25 Book Challenge

Students lining up for the first reward event for the 25 book challenge — a treat from the PA and a donated book giveaway.

Reading programs can be a great way to create a reading community in your school. We have challenged 5th and 6th grade students in our school to read 25 books this year.  Inspired by Donalyn Miller’s 40 book challenge, a teacher at my school had annually asked her 5th grade classes to complete this challenge, and as a part of our decision to focus on creating students who love reading and make time for it in all grades of our school, we decided to expand the challenge to include more students.

How are we implementing the challenge?

We opened up the challenge with a welcome event. The whole 5th and 6th grade came gathered for DEAR time and we made a short presentation of the challenge. Teachers dressed up as book characters to preview a reward students could earn by reading this year.

Students get regular time to read in their homeroom and their classes and have regular library visits so that they can check out new books to read is an important part of the challenge for us too. Homeroom teachers help students track their books on a record keeping sheet and then report before a reward event.

We’re using reward events at 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 books to keep students motivated. Reading rewards were a controversial area as we planned because we want students to see reading as its own reward, not just a way to earn treats or prizes. To that end, we’ve balanced fun events with focus on keeping students reading. Each event has had a reading component, whether it’s allowing students to choose a book from donations, giving students extra library and book checkout time, or making bookmarks for the current book they are reading for the challenge.

Here are our reward events for this year:

  • 5 books — Treat from the PTA and a chance to receive a donated book
  • 10 books — Hot chocolate and book checkout in the library
  • 15 books — Dress like a character day and bookmark decorating or author chat
  • 20 books — Read-in for last period of the day
  • 25 book — Special luncheon

Parent volunteers have been critical in getting these events together with a teacher, administrator, or me taking the lead to coordinate the event.

We want to be sure the goal is achievable for students, so we let them choose any book they like (graphic novel, popular series, picture books they might read with or to siblings, etc) but encourage them to be sure that they are reading a good mix of books for them. Students can catch up if they fell behind. So, for example, even if they missed the deadline to read five books in October, they could still read ten by the next deadline in December and be included in the event. 5th grade students can count the books they read for classes toward the total, but 6th grade students take on the extra challenge of reading 25 books that are not assigned for classes.

What are the results? 

So far, we have about 120 of about 180 students still on track to meet the goal of reading 25 books this year. Our reward for 15 books is in February, so we’re about half-way through, and really pleased with the results.

What have we learned?

Students want to read and achieve! In our school, we could increase the goal from 25 books or allow for personalization of the goals based on what would truly challenge each student.

I’m still trying to figure out ways to scale this program for other groups in our school, knowing there might be specific challenges with older middle school and high school students that we’re not currently facing.

Have any ideas for how we could expand the program? Interested in learning more? Let me know in the comments.

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