Handbook & Rules Changes

Middle Level Speech Handbook

New season handbook released 11/22/2022.

WISDAA Interscholastic Participation Rules

No rules nor evaluations changes were made, other than annually changing category topics, formatting of overarching rules in the handbook, and incorporation of the harassment/discrimination policy in the handbook. Please see the 2021-22 tab for extensive changes to scoring/awards made during the previous school year.
  1. Please see complete COVID-19/Public Health Protocols, in force for all WHSFA contest series events.
  2. All schools are required to register online, using SpeechWire, to enter official WHSFA Level 1 and 2 contests. The State Office will dispatch entries to the contests selected by the registering coach. Coaches may request virtual for any of their students, as long as they provide a ratio of adjudicators to students entering each contest independent of the other (e.g., if a school has 2 entries participating at an in-person festival and 2 entries participating virtually, it must provide an adjudicator for each). SpeechWire will be provided free of charge for all Level 1 and 2 festivals; the State Office will communicate to hosts on how to access their contests.
  3. All Level 1 contestants will advance to Level 2, irrespective of ratings.
  4. Each of the five evaluation criteria on evaluation sheets will have standards-based ratings of: minimal, emerging, developing, proficient, and mastery.
  5. Evaluation sheets will change from the arbitrary As and Bs to an overall rating of excellence and merit. These will not be tied to the evaluation standards, but will be an overall recommendation by the adjudicator and will determine which award a student earns.
  6. For Level 1 festivals, certificates will be replaced by yellow and green ribbons, which will correspond with the overall rating of excellence (yellow) and merit (green). Level 2 will continue using blue and red, respectively.
  7. Moments in History: revised rule to stipulate that costumes may serve as a visual aid, but may not be worn. This is to discourage cultural appropriation, and to be consistent with rules in all other categories.
  8. Rules to Follow for each category were streamlined and arranged in a consistent manner; some rules were removed from individual category rules if they apply universally -- such as those dealing with content and repetition of material or substitution of group members, since they’re covered in Middle Level Speech Rules & Policies. We conducted extensive review of grammar/sentence structure, along with delineating what should be part of category descriptions (top of the page) versus rules. Accordingly, evaluation criteria were reviewed, and made consistent across types of categories. Please review each category carefully to understand rules and evaluation criteria.

2020-21 Changes

  1. Special dispensations for the 2020 virtual season:
    1. Level 1 and 2 will be statewide contests (not regional), with prerecorded video submissions to be asynchronously adjudicated during windows of dates.
    2. For virtual participation, coaches should avoid identifying their school in submitted videos/video channels.
    3. Group entries may be recordings of videoconference (such as Zoom) or recorded in-person with students socially distanced, not touching, and wearing masks. Limiting groups to 2-3 students is encouraged.
    4. Only one adjudicator qualifying score (instead of two) is required to move from Level 1 to 2. Two A-level scores will still be required to earn a blue ribbon at Level 2. All Level 1 participants will receive a sticker.
    5. There will be no overall team entry limits.
    6. A synchronous Debate Festival will be offered as a separate contest for any interested schools; students may enter this as well as their normal Speech category.
    7. At a later date (early December), WHSFA will announce additional, specific guidelines for video submission, as well as penalties for violations of rules as provided for this virtual season.

Full rules can be found in the Middle Level Handbook.

2019-20 Changes

No rules changes were made for this season. Please review changes for the past two school years, just to refresh your memory! Full rules can be found in the Middle Level Handbook.

2018-19 Changes

  1. matching outfitsSpecified all WHSFA events are open to the public. Interscholastic contests are open to spectators; central to the educational objective of fostering public speaking involves audiences.
  2. A general meeting with adjudicators is required before all Level 1 and 2 festivals.
  3. Clarified that note cards or paper notes may be used, but are subject to evaluation.
  4. Changed Four-Minute Speech to Informative Speech and Eight-Minute to Persuasive Speech.
  5. Added allowance for visual supporting materials in Informative and Persuasive Speech, and added evaluation question for all speeches allowing visual aids that the speaker actively used them well to illustrate.
  6. Play Acting and Readers Theatre changed to a 10-minute time limit.
  7. Specify rule with costuming for Group Interpretive Reading and Play Acting: “merely dressing alike or coordinated outfits is not considered costuming” (see photo, above and to the right)
  8. Substitution rules (p. 5, #3) clarified (allows for any eligible student to substitute for an absent group member).

