Spring 2017 National Student Writing Competition: Gender Pronouns

Want a motivator to take your students' writing to a higher level? Here's an opportunity to write about something meaningful and for a bigger audience beyond the classroom.

Photo by FotografiaBasica / iStock.

The YES! National Student Writing Competition is an opportunity for middle school through university students to write about something meaningful, and a chance to write for a real audience—not just you, the teacher.

Each quarter, students are invited to read and write an essay on a selected YES! Magazine article. We divide contestants into four categories: middle school, high school, university, and Powerful Voice (for authors whose essays are powerful and passionate). Winning essays in each category are published on the YES! Magazine website and in our online education newsletter.

Register for the spring contest here

Sign up our YES! For Teachers newsletter to be notified about future student writing contests.

Click here for general information about the writing competition.

Read recent featured essays here.



Gender Pronouns

This spring, students will read and respond to the YES! Magazine article, “’They’ and the Emotional Weight of Words.” In this article, Cole, founder of the Brown Boi Project, welcomes the expanding list of gender pronouns. Pronouns can help us all learn to see and respect each other’s identity. Instead of cultivating fear, shame, and embarrassment around not knowing the right thing to say, Cole encourages us to create new approaches to language so we feel freer and more open with each other.


The Writing Prompt

Society is shifting from a binary "he-she" world to a more fluid spectrum of gender identities. As the story’s author Cole points out, pronouns can be the basis from which all of us learn to see and respect each other’s identity. Some people feel awkward or uncomfortable with this transition, asking questions like, "What's with this 'they' thing?" Others find it freeing.

Students, please respond to the writing prompt below with an up-to-700-word letter to the author:
Is there anyone in your life—you included—who is not comfortable being referred to as “he” or “she”? Write a letter to Cole on how you feel about this expansion of gender pronoun language. How do you deal with this cultural change?

Who is eligible?

  • You must be a classroom teacher—homeschool cooperative, resource centers, supervised writing groups, and schools outside the U.S. included—for your students to participate.
  • Student writers should be in grades 6-8, grades 9-12, college/university, or adult continuing education.


How does it work?

• Complete and send the competition registration form by March 3, 2017 (see link at bottom of page).
• Students respond to the YES! article with an essay up to 700 words.
• Submit up to three essays per class period, along with student release forms, by April 18, 2017.
• For each of the following categories, YES! staff will select one essay that we feel is well-written, compelling, and captures the spirit of the article:
o Middle School (Grades 6-8)
o High School (Grades 9-12)
o College/university
o Powerful Voice (for an author whose essay is uniquely powerful or thought-provoking)
• The selected essays will be featured on the YES! Magazine website and in our online education newsletter, reaching thousands of YES! readers, including over 16,000 teachers.


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 writing prompt provided by YES!
• Provide an original essay title
• Reference the article
• No more than 700 words
• Must be original, unpublished words
• Teachers must read and submit their students' essays. Remember, the limit is three essays per class period. Please take time to read your students' essays to ensure they have met essay requirements, including correct grammar. Unfortunately, we cannot accept essays sent independently by students.

In addition, we are evaluating essays for (see rubric at bottom of page):
• 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 three best essays from my class?

• You must be registered for the contest by March 3rd.
• E-mail your three best student essays as word-processed document attachments (please convert your Google Docs to Word if you can, and please no pdf or scanned documents) to [email protected] no later than April 18th.
• Include a scanned, completed student release form
with each submitted essay. Please make sure student email addresses are legible and visible—preferably typed. NOTE: Submit all student essays by April 18, even if there are missing release forms since we will be evaluating essays the next day. You may send completed releases at your soonest convenience.

Forms You'll Need:

Registration Form
Student Release Form
Evaluation Rubric

Questions? Please email [email protected]

Thank you for joining us!


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