How to Use Classroom Contests for Test Score Growth

Classroom contests bring out kids’ competitive nature. Now you can use them to improve test scores. When your students experience writing burnout, bring on the games. In a short amount of time, contests can improve students’ constructed responses.

Classroom Contests Cover


Constructed Response in Ms. Sneed’s Classroom

Ms. Sneed sighed. State testing was only a month away. And her students’ constructed responses still needed a lot of work. Unfortunately, they had given up. As a matter of fact, they weren’t even trying. As she graded the last paper, she reflected on the stack in front of her. Some students wrote only one sentence. Others ran their topic sentence and evidence together. It was a hot mess. What would she do?

“What motivates my students?” Ms. Sneed thought. Visions of video games, soccer, and Little League filled her head. Yep, they loved everything outside of school. No, more than that. They loved competing outside of school.

“Hmm,” thought Ms. Sneed. “What if I made classroom contests for paragraph writing?” She smiled slightly to herself as a brilliant idea hatched.

Classroom Contests for Sentences

The next morning, Ms. Sneed addressed her class. “I’ve decided to hold a series of competitions.” Everyone perked up right away.

“Will there be prizes?” shouted a boy from the back of the room.

“I’ve already thought about that,” said Ms. Sneed. “Yes. Winners will choose from a variety of coupons. Let’s see.” Ms. Sneed pulled a stack of cards from her pocket. “Oh yes, homework passes, sit at a table with your friends for a day, line leader, lunch with the teacher, etc. What do you think?”

Classroom Contests - Homework Pass

“I hope I win a prize,” said the boy.

“I hope so too,” said Ms. Sneed. “Now let’s get started. This week, we’ll have a sentence contest every day. Instead of responding to reading questions in paragraphs, you’ll write only one sentence.”

“This is sweet!” grinned a girl on the right-hand side of the room.

Topic Sentences

“For the first few days, we’ll work on topic sentences. Can anyone tell me what the contest judge will look for?”

“I’m assuming that you’re the judge,” a girl in the front said.

Ms. Sneed smiled and nodded.

Kids offered criteria for good topic sentences, and Ms. Sneed made a list on the board:

Classroom Contests - Topic Sentence Criteria

“Okay, let’s get started. And I forgot to tell you something. Instead of one winner, the judge will choose up to ten today.” Now the kids really perked up. Prizes for writing just one sentence? They were in.

Ms. Sneed held topic sentence contests for three days. Interestingly enough, kids’ topic sentences really improved.

Supporting Detail Sentences

“How’s everyone liking the sentence contests?” asked Ms. Sneed the next day.

“I like getting out of writing paragraphs,” called a voice.

“It’s time to switch it up,” said Ms. Sneed. “For the next few days, you’ll be writing supporting detail sentences.” The students groaned.

“Let me clarify that. Each of you will write only one supporting detail sentence.” The students cheered.

“Can you help me figure out how to judge these?”

“Well, said a kid with glasses in the back row, “you have to cite.”

“That’s right,” replied Ms. Sneed. She continued collaborating with the class. Pretty soon, they had a nice list:

Classroom Contests - Detail Sentence Criteria

As they finished up, a boy asked, “How many prizes are you giving today?”

“Hmm,” said Ms. Sneed. “Maybe I’ll give a prize to every student who meets the criteria today. Let’s get started.”

The classroom quieted down as kids began reading. Before long, they were working away on their sentences.

The next day, Ms. Sneed announced the winners. Many kids received prizes. Then she explained the next contest. Students would work in groups. Each student would write one supporting detail sentence.

As predicted, detail sentences got better and better. Ms. Sneed was delighted.

More Classroom Contests for Constructed Response

As the year went on, Ms. Sneed sprinkled in more classroom contests. Each time, she changed it up just a bit.

  • Conclusion Contest
  • Complete Constructed Response Contest
  • Judging by Kids
  • Judging a Mystery Category (everyone writes a paragraph; only one sentence is judged)

Alternatives to Constructed Response

Kids need practice constructing responses. But it doesn’t have to be boring. Try some alternatives! For example, have kids roll constructed response cubes, build burgers, hold friendly competitions, and work together. Everyone – including the teacher – will be happier.

Classroom Contests - Constructed Response

Enjoy Teaching

Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.

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