Plan a School Contest

Organizing School Contests

A history fair, showcase, or contest in your school can serve several important purposes. These events are a culminating activity in which all students can take part. They also showcase academic accomplishments to school administration, parents, and the community. A school contest also narrows down the number of entries that can advance to a regional contest. Whether only one classroom participates, or several, organizing a school contest doesn’t have to be complicated. Choose a lead teacher and use the following information to plan your event. Explore our page for educators,  information about upcoming professional development opportunities, and the school contest planning outline as well.

Enroll Your School in the National History Day in North Dakota Program
Register your school by contacting The state coordinator uses school data to determine how many entries from each school can advance to regional contests. This also ensures your school will receive important information and news.

Set a Date
Most school contests occur in late February or early March. Find out when and where your regional contest is so you can set a date for your school contest. School contests should be at least three weeks before the regional contest, so students have enough time to revise their projects and register for the regional event. Decide if you want to hold your contest during the school day or in the evening. During the day, students will already be present and available, but access to facilities and volunteer judges could be limited. Afterschool events will give you greater access to facilities, more judges will be available after work, and parents might be more likely to attend. However, afterschool events compete with other activities and returning to school in the evening could be a challenge for some students. Add your event to school and community calendars. Invite the school, administrators, PTA, school board, parents, and the community at large.

Organize the Space
Set a deadline for teachers to submit how many projects they will have for each category. When you know how many projects there are, you can draft a schedule outline and plan for the spaces you’ll need. If you only have one classroom participating, you might be able to judge all the projects in one room. Once your contest starts to grow, project categories will need more space. Categories can also be further split into individual and group categories.

  • Judges’ Room: You will need a private room where judges can discuss entries with their team. Judges will need tables and chairs where they can sit to write comments for each entry. Also consider providing snacks and refreshments for your volunteer judges, if possible. It isn’t necessary but always appreciated.
  • Exhibits: Large rooms like a gym or library work well for the number of tables needed to display exhibits. Two exhibits will take up one six-foot table. Invite the public to view projects and talk to students when judging has concluded.
  • Websites: Judges have a week before the contest to review website entries. They will still need dedicated space to conduct interviews on the day of the contest. Showcase websites in technology-enabled rooms with projectors or interactive whiteboards such as computer labs, library media centers, or classrooms with access to laptops or tablets. If you are going to have students show their entries to the public when judging has concluded, they should each have a laptop or tablet available.
  • Papers: Judges have a week before the contest to review paper entries. They will still need dedicated space to conduct interviews on the day of the contest. Invite the public to talk to students about their projects when judging has concluded.
  • Documentaries: You will need access to technology to play documentary entries, as well as seating for the judges and an audience. Invite the public to attend showings of documentaries.
  • Performances: Auditoriums work well for performances as they have a stage and audience seating for judges and an audience. Invite the public to attend performances.
  • Hangout Area: Set aside an area for students to hang out during the judging process, such as a cafeteria or a gym. Provide snacks, refreshments, and entertainment like board games, video games, or a trivia contest.


On the day of the event have a greeter, or a welcome station, at the main entrance of your school. This is helpful for visitors who are not familiar with your school. Put up some signs directing visitors to the rooms where they can view projects. Post a schedule outside of each room so students, judges, and visitors know which presentations are coming up next and when they can enter a room.

Judging the Entries
Contest coordinators determine how many judges they need based on how many entries are in each category. Judges work in teams of two or three and typically view between five to ten projects. They need fifteen minutes for each exhibit, paper, and website, and twenty minutes for each performance and documentary. Judges should read the Volunteer Handbook for an idea of how judging at the state level works. Schools can adapt the state judging guidelines to meet their own needs and requirements. Provide a brief orientation session for judges on the day of the event to cover the basic process, rules, and answer questions. Make plenty of copies of the judging evaluation sheets available for each category. Provide clipboards, pens, and extra paper too. Exhibit judges will need a tape measure. Documentary and performance judges will need a way to track time. For large categories where there are several judging teams, you’ll need to have a second round of judging. Review the Volunteer Handbook for more information about this process. Find out from the state coordinator how many entries from each category can advance to regionals so judges can rank the top entries, usually about three to five for each category. You can either let judges’ decisions stand, or you can have judges submit their top projects and have a committee of teachers make the final choices about who should be representing your school at the regional contest.

Judges do not have to be professional historians to take part in a history day contest. Even a historian would not be expected to be an expert on all the topics they would see at a contest. Ask members of your school board, PTA, or school administration to be judges. Teachers, retired teachers, library and local museum staff, and community leaders are all potential judges. Parents can serve as judges too but be careful to avoid any real or perceived conflicts of interest. Make sure to thank your judges and keep a contact list for next year.

Recognition and Awards
Plan how and when you want to recognize winners. Will you have an awards ceremony on the same day of the contest or hold it at a later date? You will need to find out from the state coordinator how many entries from each category will be able to advance to regionals. At the regional and state levels, all students receive a participation certificate. Students advancing to the next level receive ribbons. Schools can adapt an awards ceremony to meet their own needs and requirements. Consider special recognition for other types of strengths also, such as the best design or best use of local history. Local media might also be interested in your event and which entries are advancing to the next level of competition. Some schools offer prizes donated from parents and community members. Prizes are not required but can be a fun incentive if you have them. They can even be simple like gift cards or school supplies.


Regional Contests

Schools determine how entries qualify for regional events, either through teacher selection or through a classroom or school-wide contest. There are currently two regional competitions in North Dakota held mid- to late March. Schools east of Highway 83 attend the Red River regional contest, and schools west of Highway 83 attend the West River regional contest. Check with the state coordinator for dates and locations. Contact the state coordinator as soon as possible to discuss options if your school has an unavoidable contact. All students from the same school must attend the same regional contest. Students attending schools that participate in History Day are not eligible to register as independent students at a regional contest. 

Students who are interested in National History Day in North Dakota, but attend a school that does not participate, can work independently to compete in a regional event. Students enrolling under this option should ask a teacher about serving as an advisor. National History Day can be a lot of work, and it is helpful if a school advisor can offer extra credit, guidance, or other support. If no teacher is available to serve in this role, a parent can serve as an advisor. Homeschool educators and parents of independent students should contact the state coordinator to enroll as independent educators. Contact to learn more about starting a school or regional contest in your area.

The top entries at the regional level qualify to advance to the state contest, usually about three to five entries in each category. Registration materials for regional competitions are due two weeks before the contest. Students are allowed and encouraged to improve their projects between competitions. Submit paper entries at least two weeks before the regional contest. Websites are locked to changes a week before the regional contest. Entries qualifying for the state contest will receive information and registration materials after their regional award ceremony.

State Contest
The National History Day in North Dakota contest takes place in mid-April at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck. The top two entries in each category qualify to advance to the national contest. The registration fee is $5

National Contest
The National History Day contest takes place in mid-June at the University of Maryland in College Park. About sixty students from the state competition can qualify to advance to the national contest where they join about 2,500 international students. Registration fees are $150 for students and $60 for teachers. The registration deadline is in early May (about a month before the contest), and paper and website submissions are due at the same time. Travel, lodging, and food expenses average about $1,000 for a week. Learn more here

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