Competition can be a healthy and fun way to get students excited and engaged about something new, but it can also have its pitfalls, especially when it comes to reading contests. Students love the chance to be recognized and rewarded, but when the rewards overshadow the intrinsic value of the activity, your plans can backfire. A successful reading campaign is one that engages all students and encourages them to grow as readers.
Here a few suggestions for making the most of your reading campaigns:
Don’t always reward the same kids: It’s awesome to be the student who reads the most books or spends the most time reading, but that leaves out 99% of your students. Even young children will notice that the same names always win, and may feel it isn’t worth trying. The best reading campaigns encourage everyone to be involved.
Do look for creative ways to include all students: Set a challenge that rewards anyone who meets a certain level of achievement. For example, any student who reads for six hours over spring break is entered into a drawing to win. Alternatively, you can set rewards for collaborative achievement, pitting class against class or rewarding a whole-school effort, such as reading a million minutes. Keep in mind that the goal is not who wins but that everyone reads.
Don’t focus on the cost of the rewards: Any child would want to win an iPad or a bicycle—and these are great prizes—but we’ve seen students get just as competitive over small prizes and bragging rights. Having multiple winners is easier when you have lower-cost prizes, like t-shirts, wrist-bands and water bottles. Did you know that simply putting a certificate into a dollar-store frame turns a piece of paper into a plaque? Many teachers have told us that “No Homework” passes or preferred seating are highly valued prizes with students of all ages.
Do think outside the prize box: Our favorite prizes aren’t always ones that can be bought in a store or carried home. Some of the best examples include the teacher who dresses up like a taco for the day when her students reached their reading goal or the principal who invites the winners to lunch. One school has a weekly “myON Monday” and invites any student who read a certain number of minutes the week before to an after-school event where they show movies and serve popcorn. These creative prizes make meaningful memories for students and faculty alike.
Don’t forget reading for reading’s sake: One of the most popular prizes for reading is more books! Students love to pick out a favorite book and add it to their home library. Offering books as prizes also emphasizes the intrinsic value of reading and increases the chance that competitors will start thinking of themselves as readers!
Do reach out to local businesses or celebrities: Asking members of the community to become involved with your reading campaign is easier than you think, and you may have parents or faculty who can help make introductions. Many larger chain or fast-food restaurants will give coupons for free food items and let the schools decide how to distribute them. One district rewarded the top school with a visit from a famous athlete, who did a read-aloud. Another school invited a favorite children’s author for an assembly, and the contest winners got to be on stage and ask her questions.
Don’t limit your contest criteria: Most reading contests focus on usage, specifically the number of books read or time spent reading. These are a great starting point, but there are other measures that can energize a successful reading campaign. Having students read books from a specific genre or from a book list can help move students out of their reading comfort zone. You can also set up campaigns for writing the best book review or taking pictures of their favorite reading spot.
Do use myON’s reports: You can focus your campaign to meet specific challenges related to school goals and use the various reports in myON to determine the winners. For example, a “Weekend Warrior” challenge aimed at getting students to read over the weekend would use the Reading Habits report, while a competition focused on growth might count time spent reading in their targeted Lexile® range by using the On-Target Lexile Reading report.
Finally, if you want your reading campaigns to take off, challenge yourself to get creative. Even the most successful campaign will lose its impact if it is repeated too often. Setting up different min-challenges can be a great way to reach more students throughout the year.