Friday Five: Free Writing Contests for Students

Having an authentic audience for writing can inspire students to invest more time into their work.  Rewards don’t hurt, either, and some of these contests have monetary prizes attached. These are for the fall 2016.

  1. Letters About Literature: This contest prompts students to write a letter to an author: “stating how reading his or her work changed you. Be personal but also persuasive! Support your ideas with specific details, including details from the work itself. This is not a fan letter but rather a reflection on how an author influenced you.” Grades 4-12 can enter. First deadlines (for 9-12) are December 1.
  2. Scholastic Art & Writing Awards: This prestigious contest “The Scholastic Awards look for work that demonstrates originality, technical skill, and emergence of a personal voice or vision.” The deadlines vary by region, but the contest is open NOW.
  3. Bennington Young Writers Award: “Students in the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades during the academic year are invited to submit one entry (poetry, fiction, or non-fiction) by the November 1 deadline.”
  4. JFK Profiles in Courage Essay Contest: “The Profile in Courage Essay Contest challenges students to write an original and creative essay that demonstrates an understanding of political courage as described by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage. January 4, 2017.
  5. Creative Minds Nonfiction Writing Contest. “Essays may be any work of creative nonfiction including, but not limited to, memoirs, personal essays, travel writing, and lyric essays. We will not accept book reports, critical works, or research papers.” 5:00 pm ET on Thursday, November 3, 2016.

There are plenty more contests for your students, these are just contests I have vetted and my students have submitted to and had success with writing and submitting.

Posted by Kate, PCTELA Blogger.


Friday Five: Free Writing Contests for Students

Up Late with Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

Up Late with Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite writers, really can do anything. Not only can she write fiction, poetry, and essays, now she’s conquered the graphic novel market with her new book Angel Catbird. NPR ran a great story about this which gives you some background, and the forward to the book also offers insight into her youthful drawings and her inspiration. She says “we all have unlived lives” and the graphic novel made one of her unlived lives happen. Let’s hope, like all cats, she has plenty more lives for us as readers.

The basic premise is typical superhero origin story: Strig Feleedus drops his experiment, and his DNA merges with a cat and an owl. There’s a rat-villain who runs the laboratory where he works, and he finds some other cat-humans who help him out.  The playful writing made me laugh out loud a few times–she doesn’t shy away from cat puns at all.

The drawings, by Johnnie Christmas, are delightful, and I, for one, cannot wait until the next volume is released.

For more reviews of Margaret Atwood’s work here on PCTELA’s blog, see Negotiating with the Dead , a book on writing, and The Tent, a book of short essays/stories (one of which works really well when teaching Hamlet–it is Horatio’s version of events after the tragedy), and finally, Stone Mattress, a collection of short stories.

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Posted by Kate, Blog Editor for PCTELA.




Up Late with Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

Submit your Proposal for PCTELA17 in Pittsburgh, PA

This past weekend, we held our annual English Teacher Conference at the Penn Stater in State College, PA, and as we reflect back on the speakers, presentations, and professional conversations we experienced, we want to invite you to consider submitting a proposal for next year’s conference.

It will take place October 20 & 21 in the Doubletree in Greentree, PA, right outside Pittsburgh. We’ve secured Laurie Halse Anderson as a keynote speaker! So think about how you might pull together a presentation addressing Acquiring Advocacy: Overcoming Obstacles, Promoting Partnerships, and Cultivating Dignity.

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
~Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

“If you were to look at each atom as a universe unto itself, think of the number of universes within each of us.” ~ Chris Crutcher

As teachers today, one of the most important lessons we must continue to learn is that our student’s voices need to be heard. With the influence of technology, we need to assure our students that face to face interaction is important and readily available. Parents, teachers, and administrators are a (real) life partners and not a virtual presence. That very presence is vital to how our students learn and succeed—and can be fostered through advocating for ourselves, our students, and our schools. While the success of our students is important, we also need to consider that their success is dependent on our ability to connect, teach, engage, and motivate. We can only help them to be their best selves when we, too, are engaged. Connecting with each other, speaking into policies, and staying aware of the needs of our students are all ways in which we can advocate and be advocates.

