Create Reading Madness with a Classroom Tournament

Organize and host a classroom reading tournament inspired by March Madness.

By Dawn Dodson


The pinnacle of college basketball, March Madness is a season within itself. With brackets, statistics, and the anticipation of the championship game, the tournament can’t help but bring an annual energy to the classroom. Along with basketball tournament talk, March also is the time of year when teachers are engaged in fulfilling curriculum requirements, and possibly, assessment preparation. In actuality, these seemingly unrelated events create the perfect environment for some friendly classroom competition. In the setting of the language arts classroom, organizing a reading tournament can engage, or re-engage readers at all levels. Try the following classroom reading tournament to capitalize on the energy of March Madness, while offering pupils the opportunity to explore literature.

Tournament Organization      

Begin organizing your tournament by calculating the amount of time you can devote to this project and the number of pupils that will be participating. Consider inviting other classrooms to participate; it adds to the competition. However, limiting the tournament to just one class is still effective. According to the number of participants, readers are divided into teams. Either by utilizing multiple classrooms or by conducting a school-wide competition, compiling sixty-eight readers, or reading partners can make use of the traditional tournament bracket. If you are working from one classroom, the tournament bracket will need to be modified to the number of participating teams and rounds of tournament play. Readers can either participate alone or read with a partner or small group of three. The benefit of partner reading, or small groups is that it allows struggling readers to experience the competition in a positive manner. Once readers are in their groups, they can assign themselves a team name.

Determining Tournament Materials and Requirements

Now that bracket and teams have been organized, reading materials must be selected and requirements put in place. Depending upon the learning objective(s), each round may have a different requirement or genre. For example, round one might be nonfiction; the second round could be historical fiction, the third round poetry. This continues all the way to the seventh round of reading, which leads to the championship round, which is drama. Another variation may require pupils to read all nonfiction genre literature, but various types throughout the tournament. Providing each team with a book list and team reading log for each round, allows pupils to choose their own reading material while staying motivated to complete the reading requirements.

The reading log is a critical component of this tournament. It needs to include a place for team members’ names and the pages read. This is especially important if teams are reading together as groups. Additionally, there needs to be a place for a brief summary, important vocabulary, three quiz questions, and a group rating. Each component can be as detailed as the tournament coordinator wishes. The point is to ensure accuracy in reading and reporting for each competing team.  

Reading requirements for each round of the tournament should increase in difficulty. Mimicking March Madness, there are seven rounds, and you may decide to include a wild card round. To simplify the process for both readers and the teacher, fewer rounds may be more feasible. For each round, a specific number of reading selections from the list must be completed by a certain date, and each team member must complete a reading log for each selection read. Either the number of selections, or the level of difficulty should increase for each round.  

Rules of Tournament Play

After organizing reading teams, creating the tournament bracket, selecting reading materials, and determining reading requirements, each round will pair reading teams against one another, as listed in the bracket. The first team to complete and submit the reading selections and log accurately wins the individual game. As an option, a wild card round could pair close winners for another chance to advance. The championship game may be a read-off during a lunch, recess, or study period. Rules can be as strict or as lenient as the coordinator sees fit. The purpose of the tournament is to engage pupils in reading and to motivate them to continue reading long after March Madness concludes.   

Common Core ELA Literacy Standard

  • CCSS. ELA-Literacy. RL. 6.10: By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, drama, and poems in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the  range.

References: Common Core State Standards Initiative:

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Language Arts Guide

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Dawn Dodson