Educators! Give your students the opportunity to write about some of the most important topics of our time and explore how they can help combat misinformation and work to protect the freedom of the press.
Feb. 13: Early essay submission period
Feb. 14-March 13: Regular essay submission period
March 14-April 16: Extended entry submission period
April 17: Absolute deadline
Student voice is a catalyst for positive change in schools and communities. For this reason, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU3), in partnership with the News Literacy Project, is hosting a writing contest to empower students in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, to be civically informed and engaged.
- Teachers have an authentic and engaging writing assignment that amplifies student voices and explores issues aligned to district curricula, standards and required topics, such as the First Amendment.
- Students analyze different types of misinformation and show the ability to think critically about what is and is not verifiable information.
- Students apply their news and media literacy skills to solve the misinformation problem.
- This project challenges students to develop their 21st century civics and media literacy skills (see our Google Drive documents, academic contexts and connections).
- Finalists virtually receive real-time feedback from journalists in the field who report on these issues every day.
AWARDS: For each grade band, 6-8 and 9-12
Grand prize: $100 gift cards (for teacher and student winner)
$75 gift card (teacher and student)
$50 gift card (teacher and student)
$25 gift card (teacher and student)
Participating teachers may choose to assign the competition curriculum for individual classes or hold a schoolwide event. Each participating school may submit up to five entries per grade.
Educators are provided with free resources, as well as planning and organizational support for instructional purposes in the PitchIt! Student Essay Contest folder on NLP’s Google Drive.
For this project, middle and high school students will write a 500- to 1,000-word essay in response to one of the news literacy writing prompts, using a news article as inspiration. Submitted essays will be judged by NLP ambassadors. Selected first- through third-place essay contest finalists (three from middle school and three from high school) will earn the opportunity to compete at the PitchIt! Grand Prize Event, where they will receive real-time feedback from journalists.
Finalists will participate in the PitchIt! Allegheny Grand Prize event on Zoom at the end of May, during which they will share their essays and receive feedback from the journalists. The grand prize winners will be chosen at this time.
This contest is open to middle and high school students in Allegheny County, participating with the support from a teacher. Schools are encouraged to conduct their own internal essay competition to coordinate, and teachers submit their top five essays per grade (6-8 and 9-12). Winners of the essay component must be able to attend the PitchIt! Grand Prize Event via Zoom in May (exact date and time TBD).
LEARNING TASK AND CHOOSING THE ESSAY TOPIC
News literacy is the ability to determine the credibility of news and other content to identify different types of information and to use the standards of fact-based journalism to determine what to trust, share and act on. Being news literate also means recognizing the critical role of the First Amendment and a free press in a democracy and interacting with news and information in ways that promote engaged participation in civic life.
Students will be able to develop critical thinking and news literacy skills to find reliable information to make decisions, take action and responsibly share news through social media.
Students compose an essay in response to one of the news literacy writing prompts below, discussing how it relates to a local, national or international news article of their choice. They should form a thesis based on their chosen prompt and aim to convince their audience that the thesis is accurate and valid.
Students will be evaluated using the PitchIt! rubric found among the PitchIt! Student Essay Contest documents in Google Drive. Teachers should provide students with a written copy of the rubric and relevant supporting materials.
Step 1. Teacher introduces the writing assignment to their class, the rubric* and the process by which the top essays will advance. News literacy topics are explored with students as they relate to the curriculum. Teachers can explore the free educator resources on NewsLitNation® or the Checkology® virtual classroom on topics like the First Amendment.
Step 2. Students work with their teacher to select a news article/topic of their choice and to select one of the prompts below to follow in writing the essay. Encourage students to use the student planning document* as an outline before submitting a final draft.
Step 3. Teachers select up to five student essay finalists per grade, per school, and submit them to Deborah Domingues-Murphy, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Step 4. NLP’s educator panel selects six essays (three from middle school and three from high school) to advance to the Grand Prize round.
Step 5. Panel notifies the teacher at the end of April. The selected students then begin creating a visual presentation of their essay (PowerPoint or Google Slides), to compete in the final phase of the contest.
Step 6. Essay finalists make their presentation (the “pitch”) to a panel of journalists and state legislators during the PitchIt! Grand Prize Event. Panelists choose the first-, second- and third-place champion titles for middle school competitors and high school competitors, who will be awarded during the event.
