During reading month, we created reading stars. This was a school-wide activity called Reading Star that the students looked forward to every year. It encouraged reading practice and generated an interest in new books. While it had competition attached to it, it was an engaging activity that had its benefits!
How Reading Star Works
Each year a bit before March, the students were informed that Reading Star was coming up. They would head to the school library and pick out a picture book of their choice on their level. Each teacher provided students with extra time in class to practice reading it. It was purely voluntary – as students were not required by any means to participate. Notes were sent home to parents that informed them of the upcoming activities, including a timeline, and encouraged them to help their child practice.
On the first Thursday of the month in March (reading month), all students who wished to participate would begin round one. The entire class would sit quietly and listen as each student read aloud their chosen book for one minute. From there the teacher would use a rubric to determine the scoring of the student’s read aloud. The six students with the highest scores moved on to the next round. If there was a tie, then those students read again.
The second Thursday of the month in March, the top six students in each classroom of that grade level rotated to another teacher. For instance, my top six student readers would now go into a different teacher of the same grade level’s classroom and read a NEW picture book of their choice for two minutes (for round two). That teacher would use the same rubric and provide scores. A different class of the same grade level would come into my classroom and we would watch the top six reading stars. I would complete the rubrics and return them to the teacher of those students personally. We now would narrow it down from six reading stars to three reading stars.
The third Thursday of the month, those three reading stars then competed once more (with a new book, a new classroom of the same grade level, so on). Ultimately, it came down to one reading star per classroom of each grade level. Then, each classroom had one reading star who would read against the other classrooms of the same grade level for the finals.
Our finals were done in the cafeteria where the parents of the reading stars and the students were all invited. They sat in “fancy chairs” and read their book next to a microphone. They were also given two minutes. The final reading star was selected then, too, but the other ones were considered special also. Each student received a reward certificate. There was nothing more.
What Made Reading Stars
When students first walked up to the front of the room to read their picture book aloud, they first needed to do an introduction. This meant they needed to introduce themselves, the title of the book, and the author. That was the first criteria. As long as students did that, it was an easy first set of five points.
Then, they were given points on poise – did they sit up straight while reading the book, or were they slouching? Were they staying still the entire time or bouncing around?
Next, students were given points on fluency. Were they reading the book smoothly and at a good pace, or were they reading too fast? Perhaps too slow? Maybe even choppy? If students are reading a book on their level (and lower is allowed, too, if desired for our low babies) and they are practicing, they should do just fine here. Here are eight tips on how to build fluency.
Students are also evaluated on their volume. Unfortunately, we have some children who read so quietly that we aren’t sure what they are saying.
There is also eye contact. Are students holding the book out or showing pictures to the audience as they read? Are they looking at the students or just focusing so much on the book and nothing more?
Then, there is pronunciation. Are they pronouncing every word correctly?
And finally, expression. Are they using great expression? Are they showing the moods and feelings of the characters?
Below is a sample rubric we used when evaluating a student’s read aloud. Total points are out of 35.
How Is This Fair to the Low Readers?
I know that the idea of competition in school can be a bit tricky and that there is a fine line with it. When I first started doing Reading Star, I was really worried about it. I mean really, really worried about it. All I could picture was students crying and being told I was completely unfair. I checked with other teachers and asked, “How is this fair to students who are low readers? I mean, aren’t the best readers always going to win?” I was assured they would not always win. I was doubtful.
When Reading Star came around, I encouraged all my students to participate. Not all did, of course, but I did encourage them. I gave practice time each day and circulated as they practiced. The students who chose not to participate had to move from reader to reader and listen. They also had to give positive pointers. (“If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it” was my motto!) As I circulated I listened in on each reader, but I gave a little extra notice to any students I was worried a bit more about. I wanted them to do well, and I wanted to build up their reading confidence.
I made sure all my lower babies had a good book that was at their level or lower. I also suggested books they had read before and really enjoyed. I made sure they practiced it over and over. Since they were really only reading for one minute, we really focused on the first few pages or so. We talked a lot about how I read books during read alouds in class. I encouraged them to read their book at home at night – even if only to a stuffed animal.
My low babies did indeed make it in several rounds. While one of my low babies did not make it to the finals the first year, they did the following year.
Some Final Thoughts
While I know that competition is not always best in the classroom, this activity actually created a strong engagement for our school. It is done yearly in each grade, and the students look forward to it. It is not always the same students.
Students who practice for it are building their fluency skills and are learning to be in front of an audience, both of which are Common Core standards. Students who chose not to participate are being introduced to new books that will pique their interest and make them want to read them. (They aren’t reading the full book in the round, so they will want to go find the book to hear the rest of it. I’ve heard students make that sound that says, “It’s over – bummer!”)
While I know not everyone necessarily agrees, I do believe that this aligns with the growth mindset characteristics a bit. If a student puts hard work into something and strongly believes they can do it – instead of believing “I’m not a good reader” – then they can be a Reading Star, too! Anyone can be a Reading Star!
I have included the rubric and our parental letter for you as an example to download for free here. You are more than welcome to use it (of course, the parental letter you’ll need to type up and modify yourself.)
I hope that your class is full of Reading Stars!