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I am designing a fiction writing contest for 13 and 14-year old EFL students. The students have very limited experience writing English and writing fiction.

I am developing the scoring sheet, on which the judges can evaluate the students. This must be very transparent and very fair.

So far, the scoring sheet only covers grammar and spelling, which has been the only focus of their lessons, so it might not be fair judge much more than that, but, as it might be possible that several students could submit a story with perfect grammar and spelling, then several students would have perfect scores.

It seems that I need some system for judging the quality of the storytelling as well, in a purely objective way. Is this possible?

  • What components of a story can be judged?
  • Can these aspects be judged objectively?
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I see two separate paths you can take:

1) You might have to back up and set down some rules for the writing before developing rules for the judging.

For example, if one of your judging rules is "The story must have a beginning, middle, and end," but someone submits an amazing in medias res piece, is that going to be penalized for not meeting an arbitrary criterion?

As a teacher, figure out what you want the contest to accomplish (telling a coherent story, having a character learn something, revealing something to the audience), and you can use that to develop the metrics which will tell you if your students have accomplished it.

2) Admit that structure and content are two different things, and judge them separately.

I recall one time in middle school where we were assigned a report, and two teachers graded it: one for structure (grammar and spelling) and the other for content. We received two separate grades for the same assignment. You could do that here, so that you could have many students getting perfect Structure grades (which are objective) and varying Content grades (which you make clear beforehand are subjective).

The judges who are grading the content can then just decide, "Is this a good story? Does it hold my attention? Does it hold together? Does the ending work?" — basically all the criteria you would normally use to judge a piece of fiction.

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I think for a writing competition, you need a theme or focus, and maybe - for that age - some guidelines. Are you after an imaginative story, or a factual-type report of a fictional situation, or is there a setting it should take place in?

You then have something against which you can judge them subjectively, as to how well they have interpreted the brief, which gives you some freedom to say story A is, in the opinion of the judges, better at interpreting the brief than story B.

You may also want to consider whether they should be weighted, so that a story with only 95% correct spelling and grammar, but a brilliant story could win.

If you are going to introduce a subjective aspect, it is a good idea if the final subjective judging is done by the same people across all of the entries. Hopefully, this will be a manageable task.

Edit - I have just re-read and you want an objective test of storytelling, but, in reality, you cannot have such a thing. This approach should provide a consistent subjective result, which I think is the nearest you can get.

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