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Teach Writing With The New York Times: Our 2023

Jan 16, 2024


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Writing Curriculum

Our eight writing units, each with its own practical step-by-step guide, are based on real-world features like reviews, photo essays, narratives, podcasts and more.

By The Learning Network

Please note: Fully updated versions of each unit, as well as all supporting materials, will be published as each related contest goes live.

What can the news, features, essays, interviews, photos, videos, podcasts and graphics in The New York Times teach your students about composing for a real audience? So much, we hope, that the units we detail below are just a beginning.

Our writing curriculum is both a road map for teachers and an invitation to students. For teachers, it organizes our offerings — writing prompts, mentor texts and student contests — into eight distinct units, each of which focuses on a different genre of writing that your students can find not just in The Times but in all kinds of real-world sources.

For students, it offers confirmation that they have something valuable to say, a wide range of choices about how to say it and a global audience eager to listen. Promoting student voices has always been a pillar of our site, and through the opportunities for publication woven into each unit, we want to encourage students to go beyond simply consuming media to becoming creators themselves.

Though our offerings are aimed at middle school and high school students, we know that they are used up and down levels and across subjects — from elementary school to college. So have a look, and see if you can find a way to include any of these opportunities in your curriculum this year, whether to help students document their lives, tell stories, express opinions, investigate ideas, interview fascinating people or analyze culture. We can’t wait to hear what they have to say!

Writing prompts to help students try out related skills in a “low stakes” way.

We publish new writing prompts every school day and have since 2009. You can find categorized collections of these prompts, or just scroll through to see the latest. Your students can respond on our site, using our public forums as a kind of “rehearsal space” for practicing voice and technique.

Daily opportunities to practice writing for an authentic audience.

If a student submits a comment on our site, it will be read by Times editors, who approve each one before it is published. Submitting a comment also gives students an audience of fellow teenagers from around the world who may read and respond to their work. Each week, we call out our favorite comments and honor dozens of students by name in our Thursday “Current Events Conversation” feature.

Guided practice with mentor texts.

Each step-by-step guide features activities, written directly to students, that help them observe, understand and practice the kinds of “craft moves” that make different genres of writing sing. Mentor texts like those informing how to “show not tell” in narratives, how to express critical opinions, how to quote or paraphrase experts and how to craft scripts for podcasts use the work of both Times journalists and the teenage winners of our contests to show students techniques they can emulate.

A contest that acts as a culminating project.

Over the years, we’ve heard from many teachers that our contests serve as final projects in their classes, and this curriculum came about in large part because we wanted to help teachers “plan backward” to support those projects.

All contest entries are considered by experts, whether Times journalists, outside educators from partner organizations or professional practitioners in a related field. Winning means being published on our site and, perhaps, in the print edition of The New York Times.

Below are the eight units we will offer in the 2023-24 school year.


This unit was first developed in 2020 to acknowledge the profound effects that tumultuous year had on a generation of teenagers. Our open-ended invitation to “show us — in words or images, video or audio — how the events of this year have affected you” resulted in a deluge of extraordinary submissions, some of which were featured online, in a special print section and in a book. We continued the contest for two more years, and the work of the 2021 and 2022 winners was equally excellent.

This year, we’re inviting you to do the same kind of documentation and reflection, but this time focusing on your school experience. We’re asking, What can you show or tell us that might help explain what it’s like to be an educator or a student in high school right now? Anyone who works or is a student in a secondary school can contribute to this collective portrait by sending almost anything you can upload digitally that addresses that question. All submissions must be accompanied by a written artist’s statement giving additional context.

Why is it important to document and reflect on your life? How do you decide what you might want to say and how to say it? The original unit that guided the Coming of Age work links to a step-by-step guide and many mentor texts that can help, but we’ll also be publishing a range of new materials on or before Aug. 16, when the new contest opens.

Note: Unlike our other contests, this first challenge is only open to high school students (and educators too).


While The Times is known for its award-winning journalism, the paper also has a robust tradition of publishing personal essays on topics like love, family, life on campus and navigating anxiety. And on our site, our daily writing prompts have long invited students to tell us their stories, too. Our collection of 525 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing is a good place to start, though we add more every week during the school year.

For several years, we ran a personal narrative contest for students, inspired by the essays from The Times Magazine’s long-running Lives column. In 2022, we switched it up, challenging students to write a “tiny memoir” personal narrative in 100 words or less. We loved the results, so we’re bringing that contest back again this October.

Our unit, Teach Narrative Writing With The New York Times, contains links to all the prompts, mentor texts and lesson plans you’ll need to start, while our related guide offers students step-by-step directions for telling meaningful, interesting and short true stories from their lives in 100 words.


Book reports and literary essays have long been staples of language arts classrooms, but this unit encourages students to learn how to critique art in other genres as well. As we point out, a cultural review is a form of argumentative essay. Your class may be writing about pop music or sneaker trends, but your students still have to make claims and support them with evidence. And, just as they must in a literature essay, they have to read (or watch, or listen to) a work closely, analyze it, understand its context and explain what is meaningful and interesting about it.

Our unit, Analyzing Arts, Criticizing Culture: Writing Reviews With The New York Times, features guided lessons that break down the “moves” Times movie, restaurant, book and music critics make, and help students emulate them. In these and other resources, we also spotlight the work of teenage contest winners from previous years.

