Teach Students How to Write and Evaluate Paragraphs by Having a Competition

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This simple activity motivates students to write better paragraphs more often. It eliminates the need to grade every single assignment. It helps writers of all levels work on a specific aspect of writing without the need to criticize every little fault. It focuses on the positive and publicly rewards students for quality work. Although nothing will replace your expertise, the paragraph challenge allows more time to grade formal writing and essay tests, and prepare students for standardized writing exams.


  • Assign a writing topic. Paragraphs are most effective for this activity (hence, paragraph challenge lesson plan). Each student should write on the same broad topic.
  • Tell students their paragraph will be read to the class anonymously and evaluated publicly.
  • Assign completion points if desired, but do NOT grade them. Sometimes I collect them at the end of class, assign a few points for completion, and give them back the next class. Sometimes I do a walk by check and assign completion points. The key is to reward students for doing something (especially early on and especially with nonproficient writers).
  • Instruct students to clear everything off their desks except their completed paragraph.
  • Assign students in groups of four or let them choose their groups.
  • Have students read their paragraph outloud to their group members. Allow them to make changes as they read.
  • Have the group rank each paragraph 1-4 (optional).

Option 1

  • Read one paragraph from each group. They can be chosen at random or by ranking.
  • Go over the strengths of each paragraph, focusing on anything specific they need to learn.
  • Have the class vote for the top 3 paragraphs.
  • Assign points: 5 points for 1st; 3 points for 2nd; 1 point for third.
  • Continue until time runs out or there are no more paragraphs to read.

Option 2

  • Draw a tournament bracket on the board. Teams will go head to head.
  • Read one paragraph from team 1 and one paragraph from team 2.
  • Let students argue for each paragraph. For example, why is paragraph 1 better? What specifically makes paragraph 2 more effective?
  • Tell students to vote on the winner. You vote too.
  • The winning paragraph moves on to the next round
  • Repeat until there’s a winner.
  • Have the losing teams compete in a consolation bracket.

Important Points to Remember

  • Don’t get caught up on winning and losing.
  • Get caught up in explaining why one paragraph is better than the other.
  • Bring up good points about all paragraphs you read.
  • Reinforce the positive.
  • Thank each student for participating, even if it’s anonymous participation.


  • Tell students in advance how they will be evaluated.
  • Option 1: Evaluate each paragraph as you read it and assign it a grade with the help of the class.
  • Option 2: Award points based on team performance: 1st place = A; 2nd place = A-; 3rd place = B+
  • Option 3: Give everyone who completes the assignment and participates satisfactorily an ‘A’ with bonus points to the winning group.
  • Option 4: Give participation points only, hand back the paragraphs, assign a final draft due the next day, and grade each one individually with the paragraph challenge draft as the rough draft.

This post is part of the series: Challenge Students

These “challenge” lesson plans motivate and excite. I challenge you to try them out.

  1. Lesson Plan: Context Clues Challenge
  2. Lesson Plans: Reading Challenge
  3. Lesson Plan: Paragraph Challenge
  4. Using White Boards: Fun Ideas for Reading and Language Arts
  5. Games to Reinforce Vocabulary Words: Unique Ideas