PitchIt! PENNSYLVANIA Student Essay Contest 2024

Events


Friday, March 1, 2024
11:59 PM ET

Contest Deadline: March 1, 2024, 11:59 p.m. ET.


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.

Friday, March 1: Deadline

TIMELINE:

  • Nov. 1, 2023 – January 2024: Educator RSVP is open! Suggested time frame to teach using Checkology® virtual classroom and other free NLP resources.
  • January 2024 – Feb. 26, 2024: Suggested time frame to workshop essays for submission.
  • March 1, 2024: Essay deadline.
  • March 4, 2024: PitchIt! Pennsylvania finalists announced.
  • March TBD, 2024: PitchIt! Pennsylvania State Finals (week of March 18).

ABOUT

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 Pennsylvania to be civically informed and engaged.

TEACHING GOALS

  • 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.
  • Students develop their 21st century civics and media literacy skills (see our Google Drive documents, academic contexts and connections).

AWARDS for each grade band (6-8 and 9-12)

GRAND PRIZE – PITCH:
$100 gift card scholarship for student winner, gift card for teacher and a school banner celebrating both.

FIRST PLACE – ESSAY
$75 gift card (teacher and student)

SECOND PLACE – ESSAY
$50 gift card (teacher and student)

THIRD PLACE – ESSAY
$25 gift card (teacher and student)

Note: First-, second- and third-place essay winners will prepare a presentation to “pitch” in the virtual PitchIt! Grand Prize event on Zoom (date TBA) and receive feedback from working journalists. The Grand Prize winners will be chosen at this time.

OVERVIEW

Pennsylvania middle and high school 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 (6-12).

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. Join the NewsLitNation Facebook Group, for additional tips on how to best blend key news literacy concepts into your existing curriculum.

For this project, 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.

The selected first- through third-place essay contest prize winners (three from middle school and three from high school) then compete at the virtual PitchIt! Grand Prize event, where they receive real-time feedback from journalists on their “pitch,” a presentation about their essay topic. The grand prize winners will be chosen at this time.

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.

OBJECTIVE

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.

TASK

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.

SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT

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.

PROCESS

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 are encouraged to explore the free educator resources on NewsLitNation® and 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 handing in a final draft.

STEP 3. Teachers select up to five student essay finalists per grade, per school, and submit with cover letter to Deborah Domingues-Murphy, Pennsylvania’s NewsLitNation ambassador: [email protected].

STEP 4. NLP’s educator panel selects six essays (three from middle school and three from high school) to advance to the Grand Prize phase of the contest (the “pitch”!).

STEP 5. Panel notifies the teacher at the beginning of March. The selected students then begin creating a visual presentation of their essay (PowerPoint or Google Slides, no more than three minutes in length), to compete in the final phase of the contest.

STEP 6. First-, second- and third-place essay winners make their presentation (“pitch”) to a panel of journalists during the PitchIt! Pennsylvania Grand Prize event on Zoom and receive personalized feedback. Panelists choose the Grand Prize winners for middle school and high school competitors, who will be awarded during the event.

*Click here for the Google Drive folder with PitchIt! educator resources. 

PROMPTS

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.

ESSAY CRITERIA

  • Submission must be original, unpublished work of one student.
  • Essays are 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.
  • 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).
  • 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 protected].

While not required, we encourage schools to conduct their own internal essay contest to establish the top essays for submission. Entries must be received by March 1, 2024.

FAQs:

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.

Do you have essay tips for the students? Essays must have a recognizable beginning (opening or introduction), multiple body paragraphs and a conclusion. See Purdue Owl Argumentative Essays. 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.

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 (mid-March).

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

How are the finalists announced? Email notifications will be sent to teachers by the first week in March.

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

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, at [email protected], and questions about entries can be directed to our Pittsburgh ambassador, Deborah Domingues-Murphy, at [email protected].

“I want my students to want to be involved in their community, hold our elected officials accountable. To do that, they need to know what is happening and that requires them to be smart consumers of news information. I also want them to have a voice and to empower them to be confident in engaging with the adults in their community and be able to challenge them on what they say and do. As Dan Rather said, “No one has a monopoly on the truth, but the whole premise of our democracy is that truth and justice must win out.”  —Deborah Domingues-Murphy

More Updates

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To break through a confusing and misleading information landscape, the News Literacy Project hosted a panel of experts who work with the military community to discuss common types of election-related misinformation and practical tips for finding reliable news before voting.

Updates