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Planning Your School Event

The specific organization and details of your school event will be determined by the needs of your classroom and school. The following materials are intended to help familiarize you with the judging process and planning a History Day event.

Getting Started

Select a date and time that won't rush your regional finalists.

Ideally, your school event should take place at least two weeks before the regional registration deadline. Papers and web sites must be sent to regional coordinators by the registration deadline so judges can view them in advance, and regional finalists in those categories should be allowed time to improve their projects after they get feedback from the school judges.

Teachers have successfully scheduled school-level events on a variety of time formats. Some teachers prefer to have their events during a school day, while others organize evening or weekend events so that families can attend more easily and students don't miss class. It all depends on your school schedule. Keep in mind when your potential judges might be available. Also, many parents enjoy a public viewing portion of the day, when they will have the opportunity to see their child's work on display

Select a location.
This could be several classrooms, a library media center, a gym, or any other area with sufficient space to accommodate all projects. Exhibits will need table or floor space, typically three feet wide and two feet deep. Performances will need a stage area. Documentaries will need TVs, VCRs, or other hook-ups. Papers and websites will need a room or area for private interviews, with websites needing computer access to view entries. Judges will need a place for their training session before their interviews with students, then for discussing and ranking entries afterward. Check availability and reserve facilities.

Recruit judges early.
Start recruiting volunteers to judge a couple of months before your event. At regional, state, and national competitions, three judges are assigned to each panel. You might reduce this number if necessary, but try to keep the panels to a minimum of two judges. To recruit, send out a letter describing the program and detailing volunteer responsibilities and time commitments. Good candidates for judges are current or retired teachers, administrators, local museum or historical society staff, library media specialists, and journalists. Try contacting a nearby university's history or education department. You may also consider asking your local Rotary or other similar organizations for volunteers.

Once judges have confirmed their attendance and you have assigned them to a judging category, mail them a confirmation letter. Judges also find it helpful to get the theme sheet for that year, the History Day Judging Process handout, sample questions to ask students, as well as their specific category judging instructions.

Block out the schedule.
Judges will need 15-20 minutes to judge each project and interview the student(s). Make sure to schedule time for judges to participate in a training session and to rank entries and write comments after interviews. The more time judges have, the more thorough they can make their comments.

Paper and web site judges should get projects in advance.
Judges will have a difficult time reading papers or viewing web sites if they first get them at the event. Judges in these categories should receive the entries at least a few days in advance.

Think about community resources.
Many teachers approach their parent-teacher organizations, local grocery stores, or restaurants to donate refreshments or lunch for volunteers. Your local newspaper might also be interested in doing a feature story on your students' work. Local clubs or societies may also be interested in sponsoring special awards, which can also be handed out at the event.

Event Planning and Logistics

Based upon our regional and state “to-do” lists, we have created a checklist of some things you might want to keep in mind as you prepare for your school event.


The Day of the Event

Judge Orientation
Holding a judge training session helps your event run smoothly, gives your judges a chance to ask questions, and ensures a positive experience for your students. You should allot at least 30 minutes for a judge training and questions from judges. At this point, you should also distribute your judge packets to each judge or judge team. Each packet should contain enough evaluation forms, a final ranking form, a schedule of entries for the day, judging instructions, and sample question sheet.

Event Set-Up
It often works best to have another teacher or adult direct project set up while your judge orientation is taking place.

  • Exhibit students should set up projects in assigned locations.
  • Performance students should arrange space to form a stage area and get props ready.
  • Documentary and website students should make sure technology is working properly.

Judging and Interviews
The History Day Judging Process Handouts provide a good overview of the logistics of project evaluation. In general, judges will view projects and interview students first. Judges may only have a few minutes to jot down notes about each entry while they are viewing them. After they have seen all the work, they will take time to discuss the entries in private. Judges will then rank entries and write comment sheets.

It's especially important to remind judges that they will be interviewing students, not conducting oral feedback sessions. Judges should be asking questions, not providing oral critiques of the projects. All feedback should be saved for the written comment sheets.

Ranking, Results, and Comment Sheets
After judges are done viewing entries, they will need some place private to discuss projects and rankings. The judges' first priority will be to decide on rankings and turn their ranking form in to you. Designate a person or a place, usually in the judges' room, for judges to turn in this form. Judges will next work together to complete their comment sheets. Especially at the school level, remind your judges that their written comments are very valuable in helping students to improve their projects for the next level of competition. Judges should turn in their comment sheets before they leave.

Public Viewing
Parents, other teachers, and community members will likely want to the opportunity to see your students' projects. This is a great opportunity to show off the work of all your students! Consider arranging for a public viewing time of the exhibits while judging is not taking place. Papers and websites can also be on display in the same area. You can also schedule encore presentations of documentaries or performances.

The Awards Ceremony
Awards ceremonies at school events can take on a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the schedule and timeframe of your event. Sometimes, especially for events that take place during the day, awards ceremonies are at at the end of the day either in a gym, auditorium, or even over the PA system. For events that take place after school, students may need to leave right after their interview. If they awards ceremony would take place too late at night, sometimes awards are announced at school the following day.

Final Rounds

Do I need to hold a final round?
If you have more than one panel judging any one category (e.g. there are two panels both judging junior individual exhibits) you should hold a final round in order to determine who will move on to the regional competition. At most large school events, final rounds may only be necessary in the exhibit category. At small school events, you may not have final rounds at all.

Who should judge the final round?
Ideally, final round judges are your most experienced judges. However, any of your judges can judge the final round except for judges who already have seen entries in that category and group size. Keep in mind that final round judges will have more comment sheets to write so it is best to ask them in advance if they will have time.

How does a final round work?
The biggest difference between a preliminary round and a final round is that there are no interviews in the final round. For exhibits, papers, and websites, students do not need to be present for final rounds. Judges should view the projects and then work together to make their final decisions. For documentaries and performances, final round students should be notified and present their entry again, without interviews.

Should the final round judges write comment sheets?
Final round judges should also write comment sheets. At the state level, final round judges only write one comment sheet per entry and use a final round comment sheet, which doesn't have checkboxes. Since the students will also be getting feedback from their first round judges, final round comment sheets do not have to be exhaustive. Rather, they should offer an explanation of why certain entries progressed and improvements that could be made.


After the Contest

Regional Registration

Distribute information to regional finalists about the event, including registration forms. Discuss deadlines and required materials. Let students know if they should submit the materials to the regional coordinator themselves or return them to you to turn in as a school.

Thank You Letters
Send thank you letters to judges, volunteers, sponsors, administrators, and other people who helped make the event possible.

If a local papers or news organizations were not able to be present at the event, contacting them with event results can be another way to get attention for your school and your students. The sample press release should give you a few ideas on what you might want to include.

Plan for Next Year
Enthusiasm for the History Day program is high right after the event. Plan a date for the following year's competition and consider including this in your judge thank you note. Be sure to keep the email and mailing addresses of your judges for the future!

Downloadable Event Materials

Judging Instructions

Preliminary Round Evaluation Sheets

Final Round Evaluation Sheets (A simpler version of the evaluation sheet for use in final rounds)


Other Resources

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