The the past five years The New York Times has hosted an editorial contest for middle and high school students. Students are asked to submit 500 word opinion editorial about an issue that matters to them. The newspaper’s website actually invites teenagers to share their opinions about questions NYT pose — and hundreds do, posting arguments, reflections and anecdotes. The contest is a bit more formal and open to all students ages 10-19. You can find the complete rules to the student contest HERE.
This NYT writing contest is a great teaching tool for writing and reading units of study. Persuasive writing is a key standard and learning target within the Common Core and Next Generation Literacy Standards. We are ending the school year with a mini-inquiry into editorial writing. First, students were immersed in a variety of NYT student writing contest winners and then students will write their own 500 word editorial.
The assignment has been adapted from the contest requirements and I have provided students with a graphic organizer to help start their writing. The student’s editorial is based on a culminating social studies podcast project that my humanities colleagues have created:
Task: Create a podcast with a team of students (of no more than three) that finds a thread in history and follows that thread through. Explore a current events topic and trace the history of that topic throughout time.
What is a “Throughline”?
A Throughline is a theme, plot, or characteristic that connects stories together. Throughlines help the viewer or reader do a few things: understand the theme/character better over time, layer experiences, make predictions, and become invested in the story.
For example: Take the enduring issue of inequality and the topic of Black representation in Congress. Look all the way back to Reconstruction to the first African American man in Congress and trace the story of Black representatives and senators throughout our history and discuss why this unequal representation exists.
Utilizing the research completed for the podcast project, students are taking a particular stance on their podcast project.
For example: If students are researching and creating a podcast on the similarities between George Floyd and Emmitt Till, their editorial might address how history repeats itself or the failures of the American justice system, students might write about how racism still exists and Black Lives Matter.
Each student brainstormed five different perspectives about their podcast topic. Together, social studies and English are working collaboratively to support student research, writing, speaking, listening, reading, and digital literacy skills. Research must be done, facts are collected, evidence is weighed and carefully selected. To strengthen an argument further, a counter point is added and debunked. Students are motivated by topics they have selected and are using their voice to persuade others.