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Writing assignment connects Rocky Heights students to authors, wins state contest

HIGHLANDS RANCH – A letter written by a Rocky Heights Middle School (RHMS) student is on its way to the U.S. Library of Congress, after winning the Colorado Letters About Literature contest.

Letters About Literature is a reading and writing contest for students in grades 4-12. Students are asked to read a book, poem or speech and write to that author (living or dead) about how the book affected them personally.

Garrison Niemann chose to write his letter to Shel Silverstein, the author of the poem Where the Sidewalk Ends.

“I’ve read a lot of his poems. There are three or four books that I’ve read of his poems,” Niemann said. [“Where the Sidewalk Ends”] made me think “about my grandma, who used to be a teacher and a librarian.

In Niemann’s letter, which won first place in the 7th-8th-grade level of the state contest, he wrote to the author who died in 1999, explaining how his poem helped give him strength after the death of his beloved “Nana.”

Tens of thousands of students from across the country enter Letters About Literature each year. By winning the state competition, Niemann’s entry was automatically entered into the national Letters About Literature contest.

Meanwhile, his classmate, Bailee Stones, won third place in the state contest. She chose to write her letter to a living author, Emily Freeman, who wrote the book Love Life and See Good Days.

“That is the book that really stood out to me,” Stones said. “I saw my mom reading this book and it looked interesting, so I ended up reading it. It was a really good book and it helps me think more positively.”

After finishing the letter, Stones sent it to Freeman via Facebook and was surprised when she got a response.

“I didn’t think that she would see it, but she did and that was really cool,” Stones said. “She thought it was awesome.”

This is the first year that RHMS teacher, Judi Holst, has encouraged her students, including Niemann and Stones, to participate in the contest and says it is an authentic way for them to showcase their learning.

“I don’t think either one of them realize how strong of writers they really are,” Holst explains. “Receiving recognition like this helps to boost confidence. Maybe they’ll think, ‘yeah I can take journalism in high school or maybe I should do the yearbook or newspaper.’”

Holst says technology has really changed the way she teaches Language Arts. Now students have so many more ways of expressing their creativity, from publishing books, to creating twitter accounts and blogs.

In fact, every November, she has students participate in National Novel Writing Month (known as NaNoWriMo), a chance for students of all ages to become authors. The class doesn’t stop at writing; they actually share their work with the public.

“[In May] they’re publishing them. They’re real books. You can sell them on Amazon,” Holst said.

Last year, one of Holst’s students posted a book and had made 20 dollars in royalties, by the end of the school year.

In the novel assignment, Garrison chose to create a pilot who fought in World War II. Stones, on the other hand, imagined a normal teenage girl who discovered a necklace that would change her into a different person.

June 3, 2014 | By rmbarber | Category: Middle School Education, Schools

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