*Click here for the Google Drive folder with PitchIt! educator resources.
- The First Amendment has five freedoms, and in many ways, they are dependent on one another. Explain how other freedoms of the First Amendment are required to protect the freedom of the press.
- What steps should someone take to fact-check false statements by a well-known figure and what problems might arise as a result (either from the false statements or from the fact checking)?
- People have responsibilities — things that they should do but are not required to by law. Why would providing reliable information be a responsibility?
- Imagine you heard a rumor about a public figure, but you’re not sure if it is true or not. What are the potential consequences if you share it online?
- Essays must be the original, unpublished work of one student.
- Essays must be 500-1,000 words, clearly addressing one of the prompts.
- Essays must be typed in 12-point, Times New Roman, double-spaced with 1-inch margins and numbered pages
- All essays and presentations must have a title.
- Students must include at least three credible sources to support their thesis.
- Essays must use MLA formatting, complete with in-text citations and a Works Cited page (not included in the word count). See Purdue Owl MLA Guide.
- Organization: Students must include an introduction with a thesis statement, multiple body paragraphs and a conclusion. See Purdue Owl Argumentative Essays.
- Essays must be proofread and should follow the rules for standard English (grammar, punctuation, mechanics) in writing. See Purdue Owl Grammar.
- Plagiarism: Any submission that is in part or wholly plagiarized will be disqualified from the PitchIt! competition. See Purdue Owl Plagiarism.
- A cover page MUST be included with the following information: Title of essay, student name, grade level, student’s complete mailing address, student’s email address, school’s name, principal’s name, teacher’s name, and best phone number and email address for the teacher.
- Only five essays from each grade may be submitted per school.
- Finalists must be able to virtually participate in the PitchIt! Grand Prize event at the end of May (TBD).
STUDENT ESSAY TIPS
- Essays must have a recognizable beginning (opening or introduction), middle and end (closing or conclusion).
- Hook the reader with a strong opener. Readers will use the first few sentences to decide whether they will read the whole essay.
- Keep your paragraphs short. Popular essays tend to average three sentences per paragraph.
- Submit thoroughly thought-out, tightly focused essays. Originality is also important.
- In the conclusion, include a call to action. Encourage readers to take some positive steps. For instance, if you’ve given them a list of tips, prompt them to put some of the tips into practice.
Contest Deadline: April 17, 2023.
While not required, we recommend schools conduct their own internal essay contest to establish the top essays for submission. Schools/teachers should submit their top five winning essays per grade with cover letter via email to: Deborah Domingues-Murphy, news literacy ambassador, email@example.com.
Is there a submission fee? No fees! Better yet, there is no catch. All our educator resources are free, including Checkology!
What does “teacher support” mean? Successful writers are made through direct instruction. Teachers are encouraged to support students in both content and the writing process. The teacher’s name and contact information must also be indicated in the cover letter as the primary point of contact regarding the entry.
How are the essays judged? Essays will be reviewed by news literacy ambassadors using the PitchIt! rubric. Successful essays are about a local, national or international story that would have benefited from news literacy skills being applied to stop the spread of misinformation. For example, consider the impact a story had, and whether false claims about it could be debunked using reputable and verifiable sources of information.
How is the “pitch” judged? The first-, second- and third-place essay winners advance to the Grand Prize Event phase of the contest. To prepare, they must create a visual presentation based on their essay theme (PowerPoint or Google Slides). During the event they will each have three minutes to “pitch” their essay idea to a panel of journalists and will receive real-time feedback from the panel. Student presentations will be judged for creativity, delivery, impact and accuracy during the event (end of May).
What document formats are accepted? Please submit the essay as a Google doc, PDF or a Word document.
How are the finalists announced? Email notification will be sent to the teacher by the end of April.
I am not in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Can I still participate? Sorry, not at this time. This year, the PitchIt! contest is open to all Allegheny County students in middle and high school.
I have more questions! Do you have contacts? Questions about NLP resources can be directed to Kim Bowman, senior associate of user success, firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions about rules can be directed to Miriam Romais, director of NewsLitNation, at email@example.com, and questions about entries can be directed to our Pittsburgh News Literacy ambassador, Deborah Domingues-Murphy, at firstname.lastname@example.org.