Ready to host a reading challenge with your class?  Whether you want your students to read 4 or 40 books this year, here are some ideas that will help you be successful.

Want to run a 40 book challenge with your middle school students? Click through for 15 tips for getting students reading and sharing in a reading challenge.

The Problem with a Reading Challenge

It’s no secret that middle school students aren’t spending as much time reading as they are on their phones or playing video games.  Add to that the other activities that students are involved in…and reading for pleasure certainly takes a back seat.

But there are more great books than ever for this age group!  (I’ve given up reading adult fiction because I think that YA books are better written!!)

With the busy lives our students lead, they need incentives to read.  And one way to do that is to host a reading challenge with your class.

Before Starting a Reading Challenge

Think about what you, as an educator, want your students to gain from a reading challenge.

You want students to read, yes.  But more than that, you want to create a vibrant community of readers who LOVE to read and WANT to read.

We don’t want students to think of it as a punishment — one more requirement they have to complete. A reading challenge shouldn’t make students feel dread.  The last thing you want students to do is to lie about what they’ve read (or haven’t read).

Keep the ultimate goal of your reading challenge at the top of your mind — and the minds of your students.

At the end of the year, you want students to tell you, “I used to not like to read, but I love reading now!”

So how do you get there?  Read on!

How to Implement a Successful Reading Challenge

1. Join the challenge yourself.

Read right along with your students!  This tip is number 1 for a reason.

Show that you value independent reading by modeling it.  Take that one better by reading the books your students are reading and ask them for recommendations on what to read next.  When you are excited about reading and can talk to your students about books they are reading, you add value to the challenge.

Check to see if your district has subscribed to Beanstack. While this isn’t free, it’s so easy to use. It’s worthwhile looking into seeing if your school or district can fund this.

2.  Determine what is right for your students.

You may want to use the 40 book challenge, which means students read about one book a week during a school year.  

However, be sure to determine what is appropriate for your students.  

Meet with them and allow them to set their own goals.  Of course, a reading challenge isn’t a challenge unless students are working toward something … challenging!

But keep in mind your goal for this challenge.  If a student read zero books last year, reading ten this year would be a challenge!

3.  Rejoice in the accomplishments.

Keep a class tally of the number of books your class has read (you can find one here).  This is a powerful tool!

Update it weekly and post it on your classroom door — or better yet, in the hall for the world to see.

Don’t forget to add this to your end of the year activities and awards.

Use motivational badges like these.

Reading badges to motivate students

4. What about long books?

Should they count as two books?  One of my team teachers allowed students to count books that were over 300 pages as two books.

The advantage of this is that it takes pressure off students who want to reader longer, more challenging texts.

5.  Book reports…

Should you require students to write a report for each book?

Look back at your ultimate goal for the reading challenge.  If it’s to create a community of passionate readers, a book report might not be quite what you’re looking for.  Not to mention, you’ll be grading them.

And let’s be real here.  Would you join a book club that required you to write a book report?  Me neither.

Alternatives?  You could just have students record the title of the book and give it a star review.  Or you might want to have students give a monthly or quarterly book talk.

Or, have a fun and quirky book project like this one.

6. Create a reading frenzy!

You will know you are on the right track when a book makes its way around your classroom like wildfire!  And book talks are a great way to do this.  It is so exciting when students start passing books to each other!  

We know our students are much more likely to take the recommendations of their peers over ours.  With book talks, students are taking turns recommending titles to each other.  Golden!

Plus, book talks provide opportunities to reach the listening and speaking standards — not just once, but several times a year.

Schedule books talks monthly or once a grading period.  

7.  Requirements?

What should you require?

If you look online, you’ll see school requirements for a 40 book reading challenge that specify a certain number of books for particular genres or topics.  

I am not at all behind that idea for the simple reason that it doesn’t align with my goal for a reading challenge: instilling the love of reading in my students.

Requiring students to read 5 biographies feel more like jumping through hoops than developing a love of reading.

You might be wondering how can you get students to read biographies or…  anything besides fantasy?  Here’s how:

8.  Meet with your students

When you meet with your students regularly, you’ll be able to adjust and fine-tune their challenge.  

If a students is reading just fantasy, the challenge might be to read a biography. Talking over your students’ book choices can lead to interesting conversations and real connections with your students!  This is where the two of you can create and set challenges.

9.  Build community

Provide simple ways for students to share what they’re reading.  You can do with a quick weekly “turn and talk” as students tell another student what they are reading and what the book is about.

10.  Keep a running list

Create a graffiti wall for students’ suggestions.  Just hang a big piece of paper on the wall with the title, “What are you reading?” and allow students to write out titles.  They can give a star review next to the title as well.

This simple graffiti wall is helpful when students ask, “What should I read next?”

11.  Easy record keeping

Make recording what books students are reading painless for both the students and you.  Use a “status of the class” or book log.

You can also have students keep a reading log that has the title, author, date finished, and star review.

12. Reduce needless competition

Assure students that they are “running their own race.” That means they are just competing with themselves.  They’ve set their own goals and are working toward meeting them.

13.  Return to your student’s goals

Support your students by revisiting their goals and expectations often.  

Check in with them regularly to assess how they are doing.  Are they meeting their goals? Do they need to reset them? Are they challenging themselves or is the goal they set unattainable?

14. Off limit books?

Are there books your students aren’t allowed to read or that shouldn’t “count” toward their goal?  

In my opinion, no!  Let’s not go there!

I tell my students that there are “candy” books.  Books that are fun to eat, super easy to enjoy, but probably not really great for me.  Books like Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid  are wonderful books, but maybe not for a middle school student.  Or maybe not all the time.

It’s okay to read The Twits.  But for a student who only wants to read “candy” books…there is an opportunity for discussion and growth!  

Of course, we want our students to read “nutritious” books, but even adults will read a book that isn’t high literature every once in awhile (right?? right?).  

And again, go back to your goals!  Use reading choices as a topic for the conferences you have with your students.

15. Celebrate all the successes

Make sure to celebrate what your students achieve!

Here’s to a great reading challenge!

2 Comments on 15 Tips for a Reading Challenge

  1. I love the idea of Candy books! I always tell my students that they become better readers to broaden their choices, not limit them. They are are allowed vacations, but also need to challenge themselves. I have had parents push back on this belief, but I can usually get them to at least see my point of view.

    • I’m glad to hear you’re encouraging your students to read a variety of texts! It can be a real challenge! I’m so happy this post is helpful to you!

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