As I’m sure you know from the announcements, the deadline for the CANE Writing Contest is December 15th, which means NOW is a great time to introduce it to your students. Today’s guest post is by Ruth Breindel, a teacher at the Moses Brown School in Providence, RI, who explains how she integrates the Writing Contest into her curriculum.
o you want a really good way to get your students to perfect their English writing skills? Or does your school mandate that all students need to do writing in English, no matter the course? The CANE Writing Contest is a wonderful way to satisfy these needs.
Some background: the writing contest is open to all high school students who take Classics. (Middle School teachers – see the end of the article for a special offer just for your students!) The topic is set by the President of CANE, published in NECJ in August, and is also on the web. The parameters are very straightforward: write about the topic! A student can write an essay, poem, dramatic piece, or short story. All entries must be 700 words or less. You, the teacher, pick the 3 best papers from your students and send them to the CANE State Representative, who will judge all the papers for your state, and send the one winning essay on to the CANE President-Elect, who will pick the overall winner. See the link at the top of this post for contest details and where to send your entries!
So how do I use the contest? I give the students the topic about a month before I want the paper. Since I can’t help them write the paper, I discuss, in general terms, what they can write about.
For example, for this year’s topic, After Adversity: Survival, Recovery and Renewal in the Ancient World, I spoke about it with each class based on what they had read. The first year class has been reading about Aeneas, so they know that he had to leave Troy, travel a great distance, and face hardships.
The second year class, which has read lots of stories, could write about Manlius and the Sacred Geese, or Regulus and his sense of honor and renewal (even those he is killed most cruelly by the Carthaginians, his name lives on).
The third year class, if they can bear to think about Cicero and Catiline again, have a ready-made topic right there! My fourth year/AP class has book one of the Aeneid and we have just begun book 2 – this topic is really made for them! And the advanced class can discuss Catullus and Lesbia – the mind boggles!
If you meet resistance, explain to them that the first place in New England prize is an Amazon gift card – that goes a long way to winning kids over. In addition, this year we are authorizing the state Representative to grant CANE membership to the first place winner in the state, even if that person doesn’t win the grand prize. For students, this means they’ll receive issues of NECJ and be introduced to the world of classical scholarship!
Next, I count the papers as either a test or a quiz. The things the kids come up with are fascinating – they have great imaginations, and when doing creative writing can really make a topic most interesting. Creative writing is different for my students, since they are used to doing analytical papers in English and history; this is a good change for them, and allows them to use a different part of their brain.
What is the downside? Well, of course you have to read them! But it is fun to see what they come up with, and if you can keep yourself from making grammatical corrections (we all know they don’t learn any English grammar in English class), you’ll have fun. Use a simple grading system: A for being on topic and interesting; B for noticing there is a topic and maybe not being as much fun. C is for sloppy work that really doesn’t answer the question, or does so only grudgingly. D or F is for not using the topic – and yes, I’ve had that happen too. However, mostly this is a good chance to give an A or B to students, especially those who might need a boost in their averages (and we all have those kids, too).
The other downside is that you need to give them a night or so without other homework to write the paper. How you do that is up to the homework policy of your school. My view is that I’m giving them a month – get going, kids! Remind them once a week or so that the paper will be due, and they usually rise to the challenge.
Give it a try – it might be great for the kids and you!
AND: Middle School teachers can assign the same topic, read the papers and pick their favorite one, and CANE will send you a certificate to give your student.