As a culminating project, we invite students to send us their own reviews of a book, movie, restaurant, album, theatrical production, video game, dance performance, TV show, art exhibition or any other kind of work The Times critiques. (Please note that this year, unlike in previous years, students are limited to choose only works that are new since Jan. 1, 2023.)


Informational writing is the style of writing that dominates The New York Times as well as any other traditional newspaper you might read, and in this unit we hope to show students that it can be every bit as engaging and compelling to read and to write as other genres.

Via thousands of articles a month — including front-page reporting on politics, deep data dives in The Upshot, recipes in Cooking, advice columns in Style and long-form investigative pieces in the magazine — Times journalists find ways to experiment with the genre to intrigue and inform their audiences.

For years, we ran a STEM Writing Contest, in which we invited students to explain an issue or question in science, technology, engineering, math or health, and both the related unit and the work of the winning students can still inspire. However, for this school year we’re trying something new by inviting students to follow the example of the long-running Tip column from The New York Times Magazine and write a short description of how to do (almost) any task. We’ll be publishing helpful new materials, including a step-by-step guide, before the contest begins.

Until then, check out both the Tip column and our lesson plan that breaks its formula down. For advice on finding topics and experts, read this piece from Times Insider about how the column is constructed.


How can focusing on one form of journalistic composition teach students cross-curricular skills like researching, storytelling, asking effective questions, observing closely, listening, note-taking, fact-checking, connecting with others and, of course, composing using both words and images with clarity, voice and style?

We hope to show students how to do all of this in our coming unit that will support participation in our new photo essay contest. Inspired by the immersive New York Times series “Where We Are,” which focuses on young people and the spaces where they create community, we invite students to work alone or with others to make photo essays about the communities that interest them.

Students can document any kind of offline community they like and feature people of any age. Stay tuned for many more materials, but until then, you can find many relevant tips and exercises in our 2022 guides to photographing and interviewing people.


The demand for evidence-based argumentative writing is now woven into school assignments across curriculums and grade levels, and you couldn’t ask for better real-world examples than what you can find in the Times Opinion section.

This unit, like our others, is supported with writing prompts, mentor text lesson plans, webinars and more. It’s also supported by a decade of lesson plans and videos that focus on winning teenage work from our long-running Editorial Contest, on topics as varied as policing, anti-Asian hate, artificial intelligence, toxicity in gaming, transgender rights, parental incarceration and the “life-changing magic” of being messy.

Instead of focusing on the editorial as a culminating project this year, however, we’re inviting students to pen an open letter. An open letter is a published letter of protest or appeal usually addressed to an individual but intended for the general public. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, the recent letter signed by over 1,000 tech leaders about the dangers of artificial intelligence and this funny 2020 letter addressed to Prince Harry and Meghan are all examples of this rich tradition.

Just as we did for the Editorial Contest, we invite students to make an argument in 450 words about something that matters to them, and persuade us that we should care, too. But this time, they must address themselves to a specific target audience or recipient, institution or group — one that has the power to make meaningful change.

Whether they choose their parents, teachers, school board members or mayor; a member of Congress; the head of a corporation; or a metonym like “Silicon Valley” or “the Kremlin,” they should ask themselves, What do I care about? Who can make changes — big or small, local or global — to address my issue or problem? What specifically do I want them to understand and do? And how can I write this as an “open letter,” meaningful not just to me and the recipient, but to a general audience?

We’ll publish a new step-by-step guide later this school year, but until then, you can find ideas and inspiration in our related writing unit and via the work of past Editorial winners.


Whether you’re a high school student or a professional journalist, you’re probably being increasingly expected to communicate ideas, investigate questions and tell stories not just in writing, but across a range of multimedia.

This unit and its related contest help students experiment with one such format — the podcast — by giving them the freedom to talk about anything they want in any form they like. In the past, we’ve had winners who’ve done personal narratives, local travelogues, opinion pieces, interviews with community members, investigative journalism and descriptions of scientific discoveries.

To walk classes through the process of creating an original podcast, we provide a step-by-step guide full of examples from winning student-made work. And, to make sure the format is accessible to anyone with a smartphone or recording device, we also have a related lesson plan that explains some of the technical aspects of podcasting. You can find both of these resources and more in our related Writing for Podcasts unit.

December-January and June-August

At a time when teachers are looking for ways to offer students more “voice and choice,” this unit, which spotlights our fall one-pager challenge and our summer reading contest, offers both.

We invite students to choose any article, opinion essay, video, graph, photo collection or podcast from The New York Times that was published this year, and respond to it by showing us how they engaged with the ideas and information in the piece.

For the one-pager, we ask that they respond with a combination of writing and images. This step-by-step guide can help students find a meaningful piece, review it carefully and react to it authentically — then figure out how to create an illustrated one-page response that expresses what they’d most like to say. Take a look at our stunning collection of winning student work to see how it can be done.

Our Summer Reading Contest asks students to tell us what got their attention in The Times and why. For over a decade, they have done that by simply posting a comment on our site, but for 2024, we’ll be asking for a richer range of multimedia responses. More details will be published in the spring, but for now, our related unit and step-by-step guide for writing rich reader responses offer evergreen advice.


Writing promptsto help students try out related skills in a “low stakes” way.Daily opportunities to practice writing for an authentic audience.Guided practice with mentor textsA contest that acts as a culminating project