2017-18 Changes

Coach note: Middle level advisors who also coach high school should use the same email address in SpeechWire when registering for contests. Include middle and high school students on the Team roster, in Your account (denote middle level students with high school graduation years).

Festival hosts/managers:

  • SpeechWire is free for taking online registration, scheduling rounds, and for tabulating results for WHSFA Level 1 and Level 2 contests; apply through the state office.
  • All schools participating in Level 1 or 2 contests must be current in WHSFA dues before the office will reimburse contest expenses. We will provide hosts/managers with a list of membership status.
  • The post-festival participation/reimbursement form must be completed online, <-- click link, or within SpeechWire.

Middle Level FAQs

FAQs with asterisks (*) pertain to the 2020-21 online/virtual season. Below the list are FAQs specific to virtual contest options, noted with the computer icon ( – scroll down to bottom of page).
Middle Level Speech Season 2021-22 Flowchart
  • School with middle level grades 6-8 may participate upon joining the WHSFA.
  • Starting in early December and due by three weeks prior to the Level 1 festival a school is attending, coaches must register online, with an accurate roster of adjudicators and student names, certifying interscholastic eligibility (usually handled by an athletic/activities director or an administrator), and assigning students to specific category entries. During that window of dates, coaches may log back in and make changes to registration, until the cutoff date for changes set by the Level 1 host. See SpeechWire registration instructions in the Middle Level Handbook.
  • All students who participate at a Level 1 festival are eligible to participate at a Level 2 festival; there is no longer a qualifying threshold.
  • After Level 1, coaches have a brief window to drop students who have advanced, but will not continue to participate, as well as to confirm or modify the adjudicators they plan to have evaluate the Level 2 festival.
  • Award ribbons: at each festival, students will earn a ribbon signifying their achievement by ratings:
    • At Level 1, at least two ratings of Excellence will earn an entry a Yellow ribbon; otherwise, it will be awarded at Green ribbon.
    • At Level 2, at least two ratings of Excellence will earn an entry a Blue ribbon; otherwise, it will be awarded a Red ribbon.

Invitationals (including one run by WHSFA) will have separate registration, but also using SpeechWire.

Each school/institution may have its own public health guidelines/restrictions in place, including, but not limited to: face coverings, social distancing, testing, vaccination, etc.  Each school/institution that hosts a WHSFA contest must register with the State Office (and provide any subsequent changes/updates) any public health requirements in place, and communicate to guest schools what is expected of their participants (students, coaches, adjudicators). Each guest school must adhere to host venue requirements or their own school's requirements, whichever is more restrictive. Schools whose students, adjudicators, and/or coaches fail to comply may be asked to leave the premises of the contest venue, and if students have not yet been fully evaluated, their school may submit a recorded virtual entry for evaluation, if within the deadline for asynchronous adjudication at that contest level.

The WHSFA has traditionally not required a minimum time for presentations, although adjudicators are encouraged to evaluate development — or lack thereof — of each presentation. This should be evaluated in the criterion regarding development in speech categories, and in the criterion regarding understanding meaning in interpretive categories.

Material is allowable as long as it meets content expectations of the contestant’s school/school district administration. 

Due to copyright laws, material may not be transcribed from video sources, such as YouTube or streaming services.

For more details on rules for each category, please see the Speech Handbook on the Categories & Topics page.

Start by asking students books they’ve read (on their own and/or in classes) or movies/television shows they’ve viewed that resonated with them. Ask what current issues in society are important to them. Knowing students’ interests helps you find material they can be passionate about, which will come through in their performance. The school library is a great place to start. In fact, some librarians have a limited budget for acquiring new materials, so they may have a catalogue of plays and other materials. The public library is another place to look, and asking English and theatre teachers for ideas can be helpful. Be wary of vendors who publish literature for “contest” or “classroom” performance, since these often lack the depth of what can be found in other works of literature the student would need to cut to contest length, though it can be a great starting point for middle level performers. The process of cutting can be a tremendous learning experience for students, as they determine what themes and character qualities they wish to cultivate in their performances.

No. A transcription not provided by the originator of the material is a violation of copyright law.

In Solo Acting Humorous/Serious, "material shall be a cutting from serious or humorous drama or other literature adapted to the dramatic format with brief narrative transitions…” Stand-up comedy is often not published in print form, and students should not transcribe directly from a performance.

In Farrago and Solo Acting Humorous/Serious, quality material is required, which “gives insight into human values, motivations, relationships, problems and understandings and is not characterized by sentimentality, violence for its own sake, unmotivated endings or stereotyped characterizations.” It is recommended that such material be sought for all performance of literature categories, even if there is no specific evaluation item related to selection of material.

