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Lesson Plan March 6, 2024

Fighting Words: Poetry in Response to Current Events [Contest and Workshop]


Announcing the Seventh Annual Fighting Words Poetry Contest!

How can poetry be an effective response to current events and the issues impacting our communities? How can journalism and poetry help us make connections between global issues and our local and personal contexts? Students are invited to explore these questions and make their voices heard in their entries to the Fighting Words Poetry Contest.


Current K-12 students anywhere in the world may enter. Students may write in any language, and are welcome to submit multilingual poems. Judges will have reading fluency in English and Spanish.


  • 1st place: $300, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
  • 2nd place: $200, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
  • 3rd place: $100, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
  • Finalists: $75, publication on the Pulitzer Center website


Sunday, May 12, 2024, 11:59pm EDT

Entry guidelines:

Go to the Pulitzer Center website and select a story (see the “Suggested Stories” tab above for a curated list). Write a poem of any form and length that includes lines from the story. Include an epigraph in the following format: With lines from "STORY TITLE" by JOURNALIST NAME, a Pulitzer Center reporting project. Your poem must respond to the themes and central global issue of the story you chose.

The form will ask for some basic information, and you will upload your poem to the form as an attachment. You may also upload an audio or video file of yourself performing your poem; this file is optional, but the text file is required.

Please note: All students must list a teacher contact for their entries. This person will be included in communications with contest-winning poets. Students should choose a school teacher or out-of-school time educator who will regularly check their email. If students are not enrolled in a formal education environment, they may list a guardian in place of a teacher.

If you have questions about the contest or entry guidelines, please email [email protected].

Judging criteria:

Poems will be judged by the following criteria:

1. Success of the poem on its own terms (craft, linguistic style, emotion, etc.)

  • Questions to ask yourself:
    • What do I want my reader to understand about this issue and the themes of my poem? Does my poem successfully communicate my message?
    • What response(s) do I want to evoke in my reader? Have I chosen the best words to evoke this response?
    • Have I used poetic devices (e.g. repetition, imagery, metaphor), or chosen not to use them, to achieve a specific effect?

2. Successful inclusion of lines quoted from a Pulitzer Center story, and responsiveness to the theme(s) of the story

  • Questions to ask yourself:
    • Have I chosen lines that add something important to the poem?
    • Are the lines integrated into the poem smoothly, so their presence feels natural?
    • Have I amplified the underreported story in my poem?

3. Thoughtful choice of perspective and respectful treatment of subject matter

  • Questions to ask yourself:
    • What is my relationship to the story I have chosen? How can I make a personal connection?
    • Why am I writing from the perspective I have chosen? What other perspectives could I choose, and how would those choices change the poem?
    • If the subjects of the story I have chosen read my poem, how might they feel?

Previous contest winners:

Read the winning poems from 2023, 2022, 20212020, 2019, and 2018.

Support for preparing students for the contest:

Please navigate to the "Resources for Teachers and Students" tab above to find slide presentations to lead students through an introductory workshop and graphic organizers to support students with writing their poems. (The graphic organizer is designed so that students can use it independently or with an educator's guidance. The slide presentation is designed for educators to facilitate.)

The "Suggested Stories" tab contains a curated list of stories suggested for different grade levels, sorted by focus issue.

Educators working with groups of 75 or more students can also schedule a free, virtual workshop facilitated by a member of the Pulitzer Center education team by filling out this request form. Visit the "Resources for Teachers and Students" tab above for more information about workshops.

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