School Contests

Students display their projects at their school, and teachers or judges choose the projects that will advance to the Regional competition. Depending on school size, the school fair may be very large or take place within one classroom. Teachers determine when their school will host a competition, or a showcase night. You should check with your teacher to find out the date for your school contest.

Running a School-level contest

School-level History Day events can serve several important purposes. A school event can be a culminating activity in which all students participate. School events can showcase the academic accomplishments of students to the community, parents, and school administration. You can also use this event to narrow down the number of entries that you are allowed to send to the Regional level of competition. 

In Minnesota, keep in mind that not all categories of History Day projects are judged at the Regional level. Exhibits, Documentaries, Performances, and Websites will be evaluated at the Regional level of competition. Papers are evaluated in an off-site competition, which has a separate submission deadline. Please visit the Minnesota History Day websites for more information on this process.

Before the event

Complete the Participation Survey from Minnesota History Day. In Minnesota, the lead teacher at each school must submit a Participation Survey for their school. This lets us know how many entries you have at your school and helps us plan for Regional contests. Using this information, we will let you know how many entries your school can advance to the Regional level of competition. Learn more about the allotment process by watching our video.

Select a date and timeframe for the event. Selecting a date for your event will depend not just on your classroom calendar, but also on the date of your Regional competition. You will want to select a school event date that will give your Regional qualifiers enough time to register and revise their projects. Registration materials for regional competitions are due two weeks before the contest. 

In selecting a timeframe for your event, you will have to decide if you want a school-day event or an afterschool competition. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. 

  • Afterschool events will give you greater access to facilities, more judges will be available after work hours, and parents may be more likely to attend. Afterschool events may also compete with other activities and returning to school may be challenging for students. 
  • School-day events means that students will already be present, however access to facilities or judges who may be at work could be more limited. 

Reserve spaces, tables, and technology. You will need several different types of spaces to host a History Day event.

  • Judge room: Judges will need a space separate from students and the public to listen to an orientation and confer about the results. You will need seating for the judges as well as tables for them to write their comments.
  • Exhibits: A large space, like a gymnasium or library, will work best for displaying Exhibits. Depending on the room, you may need to reserve or order tables. Exhibits can be up to 40 inches wide, so calculate the number of tables you will need based on this number as well as the length of the tables to which you will have access.
  • Documentaries: Documentary rooms will need to have technology to play and Documentary the projects as well as seating for the judges and audience.
  • Websites: If possible, it’s great to show Websites in technology-enabled rooms, such as a projector or Smartboard display. If not, judges should have access to a laptop or computer to look at Websites, especially if the website judges have not seen the projects in advance. 
  • Performances: Performance rooms should have a large space at the front to serve as a stage and seating for the judges and audience. No other special considerations are required.
  • Hangout area: If your event takes place during an afterschool time, you will want to designate an area for students to congregate , such as a cafeteria or gymnasium. 

Invite parents and community members. Once you have a date set, be sure to notify parents and get the event on the school calendar.

Recruit judges. The number of judges you are going to need is going to depend on the number of projects you have to be judged. Even though you may not have a final schedule, start recruiting judges early. You can rough out a number based on the following factors:

  • You will want your judges to work in teams of two.
  • Judges will need 15 minutes to look at each exhibits and Websites. 20 minutes is ideal for Performance and Documentaries. 
  • Consider the total number of projects you will have at your event and the timeframe in which you are hosting it. If your even is limited to a short time-frame, you will need more judge panels, which will look at fewer numbers of projects each. If you have a longer timeframe, you will need fewer judge panels who will have the time to look at additional projects. 
  • Consider asking members of your school board, PTA or school administration to be judges. Parents can also make good judges, provided that you are able to schedule them without conflicts of interest. Other teachers or library staff may be able to judge. If you have a local library or area historical society, they also may be interested in helping out. You’re always welcome to send a message to the History Day staff. We might be able to help, too! 

Confirm with judges. As judges confirm their attendance, send them more information on what to expect at the event. Considering sending event details, the theme sheet, and a description of the judging process.

