Running A contest
Before The Contest
Planning your school contest doesn’t need to be too complicated. Here is a detailed checklist that walks you through the planning process.
- Set a date and reserve facilities: You can hold your contest in the gymnasium during school hours, have an evening event for friends and family. Asses what works best for you and your students, and set that date early.
- Arrange for prizes: Prizes are optional, of course, but you may want to consider printing participation certificates for each student at the least. You can also give office supplies, like glue and construction paper for the exhibit category, DVD-roms for documentaries, etc. Whatever you choose to do, make it fun!
- Recruit judges: This is one of the most important aspects of running a History Day contest. You will need two or three judges per category. If your contest is small (only a few classrooms), the same people can judge the individual and group divisions in a category. You can find judges in a number of places; other teachers in the school, principals, administrators, and librarians make great judges. If you have museums or universities in the area, staff members from those institutions are also a place to appeal for judges. You can use this Sample Judges Invitation. Once someone has agreed to judge, send him or her a confirmation letter like this one: Sample Judges Confirmation It is helpful to send photocopies of the judging instructions with the letters so judges can look over the materials prior to the contest.
- Schedule your contest: Even if you are having a contest just for one classroom, make it formal so students have good practice. Exhibit, web site, and paper entries are usually scheduled at 15 minute intervals, and have 10 minutes for their interview. Performance and documentary entries are scheduled at 20 minute intervals. They should have 5 minutes to set up, 10 minutes to perform or show their project, and 5 minutes for tear-down and questioning. You can use this handy Sample Schedule Sheet to assist with this.
- Publicize your contest: You may also want to alert the local media for the opportunity to promote the work that your students produce. You can customise this Sample Press Release for easy and free way to get some attention for your school’s program. Also, consider inviting your local politicians. Teachers at Sand Creek Middle School in South Colonie had great success by sending handmade antiqued scroll invitations to their local politicians.
- Gather and distribute contest materials: Make sure you have enough evaluation sheets, judging instructions, and other contest materials at the ready. Papers and web sites need to be given to the judges about a week in advance. They must read the papers and review the web sites prior to the contest so they can ask students clarifying questions during their contest interview.
Here are a few things to keep in mind on the contest day to ensure everything goes smoothly.
Conduct a judges’ orientation: Before the judging process starts on contest day, it’s a good idea to gather the judges and quickly go over how the day will work. You will want to provide each judge with:
- Enough evaluation forms for each entry
- An entry ranking form
- A schedule or order of entries
- Judging instructions (available from state office or www.nhd.org)
- A clock or stopwatch for performances and documentaries
- A measuring tape for exhibits
Let the judges know that students will see their comments sheets. This will be the way students receive feedback. Remind the judges that:
- 60% of their ranking is based on Historical Quality
- 20% of their ranking is based on Clarity of Presentation
- 20% of their ranking is based on Relationship to Theme
While an entry may have a lot of visual or dramatic appeal, historical accuracy is the most important aspect of a History Day entry.
Judge the student work: Make sure you are familiar with the contest rule book. Each category has specific rules. At the school level it may be difficult to run precisely by the national rules, but making a school contest as close as possible prepares the students for what they may encounter at the regional, state, or national contest. Judges must reach a consensus on their ranking. Have them fill out their final ranking sheet and then add their specific and constructive comments. It’s a good idea to let the judges know during orientation when, where, and to whom you want the evaluations and ranking forms turned in.
Plan some student activities: If you have a large contest, it may be a good idea to have some activities, like board games, for the students to do while they are waiting to be judged.
Have an Awards Ceremony: Having an awards ceremony (no matter how large or small) can be a great opportunity to recognize all of the students’ work. The top entries can be announced, revealing which projects are moving on to the regional contest.
AFTER THE CONTEST
After your contest has gone off without a hitch, make sure you take the following steps to finish up the year on a positive note.
- Register for the regional contest: Make sure that the students who will compete at the regional contest are properly registered for the competition. Remind the students that they have time to revise their projects.
- Write thank you notes: It’s a great idea to send thank you notes to judges. After your first year, you can build a base of loyal judges that commit to your program year after year.
- Tell the media about the students’ success: Send out another press release to the local paper so the community can see the great work the students are doing, largely through their own motivation.
SCHOOL CONTEST RESOURCES
The following documents will help you plan and facilitate your very own school History Day contest: