October 24, 2021

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Our 12th Annual Summer Reading Contest

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Every year since 2010, The Learning Network has invited teenagers around the world to add The New York Times to their summer reading lists. So far, more than 70,000 have done so.

If you are looking for ways to offer students more “voice and choice,” we hope our open-ended contest can help. Every week, we ask participants to choose something in The Times that has piqued their interest, and then tell us why. At the end of the week, judges from the Times newsroom pick their favorite responses, and we publish them. It’s that simple

Though our goals include some that appear on many educators’ lists — helping students become more aware of the world and their place in it; learning how to navigate sophisticated nonfiction; and practicing writing for an audience — we also hope that students will realize that reading the newspaper can be fun. As you’ll see in the guidelines below, they can choose anything that was published on NYTimes.com in 2021. The subject matter isn’t important; we just care about why they chose it.

When the contest begins on June 11, we’ll post directions both here and at the top of this page for how to submit. But in short:

Any 11- to 19-year-old anywhere in the world is invited to join us, if you are in middle or high school, or if you graduated from high school in 2021 and haven’t yet started college.

Every Friday starting on June 11, we’ll post a fresh version of this question: “What got your attention in The Times this week?” We will link to each week’s version here. Here is an example from last summer. How you respond to this question will depend on your age:

  • Students ages 13 to 19 in the United States and Britain — and ages 16 to 19 elsewhere in the world — can submit by posting a comment on the post itself. You can see examples of what that looks like by visiting this post from last summer and clicking on the comments.

  • Students ages 11 to 12 in the United States and Britain — and ages 11 to 15 elsewhere in the world — can have an adult submit a comment on their behalf via a short form that will be embedded in each week’s post.


1. Every Friday beginning on June 11, we will publish a post asking the same question: “What got your attention in The Times this week?” That’s where you should post an answer any time until the following Friday, when we will close that post to comment and open a new one that asks the same question.

You can always find the proper link to the place to post at the top of this page, updated each week. You can also always find it on our home page.

To see how this works, visit this post from June 2020 and check out the student comments that were submitted at that time.

2. You can choose anything you like that was published in the print paper or on NYTimes.com in 2021, including articles, Op-Eds, videos, graphics, photos and podcasts. To see the variety of topics winners have written about over the years, read this column.

3. You can participate as often as every week, but we allow only one submission per person per week.

4. Responses must be 1,500 characters or fewer. We have a contest rubric as well as a guide for students that details four simple ways to make your response stand out.

5. Any teenager anywhere in the world is invited to join us, if you are in middle or high school, or if you graduated from high school in 2021 and haven’t started college yet. See above, How to Submit, for more details.

6. Make sure to provide us with the complete URL or headline. For example, “A Man Found 15,000 Bees in His Car After Grocery Shopping” or https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/01/us/bees-car-new-mexico.html.

7. Every Tuesday during the contest, starting June 29 and ending Sept. 7, we will publish a previous week’s winner or winners in a separate post you can find here. We will also celebrate the winners on Twitter and Facebook.

8. The children and stepchildren of New York Times employees are not eligible to enter this contest. (Teenagers who live in the same household as a Times employee are also ineligible.)

We have several resources to help students practice for this contest before summer begins, and by early May we’ll be adding several more. They include:

Coming soon (and we’ll link here when these are live):

  • A video version of our “Annotated by the Author” series in which 2020 student winners discuss the writer’s moves they made.

  • A special May 6 webinar for 2021 participants, Supporting Independent Reading and Writing.

  • Some reflections from teenagers in classrooms across the country who tried a short experiment this spring in which they were challenged to read one Times article on a topic within their comfort zone, and one article on a topic outside it, and reflect on the results.

This contest has been running more or less the same way for years, but please write to us at [email protected] if your question is not addressed below.

Q. What kinds of responses are you looking for?

A. The subject matter isn’t important; neither is whether you loved or hated it. What we care about is what you have to say about why you picked it.

If you don’t believe us, scroll through the work of previous winners. They have written on weighty topics like the coronavirus pandemic, racism, Alzheimer’s disease and the dangers of vaping, but they have also written on handbags, hummingbirds, power naps, junk food, Beyoncé, Disney shows, running and bagels.

Whatever the subject, you’ll see that the best responses year after year make personal connections to the news and discuss the broader questions and ideas that the topic raises. We have even created a guide that outlines four simple things you can do to make your responses more powerful. We will use this rubric to judge entries.

