons they learned about themselves through the process.
Making MLK Day come alive
Martin Luther King Day is an excellent opportunity for children to grow as caring, compassionate humans, and expressing their thoughts in writing is a great vehicle for that process.
It’s too bad that the best of intentions can sometimes be thwarted by apathy, but with just a little extra effort you can move past that roadblock and help this holiday come alive for your school.