Spring 2019 National Student Writing Competition: Three Things That Matter Most

Want to inspire your students to write? Here's an opportunity to write about something meaningful and for an audience beyond the classroom.

The YES! National Student Writing Competition is an opportunity for middle school through university students to write something meaningful for an audience beyond the classroom and the chance to be published by an award-winning magazine.

Each quarter, students are invited to read and write an essay on a selected YES! Magazine article. There are four award categories: middle school, high school, university, and Powerful Voice (for authors whose essays are especially powerful and passionate). Winning essays in each category are published on the YES! Magazine website and in our online education newsletter, reaching thousands of YES! readers and more than 11,000 teachers. One winning essay per contest is published in our quarterly print magazine.

Register here by February 27. Essays are due by April 9.

Click here for general information about the writing competition.

Read recently featured essays here.

Three Things That Matter Most 

For the spring contest, students will read the YES! article “Three Things That Matter Most in Youth and Old Age” by Nancy Hill. 

Every day we are distracted by the clutter and chaos of the modern world. Photographer Nancy Hill recognized this and wanted perspective on the question, “What is important?” She asked two groups—children under 7 because they have lived relatively simple lives and adults over 70 because they have decades of experience—to explore what three things mattered most to them.

In addition to finding patterns in the responses, Hill also discovered that we live among amazing people over 70, yet few of us know about their experiences—the lives they’ve lived. She realized that we need to reach out and learn from these remarkable seniors so their stories and wisdom don’t quietly disappear.

The Writing Prompt:

Students, please respond to the writing prompt below with an up-to-700-word essay:

What are three things that matter most to you? Now, ask the same question to someone significantly older than you. Find out why this person chose these three things. How did your answers compare? Describe what you learned from the person you interviewed.* 

*While this is not a contest requirement, please consider taking a photo of the person you interview. Make sure you have their consent. 

Who is eligible?

You must be a classroom teacher—homeschool cooperatives, resource centers, supervised writing groups, and schools outside the U.S. included—for your students to participate. We cannot accept essays or registrations independently sent by students. Student writers should be in grades 6-8 (middle school), grades 9-12 (high school), or college/university.

Common Core State Standards

This writing competition meets several Common Core State Standards for grades 6-12, including W.9-10.3 and W.9-10.4 for Writing, and RI.9-10.1 and RI.9-10.2 for Reading: Informational Text *
*This standard applies to other grade levels. “9-10” is used as an example.

What are the essay requirements?

  • Respond to the article and the writing prompt provided by YES!
  • Provide an original essay title
  • Reference the article in the essay
  • Compose no more than 700 words
  • Must be original, unpublished words

In addition, we are evaluating essays for:

  • Grammar
  • Organization
  • Strong style and personal voice. We encourage writers to include personal examples and insights.
  • Originality and clarity of content and ideas

How do I submit the essays?

  • You must be registered for the competition by February 27.
  • E-mail your student essays as word-processed document attachments (please no pdf or scanned documents) or as an open-access Google Doc to [email protected] no later than April 9. Please do not send essays to [email protected]
  • You may submit up to three essays per class. Example: If you are submitting essays for two classes, you may send up to a total of six essays—but they must be up to three essays per class, not four essays for one class and two from the other. 
  • Include a scanned, completed student release form with each submitted essay. Please make sure student email addresses are legible and visible. NOTE: Please submit all student essays by April 9, even if there are missing release forms. You may send completed students releases as soon as you receive them.
  • Winners will be announced by the end of May.

Contest Forms:

Registration Form 
Student Release Form
Evaluation Rubric

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