New Writing Contest: Your Wildest Dreams for 2020

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, plus Literary Gems (excerpts that catch our eye) are published on the YES! 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.

For the spring contest, we offer two writing prompts. Contest requirements remain the same—you send in your three best essays per class and we choose one set of middle school, high school, university, and Powerful Voice winners. There will not be separate winners chosen for each writing prompt.

EXCITING NEWS! The Healing Justice Podcast has generously offered to record and air a podcast episode featuring some of this contest’s winners reading their essays. That means winning essays not only will be shared with thousands of YES! readers and teachers across the country, but also with Healing Justice Podcast listeners.

Registration for this contest is now closed. Essays are due by April 10*.

Read featured essays from our most recent contest on identity, “Honoring Your Roots,” here.

*It’s challenging to set an essay deadline with so many spring breaks to consider. If your school’s spring break takes place on April 10, please plan ahead to meet this deadline.

Your Wildest Dreams for 2020

For the spring contest, students will read the YES! article “How to Prepare for 2020” by Kate Werning.

Lots of things may keep students up at night or make them anxious—from grades to fitting in to climate change, mass shootings, and hate groups. The author, who’s also the director of Healing Justice Podcast, reached out to Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter, to help guide us into the new year. Garza reminds us that “Clarity inside of chaos can help us find direction when it seems like everything around us is unstable.”

If you have at least 30 minutes, I encourage you to do Garza’s New Year’s Practice with your students before they write their essays. The reflection and planning exercise can be done individually or as a group. It asks participants to clarify their vision, name practices that should be let go of or developed, and identify what support is needed.


Students, please respond to one of the writing prompts below with an up-to-600-word essay:

Option One: Think about what keeps you up at night or gives you anxiety. Now, imagine yourself feeling liberated, joyful, boundless with possibilities.  As you begin a new decade and a new year, what might you accomplish in your wildest dreams? Describe the steps you would take to make this vision become your reality.

Option Two: Think about what makes you anxious or worried about living in America. Now, imagine yourself feeling free, safe, able to thrive.  As you begin a new decade and a new year, what in your wildest dreams do you wish for your community or this nation? Tell us about the steps you would take to get you closer to realizing your dream.


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.


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.


  • Respond to the article and the writing prompt provided by YES!
  • Provide an original essay title
  • Reference the article in the essay
  • 600 or fewer words
  • Must be original, unpublished 

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


  • You must be registered for the competition by Friday, Feb. 28.
  • 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 Friday, April 10. 
  • You may submit up to three essays per class. 
  • Each essay must have a completed student release form. Student email addresses must be legible and visible. Please send all release forms in one pdf. NOTE: Please submit all student essays by April 10, even if there are missing release forms. You may send completed student releases as soon as you receive them.
  • Winners will be announced by the end of May.


  • Students whose essays are selected as winning essays will go through the editing process with YES! staff to get their writing ready for publication. This is a valuable experience that requires extra time.
  • Winning essays in each category are published on the YES! Media website and in our online education newsletter, reaching thousands of YES! readers, including over 11,000 teachers.
  • One winning essay per contest is chosen by YES! editors to be published in our quarterly print magazine.
  • The article’s author also responds to essay winners about their ideas and writing. This letter is published with the winning essays.


  • A dozen or so “literary gems”—excerpts that caught our eye—are chosen to highlight the ideas and writing generated from the contest.
  • We respond to all student writers with a thoughtful note about their essays.
  • Teachers who participate in a fall, winter, or spring contest receive one free year of YES!. One lucky participating teacher is randomly selected for each contest to win free YES! swag.


Registration form
Student Release Form
Evaluation Rubric

If you have any questions, please give us a shout at [email protected]

Inspiration in Your Inbox

Get the free daily newsletter from YES! Magazine:
Stories of people creating a better world to inspire you and your students.

Sign Up