January 2021 Secondary ELAOK Newsletter

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English Language Arts

January 2021

In this issue:

Happy New Year!

Since I am a word nerd, I usually look forward to learning what the word of the year is according to different dictionaries like Merriam-Webster, Oxford, and others. Those announcements are typically made in December and encapsulate a new idea or movement for that particular year. Sometimes they are controversial, and other times they are benign.

As I write this at the end of December, I have yet to encounter those announcements on my social media, but I have some predictions for the 2020 word(s) of the year: pandemiccoronavirus, quarantine, social distancing. They seem pretty obvious, don't they? After some quick research, here are some of the 2020 words of the year:

We are living and teaching through a historic time. In spite of Covid-19, Oklahoma ELA teachers met virtually in 2020 to revise the Oklahoma Academic Standard for English Language Arts. In fact, the writing team is meeting this month to respond to public comment. This would be hard work even during normal conditions, so the fact that these educators undertook this huge project during the pandemic is nothing short of amazing.

Speaking of amazing--you are too! Thank you for all that you are doing this school year to teach your students. I wish you a very happy and successful 2021!

January Virtual Meeting

The monthly virtual meeting for Oklahoma secondary ELA  teachers will be on Wednesday, January 13, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. We will discuss how instruction is going during the pandemic and share strategies for any of your current challenges.

Zoom link

Typed Student Exemplars

Earlier this school year, the Office of Assessment released some new Grade 8 student exemplar essays. The essays were from the past when students had to handwrite their responses. As we all know, some handwriting can be challenging to decipher, so steps were taken to make typed versions of those exemplars.

The typed exemplars are now available on our Assessment Materials webpage under "Holistic Writing/Constructed Response Exemplars." Catherine Boomer, Director of ELA & Social Studies Assessments, packaged the typed exemplars with the handwritten ones.

When you click on one of the grade levels and modes, you will get a PDF that contains the reading passages, the rubric, the original exemplars, and the typed exemplars.  Each typed exemplar has the writing prompt and score summary included, so teachers can opt to just print the passage, rubric, and typed exemplars and still have everything that they need to discuss the extended constructed response with their students. 

Holistic Writing/Constructed Response Exemplars:

Student Podcast Contest

student podcast challenge

NPR is inviting students around the country to create a podcast, then — with the help of a teacher — compete for a chance to win NPR's grand prize and have their work appear on NPR. The winning podcast submissions will be featured in segments on Morning Edition or All Things Considered.

Here's how it works: Students put together a podcast with their class or extracurricular group. Then their teacher can submit it to NPR.

This contest is for teachers with students between 5th and 12th grade. Each podcast should be between 3 and 8 minutes long.

NPR has a submission guide of suggested prompts, guidelines for submissions, and a list of questions you might have.

But before you do anything, it's important to read the official rules here.

Sure, this is a competition, but it's also about learning new skills in a fun way. NPR wants to make that learning easier — so they have put together materials to help both teachers and students along the way.

Law Day Contest

law day


While this year has been filled with unique challenges and changes, Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA) is keeping its tradition in celebrating the 45th annual Law Day by holding an art and writing contest for all Oklahoma students.

This fun, educational contest is designed to stimulate discussion and understanding of the law among young Oklahomans. The theme for this year’s contest is “Advancing the Rule of Law Now,” which was selected to remind us that we the people share the responsibility to promote the rule of law, defend liberty, and pursue justice.

Writing prompts for 1st through 12th graders are available at www.okbar.org/lawday/. Winners will receive awards and cash prizes, and all participants will receive a certificate. Winning entries will be published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal and posted to the OBA website. Entries are due January 15, 2021, to

OBA Law Day Committee
P.O. Box 53036
Oklahoma City, OK 73152

Law Day, a nationwide event designated by the U.S. Congress in 1958, is celebrated each year to raise public awareness of American law. The idea for Law Day was conceived by the late Hicks Epton, a Wewoka attorney and OBA past president.

More information about Law Day is available on the OBA website at www.okbar.org/LawDay.

The 18,000-member Oklahoma Bar Association, headquartered in Oklahoma City, was created by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to advance the administration of justice and to foster and maintain learning, integrity, competence, public service, and high standards of conduct among Oklahoma's legal community.

For more information contact Lauren Rimmer, Communications Specialist, Oklahoma Bar Association, Phone: 405-416-7018 or Email: laurenr@okbar.org.

Student Writing Contest

Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards

Deadline to apply: March 2, 2021 3:00 pm CT or when 1,000 applications have been received

Penguin Random House is passionate about encouraging the next generation of readers and authors and promoting diverse voices and stories. For 27 years, Penguin Random House has supported this mission through the Creative Writing Awards, which in 2019 entered into an innovative new partnership with the national advocacy organization We Need Diverse Books. Through this program, Penguin Random House will award college scholarships of up to $10,000 each to five U.S. high school seniors, nationwide.

Creative Writing Awards winners have gone on to become professional and award-winning authors. Since 1993, this program has awarded more than $2.8 million dollars to public high school students for original poetry, memoir/personal essay, fiction/drama, and spoken-word compositions. This signature program continues to empower and celebrate hundreds of young writers each year.

Applicants to the Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards Program in Partnership with We Need Diverse Books must:

  • Be current high school seniors at a public high school in the United States
  • Be 21 years of age and under
  • Plan to enroll in an accredited two-year or four-year college, university, or approved vocational-technical school Fall 2021
  • Submit one original literary composition in English in one of the following genres of poetry, spoken word, fiction/drama or personal essay/memoir.
    • All submissions must be typed, double-spaced with a minimum 12 point font size and no longer than 10 pages.
    • All literary pages with multiple pages must be numbered with a page number and total number of pages (Ex. 1/3, 2/3, 3/3).
    • A four-page minimum is recommended for the fiction/drama genre.
    • Spoken word entries must upload a typed entry along with an emailed audio format file.
    • Only one entry per student may be submitted and considered.

Award Information

Awards will be distributed as follows:

  • $10,000 Maya Angelou Award for Spoken-Word Poetry
  • $10,000 Poetry
  • $10,000 Fiction/Drama
  • $10,000 Personal Essay/Memoir

Fifty Honorable Mention recipients will receive a “Creativity Kit” gift from Penguin Random House.

Learn more on the contest webpage.

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt


Scope magazine's annual story contest challenges students to finish a story with an opening line provided by a famous author. This year, Varian Johnson wrote three first lines to stories that don’t exist—yet. Pick a first line and write for 5-10 minutes...or more! And if you want your students to participate, the deadline is March 1, 2021. Check out details on the contest website.

Reading Quote