Iditarod and the Ultimate Sports Showdown

At this point in the year, social media is buzzing with excitement as folks from all over the world cheer on their favorite mushers and dogs preparing for the greatest race on Earth.  I cheer right along with them.  Am I biased?  I wanted to find out, so I decided to put my favorite sport to the test in an ultimate sports showdown.  

I challenged my 4th grade students to compare and contrast the Iditarod to any race, game, or sport of their choosing to see which would come out on top.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 5.16.02 PM

The Featherduster – “The Ultimate Showdown”

I didn’t have to look far for inspiration for this project.  I teach in a remarkable school district in West Lake Hills, a suburb of Austin, Texas.  Westlake High School is consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation, and The Featherduster is a national award-winning student created magazine in the journalism department.

The 50-member student staff of The Featherduster produces three print issues each year and produces all content for the website The students, under the leadership of their editors, make all the decisions regarding stories, photos, and designs for every issue. 

A few years ago, The Featherduster published an issue called “The Ultimate Showdown.”  Students wrote and designed articles comparing and contrasting restaurants, video games, and even movie characters in a persuasive “This vs. That” format: Lord of the Rings vs. Star Wars, Mac vs. PC, Barnes and Noble vs. Half Price Books, and more.  
Even though The Featherduster is a high school paper, we often use their writing as a source of inspiration in our Writer’s Workshop.  We decided to create our own version for a digital sports smackdown!
Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 5.26.42 PM

Our inspiration: The Ultimate Showdown Volume 40 Issue 4 – Photo courtesy of the Westlake Featherduster


We first brainstormed a list of all the races, sports, or games we could think of: the Winter Olympics, tennis, fencing, baseball, the World Cup, etc.  My students chose their favorite to go head-to-head against the Iditarod, then spent some time online using a safe site called for research.

We also utilized the Iditarod site, which has wonderful videos and information about the race, mushers, and their teams.  We have the Ultimate Educational Insider subscription which allows us access to all the videos on demand throughout the year and the around-the-clock GPS tracking during the race.  We also read through the official 2016 Iditarod rules, which gave us great insight into the requirements of the race, especially the section about sportsmanship on the trail.

We made lists of all the qualities about each race, sport, or game that made it unique and special.  A Venn diagram is a great graphic to organize the information.  Students had to include 3 interesting facts about each sport in our writing and then include a final opinion in the conclusion.  Some students even took an actual vote from other students after sharing their opinions.  

In the end, the Iditarod was the hands down winner.  The personal challenge of surviving in the frozen wilderness of Alaska, the love and friendship with a team of huskies, the sportsmanship between mushers…the Last Great Race on Earth® lived up to its name and more!  In the end, the fact that men and women mushers compete on equal terms was an important deciding factor for many of my students in our sports face-off. 


The Ultimate Sports Showdown with Pic Collage for Kids

We used two pieces of technology to help us create our Featherduster inspired articles.  Pic Collage for Kids, or Pic Kids for short, is a free app that let us design a page that looked very much like it came from a slick, glossy magazine.  

Pic Kids has text boxes, colorful decorative backgrounds, labels, and stickers that helped us become instant graphic artists, without design software or even a computer lab.  We took our lists, information and rough drafts and typed them into Pic Kids directly making columns, and then added a picture of each of our sports at the top.  For that, we turned to a useful web site that features free, attributed photos for classroom projects.

Photos for Class is a free, web-based site for students to find and download attributed photos for educational projects. This provides teachers and students a safe place to find photos for the classroom that are also licensed by Creative Commons for public use.  You simply type in a word into the search field and hundreds of choices come up, ready to download, with the image citation printed at the bottom of each photo.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 2.33.31 PM 

The Iditarod site is also a fantastic resource for teachers and students to find information and photos for the classroom.  It is important to teach our students to be mindful of citing sources when using someone else’s photographs or information in their projects.  After we had our images downloaded, we uploaded them into our Pic Collage pages.


We spent some time editing our writing: a great lead to “hook” the reader, descriptive word choice, at least 3 unique qualities for each sport, and an opinion in the concluding sentence to bring it all together.  Our pages looked just like The Featherduster magazine we had used for inspiration.  Below are a few Iditarod articles to help students research and understand the phenomenal dog care and musher character traits involved in the race:

8 Traits of Iditarod

Checkpoint Protocol and Dog Care

Veterinary Center

We printed our pages and created a classroom magazine to share.  You can also create a digital magazine, like The Featherduster, using free sites such as Livebooklet, Shutterfly, and Issuu.  You simply upload PDFs and the sites create the pages for you.  You can embed the digital magazine or book on your site and share it with a link or an embed code.

We used to create our online magazine, and it created a unique web link to share with others.  Click on the link below to read it:

(you are leaving a secure site – not responsible for content)

The Ultimate Sports Showdown

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 7.04.46 PM

Read our magazine on


Venn Diagram PDF 

The Ultimate Sports Showdown Lesson Plan

Check out the original example from Westlake High School below using

(you are leaving a secure site – not responsible for content)

Teachers can gain inspiration from the students at Westlake High School who work and create this magazine.  Here are some of the latest awards for The Featherduster and the student staff that produces it:

National Scholastic Press Association: First Place Best of Show for special edition (spring 2015)
Columbia Scholastic Press Association: Crown winner for 2015 (print and online combined)
Interscholastic League Press Conference: Gold Star for print Featherduster and Silver Star for online (2014-15)

In Writer’s Workshop we use mentor texts as examples for our own writing all year long.  I am always looking for great sources of material for my 4th graders.  If you would like to try this opinion writing project, print out our examples to inspire your own students:

Iditarod vs. Track     Iditarod vs. Softball     Iditarod vs. Tennis   

Iditarod vs. Winter Olympics     Iditarod vs. Ski Racing     Iditarod vs. The Super Bowl

Iditarod vs. Sledding     Iditarod vs. Gaga Ball     Iditarod vs. Parkour   

Iditarod vs. Rock Climbing     Iditarod vs. Ice Skating     Iditarod vs. Hockey

Iditarod vs. Gymnastics     Iditarod vs. Cheerleading     Iditarod vs. Football II

Iditarod vs. Baseball     Iditarod vs. Champions League     Iditarod vs. Football

Iditarod vs. Boxing

Click on the links below for resources for this project:

(You are leaving a secure site – not responsible for content)

Kid Rex

Photos for Class

Pic Collage



The Featherduster – The Ultimate Showdown Issue – Volume 40 Issue 4