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

Eighth-grade students in the current academic school year are eligible to be nominated by a school committee or department. It is recommended nominees be decided upon by several teachers. Students MAY NOT self-nominate. Nominees must demonstrate evidence of effective writing.

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 school’s average eighth-grade daily enrollment.

Use the following guide:

  • Under 100 1 nominee
  • 100–199 2 nominees
  • 200–299 3 nominees
  • 300–399 4 nominees
  • 400–499 5 nominees
  • 500 or more 6 nominees


Award Specifics:
Nominated students must submit their themed writing in PDF form.

  1. Themed Writing – must be written based on the topic developed by the Promising Young Writers Advisory Committee. Maximum length for the theme writing is ten (10) pages. The student’s name  must appear on 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 writing in PDF form.
  • The student’s name should appear in the upper left-hand corner of each page. This is very important so pieces can be judged 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.
  • 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.
  • Research papers, term papers, and novels will not be accepted.
  • Late entries cannot 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!


Teams of teachers across the nation will judge entries using a secure judging site. Entries with top scores will be selected as superior. 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:

  • Effectiveness of each piece for its intended audience. The comprehensive question is whether the writer exhibits power to inform and/or move an audience through control of language. Fuzziness should not be mistaken for profundity, nor mechanical sloppiness for originality. Although editorial correctness is a virtue, meaningful variations should be allowed and the absence of mechanical error should not be overvalued. As a rule, flawed brilliance is to be preferred over correct dullness. But be sure your piece is well edited!
  • Writing samples, whatever their type, reveal high achievement in writing for a student at this grade level.
  • Judges have the opportunity to evaluate writing done on the same topic. The student’s individual expression is highly valued and cliches should be avoided.
  • The writing sample will each be scored in three areas: Expression of Ideas, Language Use, and Unique Perspective and 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:

  • Promising young Writers 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.