Battle of the Books by Sherry Gick
Five years ago, on my very first day in my new position as middle/high school librarian, our Agriculture teacher came into the library and told me we needed to start a Battle of the Books program at our school. I immediately said, “Sounds great! Let’s do it!” Followed by, “What is it?” (Those of you who know me won’t be the least bit surprised by my reaction and the seemingly out of order steps. I tend to embrace ideas quickly and jump in without a lot of forethought…) He proceeded to explain all about it, based on his involvement with his own children at a neighboring county school. I told him I was definitely in because it sounded fantastic. Saying yes and beginning Battle of the Books has been one of the best decisions ever for my students and staff.
So, what is Battle of the Books? While there seem to be several types of Battle of the Books programs across the nation, I can best enlighten you about ours. We have one for my middle school students (grades 6-8) and another for my high school students (grades 9-12) that run basically the same except for the books used each year.
The basics: First of all, Battle of the Books is completely voluntary and optional. Students sign up to participate and form their own teams. Each team may have up to 10 students. The teams may consist of students in the same grade or a mixture of different grade levels. The main requirement is only middle school students on middle school teams and only high school students on high school teams. (This requirement may sound obvious to you, but I’m in a school with K-12 under the same roof where 6th-12th graders see each other in the hallways!) Students sign up to participate in late September. Each team also is responsible for finding their own faculty sponsor. In mid-October, the 10 books are revealed and each team gets a set of the 10 books to share. The books are chosen by a group of teachers and school librarians from our county. We try to choose a variety of newer books across the genres and choose also from our state nominee lists. After that, it’s up to the teams as to how they proceed and prepare for the Battle of the Books competition the next semester.
Our high school competition has traditionally been during the last week of February, with our county battle between the four winning teams (one from each high school in our county) taking place the following week. Our middle school competition is always the Tuesday before spring break at the end of March.
How do students/team members get ready to battle with books? Well, the first step is reading the books. Different teams take different approaches. As one of the two sponsors (The Agriculture teacher is the other Battle of the Books sponsor!), I advise the approach of every team member choosing and reading 2 of the 10 books. On a team with 10 members, this allows each book to be read by 2 different people. Other teams take the approach of each team member reading all 10 books. Still other teams really go for it and they each read all 10 books…twice! (This would be my daughter’s team. They’ve won the middle school competition for the past two years and are hoping for a three-peat this year…) Some teams meet during lunch to discuss the books read; others meet after school. Other teams write their own notes/questions from the books read and share with their team members. Some sponsors read all of the books and quiz their team members, others just provide a classroom for them to meet and support them with cookies! Each team invests as little or as much time as they want into preparing for the Battle of the Books.
The actual Battle of the Books is truly a sight to behold. Teams gather around tables in our multipurpose room. Some teams show a great amount of team spirit with t-shirts or costumes for the competition. Yes there are snacks: doughnuts for the middle school students because we have their competition during school in the morning; pizza for the high school students because their competition is in the evening. Questions are read aloud and shown on a big screen via a power point. The answers needed are always short answer – never multiple choice – and revolve around events/details/characters in the stories. Each team has 20 seconds to write down the answer to the given question before time is called. A table monitor assigned to each team checks the answer to see if it is correct as the answer is shown on the screen and keeps their team’s score.
The battle is loud and rowdy with students whooping, hollering, laughing, and sharing “wrong” answers loudly during the 20 seconds to throw off the other teams. There is also a lot of conversation and discussion at each table as students who’ve read the book hurry to discuss, decide upon an answer, and get it written down. Our middle school battle has 100 questions (10 per book) and our high school battle has 150 questions (15 per book). Scores are tallied and reported every 25 questions. (That’s another sight to behold as teams scramble to see who’s winning and how close of a competition it really is! Table monitors are often overly dramatic about turning each number to show their team’s score.)
The winning team gets bragging rights until next year’s competition as well as book-related prizes.
All of this excitement centers around books. Yes, BOOKS! Reading the books, discussing the books, knowing details about the story and sharing with your team… It is AMAZING! The excitement at the book reveal in October is palatable and continues for the next five months through the competitions. It is a tradition I am extremely proud of beginning at our school. I have students who plan on competing with their Battle of the Books team until they graduate! This type of camaraderie around books and book discussions warms my heart. It fills a niche at our school for our readers who never had an extracurricular activity in which to participate. It brings together all types of students but they share the main commonality of loving books. That, my friends, is golden.
If you’d like to hear even more details about our Battle of the Books programs or are interested in starting a similar program at your school, please let me know!
Sherry Gick is the Library and Instructional Technology Specialist for Rossville Consolidated Schools in Rossville, Indiana. This is a fancy new title that means she supervises 2 school libraries and also helps teachers and students integrate technology and tools meaningfully into their lessons and classroom. Sherry is fanatical about many things including Doctor Who and dark chocolate. She loves to run, read, spend time with her family and can usually be found on Twitter at all hours. Sherry is a loud and proud member of Nerdy Book Club for life. Follow her blog The Library Fanatic for educational ramblings and Twitter (@LibraryFanatic) for tweets about libraries, technology, gaming, running and much, much more.