Teach Writing With The New York Times: A Free School-Year Curriculum in 7 Units

Teach Writing With The New York Times: A Free School-Year Curriculum in 7 Units

The New York Times publishes more than 1,400 articles and Opinion pieces every week, on topics ranging from science to sports, politics to pop culture, foreign affairs to food and fashion. They’re written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists here at The Times, but also by outside contributors, from authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, statesmen like President Barack Obama and artists like Meek Mill and Angelina Jolie.

How can teachers take this incredible breadth of material and use it with their students? Our mission at the Learning Network for over two decades has been to help you do just that. But this year, we’re taking that mission a bit further.

The writing curriculum detailed below is both a road map for teachers and an invitation to students. For teachers, we’ve pulled together the many writing-related features we already offer, added new ones, and organized them all into seven distinct units. Each focuses on a different genre of writing that you can find not just in The Times but also in all kinds of real-world sources both in print and online.

But our main goal is to offer young people a global audience — to, in effect, invite them to add their voices to the larger conversation at The Times about issues facing our world today. Through the opportunities for publication woven throughout each unit, we hope to encourage students to go beyond simply being media consumers to become media creators themselves.

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 tell stories, express opinions, investigate ideas, analyze art or make connections. We can’t wait to hear what your students have to say!

  • Writing prompts to help students try out related skills.

    We publish two writing prompts every school day, and we also have thematic collections of more than 1,000 prompts published in the past. Your students might consider responding to these prompts on our site and 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 gets published. Submitting a comment also gives students an audience of fellow teenagers from around the world who might 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 unit we publish will be accompanied by Times models of the genre. And each mentor text we showcase will include short exercises that spotlight an element of the genre, show students how it works, and invite them to practice that same move in their own work.

  • Teaching ideas and webinars.

    Our webinars offer practical how-to’s featuring Learning Network editors as well as teachers who use The Times in their classrooms. Our lesson plans (limited to five per month for nonsubscribers) offer teaching ideas and links to additional resources in The Times and elsewhere.

  • A contest that can act 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 want to help teachers “plan backwards” 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 seven units we will offer in the 2019-20 school year. The personal narrative unit link is live so you can get started, and we’ll add the links for the other six units throughout the year.


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.

In this unit we draw on many of these resources, plus some of the 1,000-plus personal essays from the Magazine’s long-running Lives column, to help students find their own “short, memorable stories” and tell them well. Our related mentor-text lessons will help them practice skills like writing with voice, using details to show rather than tell, structuring a narrative arc and more.

As a final project, we invite students to send finished essays to our new Personal Narrative Essay Contest, the first contest of the school year.


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.

In our new Mentor Texts series, we will feature the work of Times critics to help students understand the elements of a successful review. We’ll 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.


In this unit, we invite students to write about the connections they see between what they’re studying in school and the world outside the classroom.

As we write in the annual announcement for our related contest:

So you’re studying the Civil War — or Shakespeare, or evolution or “The Bluest Eye.” Why? What does it have to do with your life and the lives of those around you? Why should you remember it once you’ve turned in that paper or taken that test?

Winners of this contest from past years have written about similarities between the #MeToo movement and Newton’s first two laws of motion; climate change and a concerto; social media apps and George Orwell’s “1984”; and more.

To support this year’s contest, we will be publishing a mentor-text guided practice series that shows how Times journalists write about literature, history, science and the arts by doing this same kind of contextualizing that helps us see the relevance of a topic in our lives today.


This unit will invite students to take any STEM-related discovery, process or idea they like and write about it in a way that makes it understandable and engaging for a general audience.

The short pieces in the Trilobites column of the Science Times, which unearth “fascinating morsels of science” each week, will be our chief models to demonstrate how skilled writers can elucidate complex topics.

At the end of the unit, we’ll invite teenagers to submit their own writing to a new STEM-writing contest (details to come!) to show us what they’ve learned.


The demand for evidence-based argumentative writing is now woven into school assignments across the curriculum 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 will, like our others, be supported with writing prompts, mentor-text lesson plans, webinars and more. We’ll also focus on the winning teenage writing we’ve received over the six years we’ve run our related contest.

At a time when media literacy is more important than ever, we also hope that our annual Student Editorial Contest can serve as a final project that encourages students to broaden their information diets with a range of reliable sources, and learn from a variety of perspectives on their chosen issue.


Our writing units so far have all asked for essays of one kind or another, but this spring contest invites students to do what journalists at The Times do every day: make multimedia to tell a story, investigate an issue or communicate a concept.

Our annual podcast contest gives students 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, local investigative journalism and descriptions of scientific discoveries.

This year we will help support the contest with great examples from The Times and around the web, as well as with mentor texts that offer guided practice in understanding elements and techniques.


At a time when teachers are looking for ways to offer students more “voice and choice,” this unit, based on our annual summer contest, offers both.

Every year since 2010 we have invited teenagers around the world to add The New York Times to their summer reading lists and, so far, nearly 60,000 have. Every week for 10 weeks, we ask participants to choose something in The Times that has sparked their interest, then tell us why. At the end of the week, judges from the Times newsroom pick favorite responses, and we publish them on our site.

We will use our new Mentor Text feature to spotlight the work of past winners, and explain why newsroom judges admired their thinking.

Because this is our most open-ended contest — students can choose whatever they like, and react however they like — it has proved over the years to be a useful place for young writers to hone their voices, practice skills and take risks.

As always, we welcome your feedback and suggestions. And if your school or district is interested in learning more about how to use our resources to teach writing, let us know. Our email is LNFeedback@nytimes.com.