Make a schedule. Once you know how many projects you will have in each category, you can begin to draft a schedule. If you are holding an afterschool event, you will want to ask parents if there are scheduling conflicts with other activities so you can schedule students earlier or later in the event. See the sample schedule on the following pages for ideas. 

  • Placing judges: You will want two to three judges per panel. If you have experienced judges, try to spread them out so they can help the newer judges.
  • Keep judges looking at projects in the same category: When possible, keep the judges looking at projects in the same category (e.g. only Junior Individual Exhibits). If there aren’t enough projects in a category to fill a judge team’s schedule, try to keep them looking at the same type of project (e.g. looking at Junior Individual Performances and Junior Group Performances). If combining categories, be sure to remind judges that projects in different categories do NOT compete against each other. 
  • Time allotments: Judges will need 15 minutes to look at each Exhibit and Website. If possible, judges should have 20 minutes for Performances and Documentaries.
  • Papers and websites in advance: If possible, Paper and Websites judges should get copies of the projects (or links to the URLS) in advance of the competition. Viewing projects and interviewing students within a limited time interval can be challenging.
  • Allow for a break: Keep in mind that if judges have a long day, they will need to break to eat, use the restroom, or catch up on writing comments.
  • Final rounds: If you have multiple panels of judges looking at the same category of projects (e.g. three first round teams looking at Junior Individual Exhibits), you may need to consider Final-Rounds. First-Round panels usually select their top entries. First-Round panels will then confer and share their top entries. After discussing all First-Round projects, the judges will select which entries will move on to the Regional competition. For school level contests, some teachers prefer that First-Round teams pass their nominations onto the teachers, who will make the final decision. The choice is up to you.

Prepare materials for judges. You will need to make copies of comment sheets (one per judge per entry), judge instructions, theme sheets, sample questions, results sheet, and the presentation schedule. If you have Paper and Website entries at your event, you should try to get the judges copies of the papers or URLs in advance. Performance judges will need stopwatches. Exhibit judges will need clipboards. 

Food and drink: If your event is over the lunch hour or dinner hour, you will want to think about providing your judges with something to eat. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate meal, but will be appreciated by your volunteers. 

During the event

Set-up a welcome station. Especially when judges are unfamiliar with your school, it’s helpful to have a welcome station set-up near the main entrance to direct them to the right room. You can also direct students here as main area for questions and help.

Put up signage. You’ll need signage directing people to the judge room and to various judging locations. Also consider posting a judging schedule outside of each room, so people know which presentations will be coming up.

Present a judge orientation. You will need to provide a judge orientation that describes the schedule for the event as well as the History Day judging criteria. Consider using the orientation on the following pages as a basis for your orientation.

Results. You will need to know your school’s allotment numbers for your Regional competition to figure out how many projects your judges will be able to advance. If you are holding an afterschool event, it may be best to wait to announce the winners until the next day. You can order school recognition ribbons from Minnesota History Day or create certificates on your own.

After the event

Thank judges and donors. If you can time your thank you note to judges after your Regional competition, you should thank them for their assistance as well as let them know which projects might be moving on to State. Keep this list of contacts for next year’s judge recruitment!

Notify the media. Community newspapers may be interested in hearing about your event as well as those students who are moving on to the next level of competition.

Get ready for the next level of competition. Provide your Regional qualifiers with information and registration materials so they can prepare for the next level of competition. Students are allowed and encouraged to improve their projects between competitions. Check with the History Day staff to see about Feedback Sessions, at which students can meet with History Day staff and discuss their work.

  • Regional: There are 12 Regional competitions in Minnesota. About 4,500 students participate in this level of competition.
  • State: State History Day takes place in late April or early May at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in Minneapolis. About 1,200 students participate at State.
  • National Contest: The National Contest takes place at the University of Maryland in College Park. Minnesota will take about 60 students to the national contest, to join approximately 2,500 students from across the country and world.

Planning materials

Evaluation rubrics

Each judge will need one copy for each project they view