Inspired by the annual March Madness basketball tournament, in 2016, literacy coach Shelley Moody worked with instructional coach Valerie Glueck at Williams Elementary School in Oakland, Maine, to develop a month-long, whole-school activity in which students read sixteen nonfiction picture books (some narrative, some expository) and select their favorite. And the good news is that this activity can work virtually!
During Week 1, half the classes read the 8 books on the right-hand side of the board, and the other half of the school reads the 8 books on the left-hand side of the board. Classrooms discuss the content and structure of the books as well as their favorite features. Then students vote on pairs of books to determine which titles will move on to The Elite Eight.
During Week 2, each class reads the 4 winning books on the opposite side of the board. Then students participate in rich classroom discussions and vote to select The Final Four.
During Week 3, classes spend time reviewing the four finalists and then vote for the March Madness Nonfiction Champion.
During the final week (in non-pandemic years), students gather for a whole-school assembly. Following a parade of books that includes one child from each classroom, the winning book is announced. And the crowd goes wild!
But since school looks different for everyone this year, the final tally can be announced in each classroom during morning meeting or online for schools that are 100 percent virtual.
Here’s what Shelly and Valerie had to say about the experience:
“The goal of this event is to inspire curiosity, to build background knowledge, and to put outstanding nonfiction books in the hands of our students. It’s hard to capture in words the energy and excitement about books that March Madness has created in our school community.” —Shelley Moody, Literacy Coach
“March Madness is a springboard for discussions of text features and structures, vocabulary, and author’s purpose.” —Valerie Glueck, Instructional Coach
If you decide to try this activity at your school this year, you could ask older students to fill out a worksheet like the one below developed by Judi Paradis, the former teacher-librarian at Plympton School in Waltham, MA.