PitchIt! Colorado Student Essay Contest


Monday, April 15, 2024
11:59 PM MT

Contest Deadline: April 15, 2024, 11:59 p.m. MT.

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. Student voice is a catalyst for positive change in schools and communities. For this reason, The Colorado Sun and the News Literacy Project are hosting a writing contest to empower Colorado students to be civically informed and engaged.

Contest Deadline: April 15, 2024, 11:59 p.m. MT.


  • Nov. 1, 2023: Educator RSVP opens! 
  • Nov. 1, 2023-Jan. 28, 2024: Suggested time frame to teach using Checkology® virtual classroom and other NLP resources. (All free!). 
  • Feb. 1, 2024-April 15, 2024: Suggested time frame to workshop essays for submission. 
  • April 15, 2024: Essay submission deadline. 
  • May 1, 2024: PitchIt! Colorado finalists announced. 
  • May (TBD): PitchIt! Colorado State Finals. 


  • 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 as outlined in the Colorado Department of Education’s Academic Standards resource.


The PitchIt! Colorado State Finals Event will be a hybrid (in person and Zoom) format. Students will present live for the chance at claiming the title PitchIt! Colorado State Champion. An awards ceremony will be held and first-, second- and third-place trophies will be provided for both middle school and high school competitors, along with a school banner for display.


Participating teachers may choose to adapt 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, planning and organizational support for instructional purposes in the PitchIt! Colorado 2023-2024 Resource Folder.

For this project, middle and high school students will write an 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! Colorado State Finals event.

At state finals, each student will “pitch” their essay topic to a select panel of professional journalists and local leaders. Finalists will compete to earn the title of PitchIt! Colorado State Champion (separate titles for middle school and high school).


This contest is open to middle and high school students in Colorado who participate with the support from a teacher and/or school. Participating teachers may choose to adapt the competition curriculum for individual classes or hold a schoolwide event. Each participating school may submit up to five entries per grade band (6-12).

Essay finalists must be able to attend the PitchIt! Colorado State Finals event either in person or virtually. The event will take place at The Colorado Sun Media Center, Denver, Colorado (date and time TBD).


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.

Objective (Based on Colorado Academic Standards)

  1. Students will be able to conduct research by gathering, organizing, and evaluating the credibility and bias of information from a variety of news media.
  2. Students will be able to critically analyze information, claims, and sources presented to them through news media.
  3. Students will be able to cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  4. Students will be able to evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
  5. Students will be able to identify ways in which 21st century media can be evaluated for authenticity, validity, and reliability.
  6. Students will be able to synthesize information from multiple sources to demonstrate understanding of a topic.
  7. Students will be able to process and effectively communicate and present information orally, in writing, and through multimedia presentation.


Students compose an essay (500-1,000 words) 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 inform their audience about the relevancy of news literacy in the world today.


Educators, professional journalists and state legislators.

Summative Assessment

Students will be evaluated using the PitchIt! Colorado Essay Rubric. 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 essay 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 will submit each essay using the PitchIt! Colorado Essay Submission 2023-2024 Form.

Step 4. NLP’s educator panel selects six essays (three from middle school and three from high school) to advance to the Colorado State Finals.

Step 5: Panel notifies the teacher and student finalists on May 1, 2024. The selected students then begin creating a visual presentation of their essay (no more than three minutes in length) to compete in the final phase of the contest.

Step 6: Essay finalists make their three-minute presentation (“pitch”) to a panel of journalists and state legislators during the PitchIt! Colorado State Finals Event. Panelists choose the first-, second- and third-place, and the state champion titles for middle school and high school competitors, who will be awarded during the event.


Students should pick one of the following prompts: 

Prompt #1: Explain how the First Amendment protects freedom of the press. Use a recent local, national or international news story to illustrate the importance of freedom of the press and how other freedoms are required to protect it.

Prompt #2: What steps should someone take to fact-check statements by a public figure? Consider a recent event in the news to analyze the ways in which the press can hold public figures accountable for what they say and share publicly.

Prompt #3: People have civic responsibilities, things they should do but are not required by law. Explain which news literacy skills are essential to responsible civic participation by example of a recent event in the news.

Prompt #4: Social media platforms are under increased public pressure to fact-check online content generated and shared by users. Which news literacy standards should social media platforms adopt to evaluate fact from fiction? Support your answer with real-world examples in the news media.

Prompt #5: What is the role of the media in our society, and how can we become responsible consumers and producers of news and information in the digital age? Support your answer with real-world examples in the news.

Prompt #6: How do confirmation bias, stereotyping and other cognitive biases impact how we interpret events, news and information? What are potential consequences of not verifying the accuracy of such information? Analyze a current news event with these multiple issues in mind for your essay.


  • Submission must be original, unpublished work of one student.
  • Essay is between 500-1,000 words, clearly addressing one of the prompts.
  • Essay is typed in 12-point, Times New Roman, double-spaced with 1” margins and numbered pages.
  • Submissions 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.

Contest Deadline: April 15, 2024, 11:59 p.m. MT.

Schools/teachers should submit their top essays (no more than five essays per grade) using the PitchIt! Colorado Essay Submission 2023-2024 Form.


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! Colorado Essay Rubric. Successful essays are about a local, national or international story tied in with news literacy skills. 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 PitchIt! Colorado State Finals phase of the contest. To prepare, they must create a visual presentation based on their essay theme. During the event they will each have three minutes to “pitch” their essay idea to a panel of journalists and state legislators, and will receive real-time feedback from the panel. Student presentations will be judged for creativity, delivery, impact and accuracy during the event.

Who can participate? The PitchIt! contest is open to all Colorado students in middle and high school. If you live in Pennsylvania, Florida or New York, please visit the main PitchIt! page for details.

What document formats are accepted? Please submit the essay as a Docx, Word, or PDF file. The “pitch” presentation should be Google Slides or PowerPoint.

How are the finalists announced? Email notifications will be sent to teachers and finalists on May 1, 2024.

I live too far from Denver to attend the State Finals event in person. May I still participate? Yes! The event can be accessed via Zoom, so you can still attend and present your pitch to the live panel.

I have more questions!  Questions about NLP resources can be directed to Terry Berna, educator success manager, [email protected], or you can submit a request via the NLP Education Help Center or the NewsLitNation Facebook Group. Questions about rules can be directed to Miriam Romais, director of NewsLitNation, [email protected], and questions about entries can be directed to our Colorado ambassador, Amanda Escheman, at [email protected].

“I see no greater threat to democracy than media illiteracy. The democratic process can only thrive when thoughtful citizens interrogate the media that informs them.”
––Amanda Escheman, Colorado News Literacy Ambassador

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