March is a long month for teachers and students. There are 31 days and none of them are major holidays. So, how to bring some excitement while moving your students toward the goal of reading and comprehending literature at grade level by the end of the year? Try a little March Madness and have a Battle of the Books. This is fun to do school-wide but you could manage it in a classroom or a grade level as well.
- You’ll need sixteen book titles. Have kids nominate their favorites
and then whittle the list down so you can get a good representation of genre and complexity. At my school I picked them off our Wildcats Read list, fifty books published in the previous year that are our focus as a reading community. Explain that the purpose of our Battle of the Books is to find out which title is the most popular with the students in your class, grade level, or school.
- Create a bracket. You can see an example here, thanks to bracket designer Stacia Bell at Madison Middle School in Seattle. Put eight books on each side of the bracket. Run it off and hand it out. My Battle of the Books was school-wide but since it was the first year and I wasn’t sure what to expect, I didn’t promote it much. About a hundred of our nine hundred students entered.
- Teach kids strategies to fill out the bracket. Some of them will know about the NCAA tournament, so point out that few people have in-depth knowledge about all those teams – at some point they have to guess and that’s okay. It’s also a great chance to do some research. Have as many of the titles on hand as you can so that kids can look them over and predict which one would be the most popular for each pairing on the bracket. I loved seeing six 8th grade boys sitting around a laptop with their brackets and researching online reviews as they made their choices. For the most fun, have students fill out two identical brackets. They turn in one and keep the other in their notebook to track their predictions after each day’s voting.
- a. After the brackets are turned in, the balloting begins. Create
small ballots with the titles of the books competing that day. Students circle their choice and sign their name to prevent ballot box stuffing, then vote by putting their ballot in an envelope. The next day you announce the winner of the previous day’s vote, hand out the next ballots, and do it again.
- b Since my Battle of the Wildcats Read Books was an all school project, and since I wanted to encourage everyone to vote even if they had not filled out a bracket, I drew one ballot every day from those cast and delivered a homemade chocolate chip cookie to that person during their first period class. “Ballot Cookie” winners and the results of each day’s voting were announced in the Daily Bulletin.
- Make a big deal out of the voting for the final pairing – at my school
it matched Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan with The Testing by Joelle Charboneau. Each round of the Battle has a different point value so there’s plenty of suspense right up to the final ballot. Our top four point winners received lunch from the local drive-in delivered to them in the school lunchroom.
Enjoy seeing kids adding the nominated books to their Books I Want to Read list, talking about the books, arguing about the books, and reading the books. Evaluate what went well and how you could make it even better next year. Looking for a fun way to end the year? Try May Madness for your Battle of the Books.
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