Essay Teaching Tips

Why do you sponsor an essay contest?
The main reason is because it was requested. We received numerous letters requesting an essay or short story contest. In thinking about the benefits of each, we decided to sponsor an essay contest. The ability to take thoughts and make an eloquent position is an important life skill. Essays are important because they teach our youth how to commit to a belief and support their ideas. Writing a personal essay can give students a sense of self worth and develop their character.

How can I use this contest in my classroom?
The topic of the contest was left open for many reasons. Unlike many other essay contests, we felt having the students write about what we were interested in is too limiting. As a class assignment it can be used as an academic exercise or for the personal growth of the student.

We want to teach our writers both process and content. We hope our contest will allow your students to apply the skills of organizing their thoughts into supporting a statement. A thesis statement, proper sentences supporting an argument and a conclusion are the basis of any good writing.

The open topic allows teachers to apply this contest to any subject matter. Students can write on their own subjects and show their own individuality or a teacher could assign the topic of what is important and have the entire class write on the same issue.

How do my students choose a topic?
We originally started this contest with the topic of "What Is Important to Me." However we realized that a topic is not as important as the writing. With any good essay the writing is what is most important. The contest has been changed to allow any topic. Often teachers will have the students write on a topic they are learning or discussing in class. You can assign a topic or have each student come up with his or her own. What we don't want are short stories and creative writing. We are looking for good non-fiction essays

Here are some specific topic ideas that inspire personal growth and can be used to generate classroom discussion:

Academic topics that can help you to assess the impact of a lesson and also help develop your students’ writing skills:

The ocean
Exploring space
The invention of ____
Preserving our environment


The Heroes of 9-11
The soldiers who fought for my freedom
The Declaration of Independence
Learning about our past
The contributions made by the (Greeks, Romans, Egyptians etc)



Being a good writer
The message left by Anne Frank
(this topic can be used for any book)

What makes a good essay?
Aside from topics such as drugs, sex or violence, there are no wrong topics. We don’t want any essays that deal with topics that promote illegal activities or are morally offensive. Essays will be judged on both style and content. Judges will look for writing that is clear, articulate and logically organized.

Make sure the essay uses the first lines to introduce the topic. Follow this by reasons that the topic is important and end with a closing statement that leaves the reader in agreement with the essay. Have the students state their personal views in an organized statement. 

How should an Essay be Organized?

Once your students have a topic, have them work on the opening paragraph and introduction. Rather than "My essay is on…. " Be more creative. How can they draw the reader in and then introduce the topic?

Support the opening statement with examples that prove their point. Are there experiences that would show the reader why the topic is important? Try not to start every sentence with "I". Use a variety of words.

This often makes reference to the attention getting device that was used in the opening. The students can also make a statement concerning each of the ideas that were presented to support their essay. The end goal is for the reader to understand the writer's position on the subject.

Choosing a Title
Titles are important. Be creative to make sure each title is unique among the other entries.

Students will often write their essays double spaced and then allow peer review by other classmates. Have their classmates check the spelling, verb usage, word choice, organization and overall understanding of the point that is being made. After the peer review, or if peer review is not chosen, have each student work on creating a final draft. Be sure that your essay is not over 250 words.  Articles such as “a” or “the” are not counted.  If you count all words, an essay can be 300 words long.

If you mail your essay, the essay should have the required student information on the top of the paper. Name, grade, home address (optional), school name, school address and teacher’s name. Be sure each address includes the city, state and zip code.

This required information will be followed by the title and then the essay. Whereas we prefer the essays to be typed, we will accept them in any form as long as they are clearly written and the names are printed.

Encourage all students to submit an essay. We often hear from teachers who have been part of our program that because our judges don’t know your students, our judging isn’t a popularity contest. Often times a student who seldom receives recognition is accepted to be published. This can have a life changing effect on these students.

We hope that you can use this contest to create a classroom discussion that allows your students to have thoughtful introspection concerning what they value.

Good luck in the contest.