Want to engage readers?
Host a Picture Book Study & Tournament!
Confession Time: During first semester I had a lot of 8th grade students who abandoned books on a regular basis regardless of how many book talks and read alouds I planned. As we got closer to Thanksgiving, I knew I needed a plan to really create an environment of positive reading experiences immediately or I might lose them for good. I thought that if I could supply them with great books that they could finish quickly, it might boost their reading confidence levels, and thus, our first picture book tournament was born. We held our picture book tournament between Thanksgiving and Winter Break and it was a multi step event where students continually hit all of our daily reading goals in room 213: 1. read texts, 2. talk about texts, 3. write about texts and 4. listen to a fluent reader. It was one of my very favorite things I have done during my teaching career and I highly encourage you to try it!
Here’s a step by step walkthrough of how I undertook this project. I’m certainly not the first teacher to have a book tournament, so I encourage you to seek additional sites and resources if you are unsure how to approach this activity.
Step 1: Select and gather books – I wanted to get a variety of picture books from the same authors so that students weren’t just exposed to random picture books, but to an author’s collection of books. They were able to study authors’ and illustrators’ styles much more in depth this way.
The authors/illustrators used: Mo Willems, Dan Santat, Oliver Jeffers, Peter Brown, Chris Van Allsburg, and Jon Klassen. There were 36 books total for students to select from.
Step 2: Figure out what you want students to learn and do – I wanted students to 1. be exposed to a lot of quality books and have a good time reading them 2. to acknowledge and study characters and plot, 3. to appreciate the text and pick out their favorite lines while citing them correctly and lastly 4. I wanted them to be critical and rate each book. Additionally, I wanted students to start talking about these texts, but knew that once we got going this part would be inevitable.
Students were invited to read at least 20 picture books from the collection. Some read less and some read more, but the majority read right around 20 on their own. I also read a few aloud for modeling purposes and to encourage talking about text.
Step 3: Picture Book Study Form – Students used the form below to capture their thoughts about each book. I copied it on large paper so they had more room to write.
Step 4: Complete study and tally results – Students were given several days to finish this study in class. As time when on they looked forward to selecting books from the cart and this was not a quiet activity. While students were respectful of others while reading, there was also a lot of “Hey, you should read this one!” and “This one is my favorite so far”. Students started figuring out who their favorite authors and illustrators were and gravitated to those books. I did, however, make sure that students read at least one book from every author so they had exposure to different styles and writing.
Step 5: Rank the tournament seeds – After almost 2 weeks of working on the PB study, (we were also doing a read aloud at the time, so it took longer than I anticipated) students ranked their favorites 1 to however many they had read. I then created an excel sheet and awarded points to each book, depending on how students ranked them. This was tricky, and I am not sure if my methods were mathematically correct, but points were awarded as follows – 10 points for 1st through 8th, 5 points for 9th through 16th and 1 point for 17th through 24th.
Step 6: Set up the bracket – I searched online for a free 24 team bracket that enabled editing and simply added the names of the books, printed it off and gave it to my student observer from a local college (who actually is a pre service social studies teacher!) with the instructions “Can you make this on the bulletin board by my desk using materials in the room?” He was up for the challenge and did a fantastic job coming up with a giant bracket as you can see below.
Step 7: Choose a winner – Before we started voting, students wrote down the book they thought would win the entire tournament on a notecard and I kept them until the very end to see how many of them chose correctly.
Step 8: Fill out the brackets – With the bracket that I chose, the first 8 teams got a bye during the first round. This was perfect vocabulary for a teachable moment because some of the students didn’t know what a “bye” is and honestly, most needed a tutorial on how a bracketed tournament even works. I liked that some real world know how was spontaneously incorporated into this project by using a real bracket. I gave students their own copy to use as their voting ballot, and during each round we went through each match up and revisited the books one last time before they marked their favorite and I tallies the results. Lots of talking about texts happened and it was awesome! 8th grade boys arguing between Picture Day Perfection and Knuffle Bunny books was definitely a highlight.
In the final round, our top seed This is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems faced off against our dark horse #14 seed Chowder by Peter Brown and Chowder ended up winning by just a few votes. Two boys in the same class were the only ones who had chosen Chowder to go all the way and they received “Championship Ring Pops” for predicting the winner. I think all of the students that participated really learned a lot about what it takes to write and illustrate picture books and came away with a better appreciation for them. There was a whole lot of #booklove happening and it was fantastic!
One last note – During the book study & tournament my classes of 6th and 7th graders kept a close eye on the bracket and were very interested in what the 8th grade classes were doing. What an amazing opportunity I now had in front of me! When they would ask me questions, I’d explain exactly how it worked, give them updates on each round, and offer to read one or two books, but “only if they wanted me to”. (Cue semi-evil reading teacher laugh) Of course that got them excited and they begged to be read to, especially my 6th graders, who wanted to read the entire “final four”. They then decided who they thought should win and were shocked (and a little distraught to tell you the truth) when This is Not a Good Idea lost. This was just an added bonus to an awesome project that will definitely be a tradition in room 213 from now on!
(Top picture found on creativecommons.org)