Eligibility, Award Specifics, and Writing Instructions - National Council of Teachers of English

Eligibility:  Sophomores and juniors in the current academic school year are eligible to be nominated by their school’s English department. Nominations should be based on whether the writer exhibits the power to inform and move an audience through language. Entries are only accepted from teachers; students may not self-nominate.

Schools in the United States, US territories, Canada, and American Schools Abroad are eligible to nominate students. Nominating schools must be US accredited.

The number of nominees allowed from each school is determined by the current total enrollment in grades 10, 11, and 12. The enrollment figure used must be from an official administrative report of the current year and must not include ninth-grade students.

*Updated September 5, 2023* Use the following guide for nominations:

  • Under 999 students: 5 nominees
  • 1,000–1,499 students: 6 nominees
  • 1,500–1,999 students: 8 nominees
  • 2,000–2,499 students: 10 nominees
  • 2,500–2,999 students: 12 nominees
  • 3,000–3,999 students: 14 nominees
  • 4,000 or more students: 16 nominees


Award Specifics:  Nominated students must submit a themed writing in PDF form. Beginning with the 2023 contest, participants will no longer submit “best” writings. When filling out the entry form, you will also be asked to give a title.

Themed Writing – must be written based on the topic developed by the Achievement Awards Advisory Committee. Maximum length for the theme writing is ten (10) pages. The student’s name must appear in the upper left-hand corner of each page.


General Directions for Themed Writing:

  • One teacher completes one entry form per student and uploads the student’s “Themed” writings in PDF form. Only teachers/administrators are allowed to submit student work.
  • The student’s name should appear in the upper left-hand corner of each page. This is important so we can judge each piece accurately! (If you are submitting an arts-based entry like a photo essay or graphic novel, you may adjust this format as long as we can tell which piece is which. Email studentwriting@ncte.org with any questions.)
  • The page number must appear in the upper right-hand corner of each page.
  • The school’s name must not appear on the paper or within the body of writing.
  • Please use legible type – no smaller than 11 or 12 point.
  • Double space with one inch margins on all sides. This does not apply to poetry.
  • Remember that only excerpts that are within the ten (10) page maximum from research papers, term papers, and novels will be accepted – not the full text.
  • Late entries will not be accepted.
  • The Themed piece should be written from the students’ personal voice and perspective. Take care to not make it sound like a school assignment! The judges want to see your creativity and personality in the piece.


Judging:  Teams of teachers across the nation will judge entries using a secure judging site. Entries with top scores will be selected for the Achievement Award in Writing First Class. Writings are judged holistically on content, purpose, audience, tone, word choice, organization, development, and style.

If you are interested in signing up to judge, please email studentwriting@ncte.org.

Below are the guidelines by which your writing will be evaluated by the NCTE judges. Keep these guidelines in mind as you draft and revise:

  1. Expression of Ideas
  • Writing conveys meanings; reflects strong thinking
  • Thematic meaning(s) effectively controlled
  • Themed writing responds to the stated prompt
  • Piece is unified, and builds upon itself, even if the structure is nontraditional
  • Sense of clarity of purpose, completeness, and closure
  1.  Language Use
  • Writing style appropriate to content and genre
  • Writing reflects mastery of technical aspects of writing (e.g., control over punctuation and syntax)
  • Writer uses language powerfully, via apt, original word choice, unique phrasing
  • Strong flow produced via syntactical control and variation
  • Writer effectively employs detail, evocative language, and/or imagery to enliven writing and to express ideas
  1. Unique Perspective and Voice
  • Uniqueness of writer is evident through stylistic choices
  • Writing conveys unique, authentic, original perspective
  • Style conveys unique, authentic, original voice

  Results are announced in May. Starting with the 2023 contest, a new structure for awards will be used.

To reflect various levels of distinction and recognition, there will now be four, rather than two, designations:

  • Achievement Awards in Writing First Class
  • Superior
  • Excellent
  • Merit

All nominated students will receive their appropriate certificate from their nominating teacher.  Additionally, those who receive the First Class award will have their name and their school’s name appear on the NCTE website.