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Frequently Asked Questions

Looking for some help? You've come to the right place. If your question isn't answered below, you can get in touch via the email address 500words@bbc.co.uk

Help For Kids

500 Words is open from 29th January 2019 at 8am

500 Words is a story writing competition for children.

You need to be between 5 and 13 years old and a full time resident of the UK.

To enter you need to write an original story that is no more than 500 words long.

Once you've written your story, you can enter it into the competition using the entry form on this website.

It's open from 8am on the 29th January

Prizes will be awarded to the 3 finalists in each age category.

The first round of judging will be done by volunteer teachers and librarians across the UK.

The second round of judging will be done by trained professionals at The Reading Agency; 50 stories (25 in each age category) will be shortlisted.

The writers of these 50 stories will be the competition’s finalists.

Our final judging panel will convene in May and decide on the 6 winning stories.

These 6 stories are Bronze, Silver and Gold in each age category.

The Top 50 stories will be announced in early May 2019.

You can only enter one story - and it has to be all your own work.

If you enter more than one story then we'll only consider the first submission as part of the competition.

All stories must be submitted in English.

While we would love to extend the reach of 500 Words, we already are a HUGE competition - we received nearly 135 000 entries last year. We're a tiny team (of two) working on this, so you can imagine that we currently don't have capacity to do so!

No - we need an adult to approve the entry and agree to these Terms and Conditions (including the BBC’s use of the story submitted and the fictional nature of the story) on behalf of the entrant, by way of a check-box in the online form.

The adult could be the child’s parent, guardian or teacher.

The adult must provide their own contact details (not the child’s) and the region in which the child lives.

The personal data provided will be used for the purposes of administering the competition and in accordance with the BBC’s Privacy and Cookies Policy.

The BBC will use the contact details provided by the adult to send general updates as to the progress of the competition by email.

For further information please see the BBC’s Privacy and Cookies Policy

Your story must be all your own original work - you must not copy someone else's story.

Any entry deemed to be a copy by our judges will be disqualified.

Your story must be an original piece of fiction and not an account of real events – either historical or current.

However, your stories can:

  • feature well known public figures from today or from history (e.g. Wayne Rooney or Charles Darwin)
  • take place in historical eras (e.g. the English Civil War)
  • use real-life experiences as a creative springboard as long as the story is fictional.

Entrants can use fictional or real-life characters, as a creative springboard but we're looking for made up stories, which will be marked for characterisation, as well as originality, plot, language and enjoyment.

We’ve had a great success rate among visually impaired students previously, including a finalist! Should your student win, we will make sure that the prize is appropriate.

Stories can be 500 Words or under. There is no lower limit, however the more you write, the more content our judges have to mark!

The title will not be included in your word count.

You may correct spelling where the meaning of the word might otherwise be misconstrued. However, we ask that none of the words used are changed. Grammar also has to stay the same.

Stories are marked on their creative use of language, not on correct spelling.

You may scribe for your child, as long as none of the words used are changed.

Stories are marked on their creative use of language, not on correct spelling.

We accept that stories of a dark or troubling nature will be submitted to us and while we don’t have any hard and fast rules regarding depictions of violence, we recommend that graphic depictions of extreme violence may be marked down.

Entries will be judged on the following criteria:

  • originality
  • plot
  • characterisation
  • language
  • enjoyment.

For more information about the judging process please see the Terms and Conditions.

When we decided upon the age categories, we consulted the National Literacy Trust, the children's department at the Hay Festival and BBC Learning - all of whom have extensive experience of competition for children's reading and writing - and all of whom agreed our age categories were appropriate to our aim of promoting literacy in the UK.


In an ideal world with limitless funds, we would run an enormous 500 WORDS competition with lots of age categories that everyone could enter with a good chance of winning. But sadly this is not possible, so we have selected two age categories that we feel can be reasonably compared to each other.

Right from day one, Chris Evans' vision for 500 WORDS was to get children excited about reading and writing. All children, no matter what their ability.

And when considering the parameters for the competition, we consulted with the National Literacy Trust, the children's department at the Hay Festival and BBC Learning, who all have considerable experience of running competitions for children.

