500 Words is an annual writing competition encouraging children to creatively tackle a specific theme with (you guessed it) a limit of just 500 words. The competition is big stuff, with over one million entries submitted in the 10 years it has been running.
In 2020, in the early midst of the pandemic, and human rights protests rippling across the world, I learnt that 500 Words were accepting volunteer judges. They wanted teachers, librarians, people who knew books and writing, so I jumped at the chance to apply my book knowledge to a cause so wonderful. The theme for the year was Black Lives Matter, and I was excited to see how children would interpret this.
I was accepted as a judge, which gave me access to a marking panel, where stories would appear by (anonymous) children that needed reading and scoring. I was given some marking prompts to help, which I’m really grateful for as I’d never had to mark anything before!
The stories I read were just brilliant, for a number of reasons. Some could only be from the crazy, creative minds of the young and fearless – the adventures they took me on in 500 words were incredible! What was moving though in most of them was that clearly the children, despite their age, had an understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement. Hopefully this means that parents and teachers had been having some really meaningful conversations with them to prompt these stories. Some of the children had even referred specifically to George Floyd’s death.
Some interesting data collected from the stories include:
There was a 1,250% increase in the use of political language, indicating understanding and awareness of the climate we are currently living in.
I feel really honoured to have been involved in something that is enlightening our young readers and writers. Proud librarian right here!
You can read the winning stories (of which none of mine were chosen, but nevermind!) right here.
If you work in education or libraries and want to be involved, then 2021 will be the 10th anniversary of 500 Words, so I’m sure it’ll be bigger and better than ever. Keep your eyes peeled on the site for when they next recruit their judges. I know I’ll certainly be signing up again.