February 21, 2017
Want to get students interested in broadening their horizons by reading a wide range of genres? Wish kids would approach you and say, “I loved that book! I usually don’t read books about [animals, aliens, etc.] but I loved this one!”?
How do you entice those reluctant readers to read? The answer -- Battle of the Books!
Battle of the Books is a nationwide initiative to get students excited about reading. It's simple: librarians and media specialists pick a list of books for a team of students to read, give them sufficient time to do so, then ask questions about those books in a competition. The list of books, teams, timing, and questions are at the librarians’ discretion.
To get started, choose your audience. Because they can read with more comprehension and speed then younger students, fourth and fifth graders are ideal for elementary school battles. The number of books chosen should be challenging, but doable. Many elementary schools choose ten to twelve books, while middle and high schools may have as many as twenty or thirty books. Most media centers will choose books for which they have several copies in the collection (let your public library know the list to make sure they also have sufficient holdings!). Teams can vary in size (two to five students) and number (five to twenty teams). Participants can be selected by teachers and staff, or volunteer to be on a team. Battles can take place within your school, or you can battle with other local schools. After all of that, though, these are just guidelines. It really boils down to what is going to work for your population and your time and resources; as long as students are interested in participating, you’ve done your job!
Obviously, book selection should appeal to your population. (The Battle of the Books website has great guidelines, as well as pre-compiled lists.) Titles chosen can be based on a specific genre, theme, or format, but selecting a variety of genres and formats will appeal to a wider range of students.
When compiling your list of books, NoveList can help! One easy place to start is with the latest award winners (Did you know NoveList tracks over one thousand awards?). You may choose to use your state’s award winners. To find those titles, search GX "Regional" AND ND "Award Winners" and the Lists & Articles tab will appear with all of the regional award lists (to limit to a specific state, add TX "[insert name of your state here]" to the previous search).
Consider searching by genre to make sure your reading list includes several distinct genres. If you are looking for historical fiction, for example, search GN Historical fiction. Using advanced search, you can limit to books with a starred review, then limit by audience from the results screen. For more information on genres, check out our Genre Guide.
To find a wide range of writing styles, search for books with a wide range of tone appeal terms. For example, to find books with a more sensitive edge, search AP Thoughtful. Looking for a humorous book to take the edge off of the heavier? Type AP Amusing to get a list of books with a lighthearted feel.
Appeal terms will help you identify books with diverse characters, too! To find books with an LGBTQIA character, search AP LGBTQIA diverse. Alternatively, you can search for all of our diversity appeal terms by using a wildcard -- AP * diverse.
Curious what other kinds of book appeal terms can help you find? We have a guide to appeals in NoveList, as well as tutorials and a scavenger hunt. Also important -- appeal searches can be combined with genre searches and you can always limit searches to books with a starred review or that are award winners. Want more information on searching? Check out our videos for NoveList Power Users.
So how do you battle?
First you need questions. Feel free to write questions yourself, or ask students and/or teachers to submit the questions. You will need to know the books yourself, to verify answers and choose the appropriate questions (bonus -- excuse to read more!). You can use any format you like, but the basis of any battle is asking questions that will test the students’ understanding of what they’ve read. Questions are generally asked in the form “In which book….”, have one clear answer, and are specific without giving away the book. For example, you could ask “In which book did a girl fall into a hole?”, but not “In which book did Alice fall into a hole?” (I bet you know this -- Alice in Wonderland).
Most importantly, while this is a competition, encourage your students to have fun. You want students to want to participate year after year, and to entice their friends to do the same.
Suzanne Temple is a Metadata Librarian at NoveList.