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An Analysis of the Decision-Making Process behind TeenEagle Language-Learning Competitive Resources

At TeenEagle Competitions, we enjoy talking about ourselves. We claim to have the highest level of handpicked resources, the most thorough competitive events, and the widest reach of academic purposes. We argue that our competitions are more than sheer memorization, and that competing expands English language levels in terms of not just mathematical statistics of lexicon and grammar, but in personal confidence and willingness to communicate. We invite students internationally to not only compete with us, but to travel for us—an investment that requires detailed planning and an extreme level of interest. The following text will provide insider information on the processes behind planning for TeenEagle, and why the TeenEagle Team has the ability to claim the information we do.

As the foundation behind all TeenEagle competitions, the yearly resources are undoubtedly one of the most important factors. After all, any questions students might expect to battle with will come from one of these resources. Foundational research has been done on what types of literary texts might constitute “good” reading materials in the classroom and for competitive events (Balajthy, 1984; Heaps, 1934), while modern research concerns itself on the aspect of literary interest (Clifton, 1996; Ross, 2009; Wilkinson et al., 2020). Even more modern events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, has raised literary interest—in the latter half of 2020, reading time was said to have risen by over 20% (United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022), while screen time overall rose in all evaluated age categories (Trott et al., 2022). There has also been a rising interest in using more modern materials in the classroom, with language and literature teachers incorporating film, music, YouTube videos, and more (Alluri, 2018; Pasquier & Silverstein, 1973). Therefore, the logic applied to choosing new resources every year goes far beyond surface-level interest: a combination of lexile level, thematic content, and overlapping themes is used to choose our final selection, a process which spans several months.

Our first criteria comes from a combination of grade and lexile levels. Most texts have been evaluated by third parties to confirm a general range of language and age needed in order to interact with the text fairly. This means that while we may love some books, the grade level needed to understand it might be too high or too low for one age category, and the same thing can happen with lexile levels. However, we generally try to keep the grade levels on the lower end of a category, with a lexile level on the higher end. This ensures that resources provide valuable new language, but that the structure of the resource is still accessible. A similar reasoning is given for films—what age level does this film require, and what kind of new language can be observed? Often, new language in books is more academic, while films provide slang, jargon, idiomatic phrases, and other literary elements (Birulés-Muntané & Soto-Faraco, 2016; Xiaoqiong & Xianxing, 2008).

Our second criteria comes from the content within the resources. It is not enough for a text to be in the right language range, or for a film to have the right age rating. Resources must have accessible information that students can find interesting and engaging (Amjah, 2013). Furthermore, the lessons taught by these resources should be applicable outside of the classroom. TeenEagle is focused on taking traditional academic classes outside of the classroom, and our resources must be fun, exciting, humorous, and thrilling enough to do the same.

Our third criteria is what keeps our resources compact, but cohesive. Additionally, it is a TeenEagle specific criteria—our original Board decided to incorporate this aspect in order to make the competitive aspect more enjoyable. In one age category, there must be some form of overlap between the two resources. This overlap might be as simple as corresponding themes, or as complex as the main characters sharing the same hamartia. It is often this overlap that we focus on in tasks during the Global Finals, as overlap shows both an understanding of the resources and the language skills necessary for application.

A good Resource is therefore in the right grade and language range, is exciting or interesting to interact with, works in relation to other Resources, and is just advanced enough to make students stretch their language. In addition to the Resources themselves, the way language can be used in relation to these resources must be examined. TeenEagle Competitions come in one of two formats: our Online Rounds, composing of a Knowledge Quiz, and our Global Finals, comprising of four competitive events. These events are the Knowledge Quiz, the Persuasive Speaking, the Writing Challenge, and the Spelling Bee.

In our Online Rounds and Knowledge Quiz, we look for reading comprehension and the recognition of correct information. Reading provides a wealth of linguistic and cultural information within engaging and structured content, giving language learners the opportunity to take their proficiency to the next level at a comfortable pace (Grabe & Zhang, 2013; Lipka & Siegel, 2011; Wilson, 2016). However, our quiz questions have been structured specifically to look at the comprehension of the resources. While difficulty levels change in regards to age categories, our questions follow four main categories: what happens, why does it happen, how does it happen, and a focus on the language used to support it. Resources must be able to make questions in these four categories without reverting to rote memorisation.

In Persuasive Speaking, we give valuable points to the use of language for cohesion, such as synonyms or linking words, as well as correct pronunciation and emphatic enunciation. When looking at the four language skills, Speaking requires the most productive ability of language with the shortest preparation time. It also requires the ability to manipulate said language—the participant must have the appropriate theory-of-mind to address their speech to both audience and judge, as well as critically analyse the resources in regards to the prompt (Carolina & Astrid, 2018; Dewi et al., 2016; Mart, 2012). In other words, being able to undergo Persuasive Speaking confirms one’s ability to spontaneously produce language. Resources must be able to be talked about in various new contexts.

In Writing Challenges, we provide more time to undergo valuable research, but we also place a greater emphasis on syntactic structures and text organisation. Writing is also a productive language skill, but boasts the scaffolding of time. A participant is then given preparatory time to analyse their argument beyond the main points, thereby going into the structure and texture of their essay (Connor, 1984; Wingate, 2012). This Challenge also focuses on the ability to combine resources or real-world events into one cohesive, logical argument. Resources must have contextual layers and an applicable depth of analysis to be investigated.

And last, but not least, Spelling Bees provide word lists and definitions that students can apply to their other competitions. While orthographic knowledge may indeed assist in a participant’s speaking ability, contextual knowledge may do the same in writing or reading skills. Knowing a word beyond basic comprehension and venturing into the contextual knowledge of application provides a participant with the foundational linguistic knowledge to excel in language competitions (Bowers & Bowers, 2018; Templeton, 1979; Van Berkel, 2004). Competing in a Spelling Bee pushes the participant to expand their applicable vocabulary and provides new resources to compete in the rest of the competition. Resources must engage with new, age-appropriate, and applicable vocabulary items in different fields of English.

TeenEagle competitions work to make this journey relatively subconscious. By engaging with resources you find interesting, you’ll be more likely to pick up on new language or think more critically about the story. If you read and watch to really understand the resources, then you’ll be more confident in your Writing and Speaking skills on those topics. Over the course of one academic year, you’ll slowly but surely expand your English language skills, sometimes without realising it until it’s time to compete—taking English grammar and vocabulary lessons out of the classroom and into an exciting, modern, and international world.

We hope that this brief explanation has shown how TeenEagle chooses yearly resources to be perfect—not just for us, but for your language learning journey.

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