Hospers Elementary March Madness

Fifth-grade teacher Katie Doughan shows off the hallway March Madness bracket at the Hospers Elementary School. The project is the culmination of the grade’s persuasive writing unit, pitting their essays against each other tournament-style.

HOSPERS—As March Madness comes to an end, Hospers Elementary fifth-graders have been holding a tournament of their own.

The project is the culmination of this year’s persuasive writing unit. Students were assigned an NCAA men’s basketball team to research and write an essay about why their given squad is the best.

The finished papers were hung in the hallway and matched up to emulate the college brackets. In each round, judges determine which of the two essays is better written, checking for basic grammar skills as well as persuasiveness. Some of the judges included sophomores at MOC-Floyd Valley High School.

“They were motivated by hearing older students were going to read their work,” said teacher Billie Diekevers. “Then they were like ‘Oh, I better make this.’ They perked up at that.”

“It just gives them an authentic audience, somebody different than their teachers or just their classmates,” teacher Katie Doughan added. “They did a really nice job.”

The timely activity was a fun way to implement the writing skills that the class had been studying for weeks.

“This was the same idea. Take everything you just learned from this huge unit and apply it to this,” Doughan said. “It was an extension of what we had been through with the whole unit.”

She came up with the idea for the athletic assignment after seeing similar lessons posted online. The education team worried the sporty theme would shoot an air ball, but the project soon proved to be a slam dunk.

“We had a lot of kids that weren’t interested in basketball much, but by the end of it, they were certainly really excited about it,” Diekevers said.

Doughan had a similar comment describing the “rough” process to make the project interesting.

“OK, what makes a basketball team great? It’s players, coaches, maybe the fan base. Once we narrowed those topics, it went a lot smoother.”

Students spent time researching the main components of their teams — what makes a team great, as Doughan taught it. Each of the papers highlighted three areas: a player, a coach and a bonus element.

For the last special component, the young wordsmiths could pick anything from the school mascot to the fight song to the arena where home games are played.

“We tried to emphasize the energy a fan base can bring,” Doughan said. “We encouraged them — ‘Don’t focus on your team. Convince us they’re the best and going to win.’”

Cover illustrations were the finishing touch, giving the essays some colorful flair while on display in the school hallway.

The two teachers saw the project as an opportunity to bring their students together. Doughan said having a second instructor was a “huge help” in sorting through the Madness.

Diekevers is the special education teacher at Hospers Elementary, and she said the 24-team bracket was the perfect chance for all the school’s fifth-graders to participate.

“It’s just a nice way that I can get in there and work with my kids as well and work with other kids,” Diekevers said. “It’s a nice way I can include them in a fun project with the group.”

No matter which team comes out on top in the college tournament, the school in Hospers comes out on top.