Drama is literature with line attributions to particular characters and with stage directions, such as a play. Dramatic literature is required in Play Acting and an option in other categories.

No. Adapting other genres of literature (such as novels or poetry) abuses copyright/intellectual property rights of the material’s original author. We have been asked if an adaptation of another’s work fits the definition of “original,” and the answer is no. Those concepts and ideas are still the intellectual property of the original author. Fortunately, we have a Readers Theatre category, where works of literature that are not drama are suitable for performance.

Song lyrics are poetry, unless the song comes from a stage or film musical (e.g., Hamilton, or The Greatest Showman) -- then they're considered drama (dramatic literature). The exception would be a song that existed prior to its incorporation in a musical (e.g., "Dancing Queen" in Mamma Mia! or "Rhythm of the Night" in Moulin Rouge).

Plays written in dramatic verse (such as Shakespeare's or Sophocles') are dramatic literature, and as such, must be performed in categories where drama/plays are allowed. They are not considered poems, per se, even though they are written in meter/verse. Therefore, they should not be performed in high school Group Interpretive Reading, but may be used in Middle Level Readers Theatre, since that category allows for dramatic literature.

The rules are silent with regard to touching the floor or lying on the floor. It is a choice performers may make. Although students may not be disqualified for touching the floor, judges can take movement into consideration in the overall evaluation of a student’s performance.

In interpretive categories, if contestants wear clothing implied for a particular character or described in the script, that is a costume. In group categories, merely dressing alike does not constitute a costume, unless the script calls for it (such as characters who are twins). In speech categories, if a student is wearing the attire called for by a particular occasion or topic, that is a costume. However, in Demonstration Speaking, students should wear attire appropriate to what is being demonstrated.

There are no per-category, nor overall entry limits for Middle Level Speech, although certain festivals may have limitations on capacity in their school buildings. We do encourage schools to distribute their entries across different categories to maximize the educational experiences students receive.

Generally speaking, contests ask for one adjudicator for every five entries, or fraction thereof. Some contests require fewer or more. This means that if a school has 7 entries, it should bring two adjudicators. Some contests will allow schools to pay a fee for uncovered adjudicators, not because they have extras they can hire for a school, but to incentivize schools to bring their own adjudicators. It is a burden on any host when schools do not provide all of the adjudicators they are expected to.

Please review the PDF handbook for your particular activity, which has a number of resources and suggestions. We also compiled a Speech Festival Manager Info page, with instructions on using the SpeechWire contest management website/software.

The state office provides copies for official Level 1 and 2 festivals; however, festival managers may waive receipt of materials.

Homeschool students may either participate with an area public or private school,** or as part of a homeschool association that joins the WHSFA.

**WHSFA supports the local school district policy for interscholastic athletics/academic contests. For example, if a home-schooled student is allowed to join the basketball team, a home-schooled student may participate in Theatre, Speech, and Debate activities.

Here is the official policy from the WHSFA’s Constitution/Bylaws:

SECTION III: Membership

Wisconsin homeschooled/online/virtual school students:

  1. Conditions: Students must be members of a homeschool association or enrolled full time in an online school. They cannot participate individually, unless as part of their attendance-area school district, if the school district allows participation.
  2. Procedures:
    1. Homeschooling associations may apply for membership by registering and paying the yearly dues. Online/virtual schools headquartered in Wisconsin may apply under the same conditions.
    2. As members, their students are eligible to participate in all WHSFA events in the District/Section where the homeschool association is located. Students living in Wisconsin who are enrolled in online/virtual schools that are members of WHSFA may participate in the subdistrict and district festivals in which the online/virtual school is located.

If you're not affiliated with a particular school, or would like to offer your adjudicating services to additional schools and contests, please join our statewide email list and visit our Jobs page.

Each summer, advisory committees for each activity meet to review the previous contest season and propose changes to the Board of Control. Contact us with concerns and/or suggestions, and we will forward these to the respective committee(s).
If you are submitting a videorecording of a student performances, you are responsible for working within your school to acquire media release permission for your students.
If you are submitting a videorecording of a student performances, you are responsible for working within your school to acquire media release permission for your students.

Coaches must be mindful of copyright concerns with performance of works of literature. If students upload videos themselves, they should NOT share that link/video with anyone else. The best way for coaches to avoid issues is to upload videos files themselves.

This is subject to each school's public health protocols; adjudicators will be told to evaluate each entry on its own merits and not consider the presence or absence of such protocols are part of their evaluation.