Our PCTELA Conference theme this year, Acquiring Advocacy, seeks to answer these questions we face in education today:

  • What ways do teachers need to advocate for themselves and their students
  • How can we cultivate a welcoming and safe atmosphere for students, parents, and the community?
  • What ways can teachers collaborate with administration, staff, and parents to help our schools and students thrive?
  • How do we plan motivating lessons that allow student’s voices to be heard
  • What techniques can we use in the classroom to promote meaningful engagement and self-reflection in ourselves and our students?

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: 3/15/17 (<–click link for submission)

Submit your Proposal for PCTELA17 in Pittsburgh, PA

Friday Five: Tweets from the 2016 Conference at the Penn Stater

Welcome to our Friday Five (a day late). With all the excitement of the conference yesterday, we didn’t have a chance to post. Today we have our second day of the conference and there’s plenty of time to keep tweeting about it using the hashtag #pctela16. If you’re not at the conference this year, follow what’s happening by looking at the #pctela16 posts on twitter.

Here are some great tweets from yesterday:
A photo of one of our featured speakers, Marcia Nelson:


Some posts about Sarah W. Bartlett’s session where participants practiced writing and sharing work:


One of the door prizes attendees could have won (we have more for today’s attendees):


So many great concurrent sessions to choose from:

And of course, hanging out with famous authors who know how to have a good time is always a highlight of the conference:


Join us next year when we host Laurie Halse Anderson near Pittsburgh, PA at the Doubletree in Greentree, PA, October 20-21.

Friday Five: Tweets from the 2016 Conference at the Penn Stater

Books you can win this Friday & Saturday at our PCTELA conference

Check out these books we’ve reviewed here that you can win in our door prize raffle during our conference this week at the Penn Stater Friday, October 14 & Saturday, October 15.

Come for the professional development, stay for the fun!


Books you can win this Friday & Saturday at our PCTELA conference

Friday Five: Things to Do in State College before, during, and after the PCTELA conference

When you’re in town next week for the PCTELA 2016 Conference at the Penn Stater in State College, PA, here are some fun activities for you while you’re in town:

1. Visit the Nittany Lion Statue
2. Go to the Penn State Berkey Creamery for ice cream
3. Visit the Palmer Museum of Art
4. Visit the Penn State Arboretum & pumpkin festival
5. Hike Mt. Nittanyscreen-shot-2016-10-07-at-7-14-45-am

Friday Five: Things to Do in State College before, during, and after the PCTELA conference

Up late with The Unseen World by Liz Moore

Up late with The Unseen World by Liz Moore

Liz Moore is one of the best authors of today you don’t know about. The first book of hers I read, Heft, impressed me with the way she explored what it means to be isolated, what family means, and how we are beholden to each other because we’re all part of the human family.

This book, The Unseen World, follows Ada Sibelius, a single child raised by a single dad who runs a computer lab, and whose mind begins to deteriorate.  Her father was an atypical father, but she loved him and sought to protect him. Moore explains David’s mind and speech at one point: “Words, to David, were nearly mathematical: there was very clearly a correct one for every slot in a sentence. When he was at his sharpest he rolled them into place like a putter on a green.” Her writing allows you to sink into the story, and I found myself pulled into a realistic world with a narrator I wanted to protect, or just hug.

*mild spoiler alert*

As Ada grows up, and begins to learn about her father, she realizes there are mysteries surrounding him, and the key to unlocking it may be an encrypted message he gave her in his last good days. Whatever mysteries her father had, she does find a way to blossom and to become her authentic self.  Near the end of the book, a description of her life is beautifully summed up with this passage: “They ate well. They slept well. They left the bedroom window open well into November, and opened it again in March.”

If you need a good book by an insightful author, check out The Unseen World.

posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA26530317

Up late with The Unseen World by Liz Moore