Classroom Reading Challenges

Reading challenges are great ways to motivate people to read, kids and adults alike. I came up with an idea to make reading challenges a part of the classroom all year round by having a new challenge each month.

Challenges may include:

  • read a book with a dorky cover
  • read a “girl book” if you’re a guy; read a “guy book” if you’re a girl
  • read a genre outside your comfort zone
  • read more pages than you ever have before
  • read a book about a different culture
  • finish a series you’ve started
  • read a book where the main character is gay/Native American/African American/not American
  • read a scary/horror book (good for October)
  • read a biography
  • make up your own reading challenge (which students can do any month)

Participation in challenges are voluntary. Those who participate write up some kind of report/make a poster/something fun. If the product is of high quality, each participant is rewarded with something small. Rewards might include:

  • lunch with the teacher (that’s still a cool thing, right?)
  • book mark
  • money for classroom economy
  • gift cards of small amounts
  • school supplies bundle (baggie with pencil, eraser, sharpener…)
  • coupon to sit in the reading lounge of the classroom

Goodness, all of these are great for middle school but not high school. We all know what grades I’m meant to teach…

In addition to those rewards, each student who participates can put their name in a jar for a raffle/lottery. The student who’s chosen gets the grand prize. That prize may include:

  • gift card to a book store
  • a book of the teacher’s choice
  • a book of the student’s choice

Students who have won the grand prize are not eligible to win again but can participate each month and get the smaller prizes.


Read-Talk-Write is a strategy to help students understand and remember what they’ve read, especially from non-fiction texts. I’ve seen it done where students are put into partners and each partner reads a different text about the same subject. Here is the process. Be VERY clear about the directions.

1. Students read for 2 minutes.

2. Partner 1 talks for 45 seconds (more or less) while partner 2 listens.

3. Read for another 1-2 minutes.

4. Partner 2 talks for 15 seconds (more or less) while partner 1 listens.

5. Close books. Students write in full sentences or keywords about what they remember, such as the who, what, when, where, how, why.

6. Students get 30 seconds to look back in the text to get additional information and details.

7. Write for a few more seconds to finish up notes.

Somebody Wanted But So

“Somebody Wanted But So” is not my original idea.

Somebody Wanted But So can be used to help students summarize and understand the books they read. Make four columns, one for each word.

Somebody = a character.

Wanted = want they wanted (obviously).

But = the problem/why the person didn’t get what he/she wanted.

So = what happened because of that problem.

This could be used in book reports, instead of book reports, to teach summarizing, and to just help students better understand a text. Because the pieces are broken down and easy to manage, it’s good for ELLs (so I am told).

ACTIVE Reading Strategies

Amy Goodman designed the acronym ACTIVE to help students be active and critical readers.

A: ask questions

C: make connections

T: track down important information

I: infer

V: visualize

E: Eureka! Synthesis (because the acronym can’t be ACTIVS I guess)

Ask questions: students learn to ask questions that will help them understand the text better rather than asking questions like “what’s the character’s favorite food/color?” Teach the difference between open-ended questions and closed questions so students can discuss and really think critically about questions that go deeper than the surface (although closed questions are good to clear up basic confusion about plot, setting, characters, etc.).

Connections: Show students how to make text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-word connections, among others.

Track down important information: Students highlight or mark with sticky notes what parts are most important. Give students 1 sticky note to cut into 3-4 strips so that students have limited choices about what is “most” important.

Inferences: Make four columns on paper and put each of these words in a column: questions, it says, I say, and so. Students first write an open-ended question. Then they support it with textual evidence –  “it says.” Then students write in their own ideas – “I say.” Finally, students come to a conclusion for the “and so” part.

Visualizing: Read aloud a passage and have students draw a picture of what they see. Display the pictures with the text around the room. It shows that the text “looks” different to everybody. Or you could do this activity where the teacher reads the passage to everybody and then small groups work together to make one illustration.

Eureka! Synthesis: Demonstrate the concept of “synthesis” by talking about how the individual ingredients of baked goods make something totally different when combined together. The same can be said for students who take multiple ideas, put them together, and come to a new idea or realization.


Cris Tovani wrote a chapter about teaching students how to annotate as a reading comprehension strategy. I’m not sure which book it’s from… Anyway, annotations can be used in any classroom that uses texts. Students can write directly on copied texts or write on sticky notes to place in books they cannot mark up.

Annotations take the form of students jotting down questions they have, what they relate with, and general thoughts. Annotating helps keep students’ minds focused on the reading and then helps them remember what they read when they look over their notes.

Annotations can be used as assessments to see what students are confused about, understand, or relate to when they read. Once the teacher understands what students struggle with, he/she can provide concrete interventions and tactics to help those students. Annotations can be used as a pretest to assess knowledge of a subject and can be used as a basis for mini lessons based on students’ struggles.

Teachers can take students’ questions written as annotations and type them into a document to give to the whole class, so everyone can see what questions the rest of the class had. Ms. Tovani writes students’ names next to their questions, but that might make students not want to write their questions for fear of asking a stupid or obvious question.

If a student is not annotating, ask the student what they’re thinking. As they tell you, write it down for them. Then show the student what you did and help them take over the writing. If a student says he/she’s not thinking anything, model the process by reading aloud and annotating. Have the student read and say what he/she is thinking and then help him/her write it down.

Reading & Thinking Strategies

These ideas come courtesy of the research of P. David Pearson and Janice Dole by means of one of my college courses.

Here are some strategies to use while reading to track thinking in order to become a better reader, especially for those who struggle with reading.

Before reading:

  • set purpose
  • make a prediction

During reading:

  • ask questions
  • relate what you’re reading to another text, personal experience, or real-world situation
  • confirm or reject prediction
  • track important ideas by taking notes mentally or physically
  • keep track of  and differentiate between what is more important and not a trivial detail
  • make inferences
  • visualize what is being read
  • re-read

Independent Reading

Jennifer Serravallo of Scholastic gives advice about independent reading in Instructor’s Fall 2012 issue.

Tips for meaningful independent reading:

  • conference with students to assess and support
  • keep their reading on track
  • set goals
  • make ongoing assessments
  • have a well-stocked classroom library
  • have an accurate assessment to record and track students’ levels and progress
  • teach strategies to build stamina-post-it notes every few pages as goals to reach, adding 5 more minutes of reading time each day
  • teach independent reading
    -make sure students know to re-read, strategies for comprehension, etc.
  • organize books by level so students know which books are in their range
    -this prevents students from picking books that are too easy so they are not challenged and also prevents students from picking books that are too hard so that they get discouraged
  • create book clubs around particular topics
    -students choose different books in that genre and read independently
    -a few times per week, students meet in groups, discuss, and swap books
  • have students challenge themselves to pick a book with an ugly cover, read a “girly” book if they’re a boy, or generally anything out of their general comfort zone
  • take a trip to the library and fill some tables with books so students can browse a small selection that you  have chosen-students then write the books they think look interesting (author included)

Other reading-related tips for the classroom library:

  • assign a student to be librarian whose job it is to keep bookshelves in order
  • have a system of checking books out