Yes, absolutely. Adjudicators will be expressly told not to deduct any points for that.

The file format should be: .mp4

Use a free tool (for up to 25 videos per day), such as CloudConvert (which is entirely cloud-based and can be run in your web browser), to convert video files to MP4.

Coaches will be expected to review all videos before they are submitted and to work through tech issues with students. Adjudicators also will be told to explicitly NOT take sound/video quality into account in their evaluation, however, if they cannot hear nor see the student, it may be difficult for them to evaluate effectively; in those cases, such entries will be considered a "no-show."

Coaches are responsible for ensuring the link from any video or file sharing platform is viewable by anyone, so adjudicators can see the presentations. Do NOT use links shared directly/privately to a specific email address, as those will not be accessible to the various adjudicators who attempt to access the link from SpeechWire.

1. In the top right corner, click Share.

2. Click "Get shareable link" in the top right of the "Share with others" box.

3. To choose whether a person can view, comment, or edit the file, click the Down arrow next to "Anyone with the link." .

4. Note that the link may default to be viewable by individuals within your school/institution. To expand access to outside of your school/institution, click the Down arrow next to "Anyone at [name of institution]…” and select “More” and select Anyone with the link.

5. Click the button, Copy link. Paste the link in an email or anywhere you want to share it.

In SpeechWire, use the Video links and titles page:

  • For Middle Level 1, and High School Subdistrict, this will be part of the Initial/Subdistrict or Initial/Level 1 Registration area.
  • For Middle Level 2, and High School District and State, this will be part of re-registration/confirmation in the virtual contest area for each of those levels, respectively.

One for each contest level; except three for each of the following (one per round):

Middle Level & High School:  Extemporaneous Speech

High School only: Impromptu Speech, Radio News Reporting, and Storytelling.

If absolutely necessary, a student may re-submit the same video for different levels, although we hope students take adjudicator feedback to improve their performance for subsequent levels

Mobile phone and tablet devices (or even laptops) are allowable only for virtual contests, when students are unable to print, but that students should practice using such devices, so that they are comfortable and can still engage in “eye contact” with the camera when recording. We will include guidance to adjudicators that this is allowable, but subject to critique (for poise, but not outright lowering score just because the student didn't have the type of manuscript an adjudicator prefers).

WHSFA will provides 3 sets (1 per round) of radio packets/extemp. questions to coaches about a week prior to the video submission deadline. The coach arranges times with each contestant (in-person, via videoconference, or via message) to share radio packet or five questions, of which the contestant will select one. A video of that contestant’s presentation for each round should be recorded and finalized with coach within 45 minutes (to allow time for technical considerations). The coach does not need to video record prep time.

Coaches should use these questions and arrange a time with each contestant (in-person, via videoconference, or via message) to share five questions, of which the contestant will select one. A video of that contestant’s presentation should be recorded and finalized with the coach within 45 minutes (to allow time for technical considerations). The coach should note the five questions shown to the student for Level 1 and ensure five different questions are shared with the student for Level 2.

WHSFA provides 3 sets (1 per round), to coaches about a week prior to the video submission deadline. For each of the three rounds, the coach will arrange times to record each contestant (either in-person or via videoconference), present contestant with three prompts, and will begin recording and timing once the contestant selects their prompt, reciting it aloud.

Students will record a story for each of three areas, submitted by the coach, with each story assigned to a different round for adjudication. For State, students will select one of the three to perform.

As part of annual update of their student rosters in SpeechWire, coaches will be asked to provide an email address for each participating student. This could be a school-provided email address for students, or a special personal email address created by the student for purposes of participation. SpeechWire will create student accounts linked to those email addresses, which students will use to log in and view asynchronous, pre-recorded video entries of peers assigned to the same "rooms" each round, just as they would see those performances at an in-person festival. For synchronous rounds, the student's SpeechWire account will log them into a videoconference room where they will gather with other contestants and the adjudicator for their round. For safety and security, only contestants and adjudicators will have access to any asynchronous or synchronous rounds; family/friends/other guests will not, unless they watch in the same room with their student when their student is logged on.

Any student may participate in one WHSFA Level 1 contest and one Level 2 contest, plus any number of invitational contests.

Coaches interested in hosting official WHSFA Level 1 or 2 contests should click the request button here (you must log in to this website first).

Already attended (or locked out from editing entries) for an in-person festival and need to move entries to virtual? Click this button to file a request:

Contest Dates

In-Person Contests

Virtual Timelines

ML Adjudicator Guidelines

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