So whether you were moved by an article, enlightened by an essay, bowled over by a photo, irked by an editorial or inspired by a video, simply find something in The Times that genuinely interests you and tell us why, as honestly and originally as you can.

Q. Who will be judging my work?

A. The Learning Network staff, a team of as-yet-to-be-named New York Times journalists, and some educators from across the country.

Q. What is the “prize”?

A. The prize for winning any of our contests is having your work published on The Learning Network.

Q. When should I check to see if my submission won?

A. Every Tuesday from June 29 to Sept. 7, we will publish the previous week’s winner or winners in a separate article that you can find here. We will also celebrate the winners on Twitter and Facebook.

Q. How do I participate in this contest if I don’t have a digital subscription to The Times?

A. Until September 2021, high school students across the United States can get free digital access to NYTimes.com. After that, NYTimes.com has a digital subscription system in which readers have free access to five articles each month. If you exceed that limit, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber.

One thing you should know, however, is that all Learning Network posts for students, as well as all Times articles linked from them, are accessible without a digital subscription. So if you use any of the articles we have linked to on our site, they will not count as part of the five-article limit.

And, each time we pose our question — “What interested you most in The Times this week?” — we will link to about 25 recent articles that you can choose from if you don’t have your own subscription.

You can also find copies of The New York Times at most public libraries, and some even allow you to access NYTimes.com with your library card.

And remember: You can use anything published anytime in 2021. This post, “21 Things Teenagers Can Do With a New York Times Subscription,” can help you find everything from breaking news to advice for “smarter living” to fun diversions you probably never knew The Times offered.

Q. How do I prove to my teacher that I participated?

A. If you are 16 to 19 years old and are submitting your response by posting a comment, make sure to check the box that asks if you would like to be emailed when your comment is published. If you do so, the system will send you a link to your comment, which you can use to show your teacher, your parents, your friends or anyone else you’d like to impress. (Please note that you will not get an email until the comment has been approved, which may take longer over weekends.)

If you are 11 to 15 years old and are submitting your response via the embedded form, you will automatically get an email thanking you for participating.

Another method? Some teachers ask students to keep a Google doc of all their submissions, while others instruct students to take screenshots of their comments before they hit “submit.”

Q. How can teachers, librarians and parents use this challenge?

A. Through the years, adults have told us over and over that participating in this contest has made students both more aware of and more interested in what’s going on in the world. Many see it as a low-stakes way to help teenagers start building a news-reading habit. And at a time when a global pandemic is threatening us all, and an “infodemic”— the spread of misinformation, lies and rumors about the coronavirus — is contributing to the danger, keeping up with reliable news is especially important.

If that’s not reason enough to assign it to students, our contest is also an easy way to add more nonfiction to your students’ reading lists — and to encourage teenagers to make their own choices about what to read, as anything published in The Times in 2021 is fair game.

Participating also meets the recommendations given in this joint statement on independent reading issued by the International Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Canadian Children’s Book Center.

And for some teachers, assigning the contest over the summer helps them to quickly get to know their new students when school starts. In our related webinar, Karen Gold, English department chair at the Governor’s Academy in Massachusetts, details how she uses the contest this way.

But maybe the most compelling reason to assign this contest is what students themselves say about it. At the end of the summer of 2020, many teenagers told us that the weekly reading and writing helped them through a difficult time. For instance, a participant named Ava wrote:

This year’s summer reading contest has helped me learn not only about the world around me, but about myself. After seeing other students’ responses on race, the teenage experience, and the coronavirus, I felt a little less alone about my complicated feelings during this tumultuous year. After all, there has never been a time in my life during which it’s been easier to fall into social isolation. However, because the articles I chose to write about were those that I could easily relate to and express my opinion on, I found comfort in my weekly submissions.

In 2017, Emma Weber, a student from London, posted that, thanks to the contest, “I feel grounded in my views and understand what’s going on in the world. It’s amazing what a change 1,500 characters a week make.” Last summer we invited Emma to help judge the entries, and here is what she had to say after Week 10:

I know firsthand that the Summer Reading Contest has the ability to change the way one engages in the news — I went from passively reading to actively thinking and questioning. The more you reflect on what is going on in the world and what interests you about it, the more you will understand your place within it. I urge all those who enjoyed participating this summer to continue reading, reflecting and writing.

Thank you for making this contest a hit year after year, and please spread the word that it’s back for its 12th season.

Good luck!

The image at the top of this post was borrowed from the Book Review’s 2020 celebration of Summer Reading.

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