The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Young Authors Celebration

As the building coordinator for the Illinois Young Authors competition, I have the privilege of promoting this writing contest, recruiting a panel of judges, and reading a wide variety of amazing stories written by students at my school. We had seventeen submissions this year, but I could only select five of them to participate in our district celebration. Of those five, one was selected as the overall building winner, who will get the opportunity to attend the Illinois Young Authors Conference in May.

I am immensely grateful to the teachers at my school who served as the first round of judges. I had several students submit stories, but I didn’t want any accusations of bias, so I removed myself from the initial judging process by providing a rubric for the judges to use. Then the stories were ranked according to the scores they received and the building winner was selected based on the highest score given. Due to a tie, I then read the stories and enlisted the help of another teacher to help select our winners.

Even with all of that in play, we ended up with three of the winners (including the overall winner) coming from my classroom this year! The other two winners included a second grader and a fifth grader. The fifth grade classes had a field trip to Springfield today, though, so she missed out on the celebration. I got to go with the other four winners to our district celebration today.

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This was my first ever experience with a district celebration like this and it was awesome!!! It is so humbling to be in the presence of such amazing young authors who are excited to share what they have done with others! Of course, they are children, so they can be a bit silly when given the opportunity. (Or the prompting with someone with a camera.)

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The day started with a visit from Oba William King, an Illinois storyteller who told us about his experiences as a writer and a storyteller before sharing stories with all of the students and teachers present. I loved the ways he involved the audience and taught about different cultures as he told stories and provided entertainment.

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Then we broke out into grade-level groups. I got to facilitate an activity with 21 fourth- and fifth-grade students. I asked them to give me a number, a measurement of time, a place, a job, and a magical object. We used this as a starter sentence for a story. The sentence the students came up with was this: “Eight months ago in China, a race car mechanic found a magical doorknob.” They had three minutes to write the start of a story then the folded the paper over to cover what they had written and passed them to the person to their left. Then they wrote again. We repeated this process five times and then the students read the stories that were written.

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Even with five different authors, the stories had an amazing amount of cohesion because they were all writing about the same topic. The last student had the responsibility of concluding the story. This was probably my favourite part as I watched them struggle to find a creative way to end a story that started with a mechanic finding a magic doorknob in China. Two of my favourites were “and then a donkey arrived and they all lived happily ever after” and “then the radioactive squirrel exploded, killing everyone.” They all had a great time writing!

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After lunch, the students were presented with their certificates and then members of the Urbana High School Drama Club presented short skits based on a variety of the stories written. Each student whose story was performed got to sit on the stage wearing a crown. I knew they wouldn’t be able to do all of them, but I was ecstatic when they selected one of my student’s submission. Instead of a story, though, she had written a poem, so three of the guys in the Drama Club turned it into a song.

Then we wrapped things up and headed back to the school. I am really looking forward to the state conference in a month! I love the Young Authors contest and hope to see it get bigger in the coming years as I take over the responsibilities of promoting it and encouraging students to participate!

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