The emphasis of 500 WORDS - which we communicate to absolutely all of our judges at every stage - is on originality and creativity. To this end, we would like to think that children with special educational needs could still be selected to progress. Every year we get e-mails confirming that this is the case!

We do also work closely with a multitude of organisations on subjects like dyslexia, learning disabilities and vision impairment and our marketing campaign is weighted towards schools with high pupil premium. We work with about 20,000 schools on this competition, a lot of whom teach the competition in schools. We've had a number of medal winners with learning disabilities, and many among our finalists. Increasing the diversity of our finalists is a constant fight, but we are working very hard on it.

Any submission will be judged on the same marking criteria. Your story can take any form - be that a poem, play, dialogue etc - but it will be marked on plot, enjoyment, originality, language and characterisation like any other story, and not receive any special consideration because of its structure.

You will not be able to change any details or edit your story after it has been successfully submitted to us.

We’re sorry but we can't return stories.

This was made clear on the submission page because, with the huge number of entries to this competition, it would not be possible to cope with the extra administration required.

Once your story has been submitted you will receive an automated email receipt.

You will be notified in early April if you have or have not been longlisted from our first round of marking. Sometimes emails go astray, so please do check your junk mail folder. If you think you are missing an update, we'll endeavour to get one to you as soon as possible.

The parents or guardians of the top 50 successful entrants will be contacted by a member of the production team at the beginning of May 2019.

Those who have not been shortlisted will also be notified.

The top 50 shortlisted entrants (25 in each age category) will be invited to attend the 500 Words final in June 2019 (exact date to be announced in January 2019).

The full names of the 6 finalists and the overall winners will be announced during this live broadcast, subject to parental consent.

The Top 50 shortlisted entrants will receive a pair of tickets to the final (for the entrant and a parent or guardian).

All entrants of the competition will be asked if they wish to be entered into a random ballot to receive a pair of tickets (for the entrant and a parent or guardian) to the final.

This ballot will be run among the remaining entrants after the finalists have been selected.

Winners of the ballot will be notified in May. We cannot notify unsuccessful members of the ballot.

The BBC cannot pay for the travel and accommodation of winners of the ballot.

Help for Judges

Anyone who is a teacher or librarian (or a retired teacher or librarian) and a full time resident of the UK (including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) can apply to be a volunteer judge as part of 500 Words.

You will be asked to supply contact details of someone who can validate your application. Retired teachers are advised to put down an old colleague as a referee if possible.

We're happy to confirm that we welcome volunteer judge applications from teaching assistants and trainee teachers. If you've got the qualifications or experience to assess the written work of children, aged 5-13, then please apply online!

We need our volunteer judges to have the experience of assessing children’s written work, because we’re relying upon them to bring this expertise to the first stage of our competition.

The question we ask is whether they’re able to “assess the written work of children aged 13 and under?" We receive thousands of requests to judge for the competition, and are delighted to receive them. However, we need a point of qualification or comparison by which to say that our judges definitely are eligible to mark our stories; experience in marking children’s work is crucial.

Parents or teachers of children entering the competition are very much welcome to sign up to be a judge. We use a complex database which assigns stories to judges from a region different to their own, so there shouldn’t be any crossover.

This should be a manager (e.g. Head Teacher, Deputy, or Head of Department) who can vouch for your professional eligibility and confirm they are happy for you to volunteer your time.

If you are retired or on a career break, please use your last boss or someone you deem qualified to vouch for you.

Yes please!

If you opted in to be involved in future years then we've kept your details on record and will be in touch about the judging for 500 Words 2019.

If you've got any questions please get in touch with the 500 Words administrators at 500words@bbc.co.uk.

The judging period starts in March 2019.

Volunteer judges will need to read and score the stories by Tuesday 2nd April 2019.

Volunteer judges will be asked to read a batch of about 30 stories. Each one will be no more than one A4 side.

All teachers and librarians taking part in the judging will invited to enter into a draw.

The winners of this draw will be randomly selected to receive a pair of tickets to attend the broadcast of the Final on the 14th June

Further proof of identity may be required at this stage.

Need further help?

If you have a question that we haven't answered above, you can contact the 500 Words team on 500words@bbc.co.uk

Please read the full Terms & Conditions before submitting a story as part of 500 Words.