Encourage A New Generation of Peacemakers

Integrate this essay-writing contest into your high school classroom to develop writing skills and encourage international study.

By Stef Durr

Peace sign

As a writing teacher, I am always looking for ways to bring writing contests into my classroom. Not only is there a natural purpose highlighted, but there are often outside incentives that drive student motivation. This contest is no exception; third place is a $2,500 scholarship, second place is a $5,000 scholarship, and first place is a whopping $10,000 scholarship. Then, in addition to these three top winners, first-place state winners receive both a $1,000 scholarship and an invitation to a five-day award program held in Washington, DC, all expenses paid. It’s likely that your pupils will favor the scholarship, but the real gem is the awards program, which was designed to “…promote an understanding of the nature and process of international peacemaking by focusing on a region and/or theme of the current essay contest.” This sounds like a great addition to any college application. So, let’s take a look at the contest.

The National Peace Contest

For the past several years, the United States Institute of Peace has been holding essay-writing contests specifically for high school students. On February 1st, 2013, a 1500 word essay on gender, war, and peace-building efforts as they relate to two international or intra-national conflicts within the past ten years, is due.

To start, coordinators must register online. As a coordinator, you are responsible for ensuring that each student’s work is his or her own. While you don’t have to provide step-by-step guidance for your high school writers, it is recommended that you at least help identify any typographical errors.

guidebook and a study guide (which functions as a teacher handbook) are available online. I definitely suggest printing out both of these resources before introducing your class to the upcoming assignment. Not only does the guidebook include a detailed explanation of the topic and the possible prizes, but there is an essay requirement checklist that will help your writers ensure that they craft a complete, strong submission.

The Study Guide

The study guide is particularly helpful; it highlights the importance of studying gender in war and peace times, and it raises some really thought-provoking questions to pose to your class as a pre-writing activity. Here are some questions to use as a jumping-off point:

  • How are gender and conflict related?
  • How are women affected by war because of their roles, needs, priorities, status, and access to power? Is this different from how men are affected?
  • How are gender roles and behaviors impacted by religion, age, class, and ethnicity?
  • Are women typically part of the peacemaking process? Who represents their voice? Is it effective?

Implementing the Assignment

The structure of the actual writing portion is up to you. Whether you have time to host writing workshops in class, or if you prefer to break down the assignment into manageable pieces to work on at home, it’s likely you’ll want to provide some support for your students. To start this writing unit, consider doing some (or all) of the following:

  • Print the guidebook (or at least the assignment and essay details) for each participant.
  • Break down the topic together. Although the prompt has been broken down into sections with bulleted lists, talk it out with your class. When I assign a larger writing assignment, I always ask pupils to rewrite the question in their own words after we’ve discussed it. Then, I get a few volunteers to read their re-phrased questions to ensure my class understands the essential questions.
  • Facilitate the student activity provided in the teacher handbook, entitled “Growing Up in My Gender”. This assignment encourages a thoughtful understanding of gender and gender roles across different countries and in different communities.
  • Print a copy of 2011’s winning submission (also included in the guidebook), and deconstruct it with your class. How is it structured? How does Kathryn Botto, the author, capture the interest of her readers? How much research did she conduct and use in her piece?
  • Pull interesting facts and statistics from the study guide, or create a jigsaw to highlight the role of women in wartime. This is particularly important as people in western countries aren’t always aware of how civilians, especially women, are targeted in other countries.
  • Review the vocabulary provided in the study guide. These words are buzz words surrounding the topic, and it’s likely they’ll pop up in research regarding war and gender issues.
  • Hold a brainstorming day to identify and discuss different international and/or intra-national conflicts from the past ten years. If you’re worried that your class might not be aware of many recent conflicts, this is another great opportunity for a jigsaw activity.

Student Benefits

The benefits of implementing this assignment are numerous. The website notes that the essay contest “…promotes serious discussion among high school students, teachers, and national leaders about international peace and conflict resolution today and in the future, and… strengthens students’ research, writing, and reasoning skills,” but it also challenges learners to analyze issues not easily relatable to their current place in society today. And of course, you can’t forget about the wonderful opportunities to encourage higher education in your classroom! Last year there were 1,100 essay submissions, meaning that statistically, there’s a high chance one of your students could win an award!

Relevant Common Core Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.