The prize for this writing contest includes tears and humiliation

Parents and teachers often ask me about how my students so consistently fall in love with writing. The answer to this question could probably fill a book, but here is one tiny example of why my students tend to love writing so much: Each week I sponsor one or more writing contests in my classroom. I choose the topics for these contests, and a panel of three independent, anonymous judges (usually teachers and former students) determine the winner. There is a standard prize for every contest, consisting of a blue ribbon, a certificate of achievement, an in-class privilege for the following week and the winner’s name added to a plaque of previous winners that is displayed in the classroom forever.

But sometimes I vary the prizes.

Inspired by Sharon Creech’s LOVE THAT DOG, this week’s contest requires students to write a poem that includes a dog and evokes sadness in the reader. There was a time when I would read aloud LOVE THAT DOG to my class, but after finding myself unable to get through the final pages of the book a couple years ago because I was in tears, I ask my students read it silently now.

Whenever I cry during the reading of a book, my kids never let me hear the end of it, so it is to be avoided whenever possible.

After explaining the origin for this week’s contest to my students, we entered a round of intense negotiation, initiated by them. It resulted in the following prize for this week’s contest:

  1. I agree to read aloud the poem of every student who enters the contest, in hopes that I will cry (their hope, not mine).
  2. I agree to record my reading of the winning poem.
  3. If I produce even a single tear during the reading of the winning poem, I will post the video to YouTube with the title “Grown Man Cries Like A Baby.”

This is one tiny example of why my students love to write.

I make it fun. Or more precisely, I allow my students to make it fun.