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Want to Boost Reading Comprehension? Make it a Contest

Sure, students can read a bunch of books to get principals to shave their heads, kiss a pig, eat insects and jump out of planes — but can they remember what they read?

Reading comprehension was the goal of the annual Battle of the Books contest for Thornapple Kellogg School District’s fourth- and fifth-graders.

Twenty books were chosen for students to read, and they could tackle a few or all 20. They were quizzed on the content of two of the books they read.

Helping your Child Comprehend What They Read

“Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement” by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, suggests these questions for parents:

Make Connections

  • “This reminds me of a time when I ______.”
  • “I know about this topic because I ______.”

Ask Questions

  • “Before I read this text, I wondered about ______.”
  • “What is going to happen next?”


  • “The author gives me a picture in my mind when he or she describes ______.”
  • Draw a picture of what the author describes.

Determine Text Importance

  • “I think the author’s opinion about ______ is ______ because ______.
  • Identify important and interesting parts.

Make Inferences

  • “From the clues or information the author gives, I can conclude that ______.”
  • “I think that ______ will happen next because the author says ______.”


  • “My opinion of ______ is ______.”
  • “I first thought ______ about the topic. Now I think ______.”

How it Worked

The Battle of the Books started with about 500 students from the combined Page and Lee elementaries. Each classroom held a contest, moving on to the next rounds if they could correctly answer questions about the book. Classroom winners moved on to the final competition in the middle school auditorium.

Classmates, moms, dads, friends and relatives filled the seats of the auditorium the day of the final event. Classroom winners sat on the stage in folding chairs facing three judges at a table with sheets full of questions. When a student’s name was called, they walked up to the judges to answer questions such as “Where was Brian flying to?” (an oil rig) and “Why did Brian end up stranded on an island?” (The pilot had a heart attack) about the main character in the book “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen.

Other books students in the finals were questioned about included “Old Yeller” by Fred Gipson, “The Last Leopard” by Lauren St. John, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson and “Call it Courage” by Armstrong Perry.

Winner a Big Reader

“Battle of the Books is a great way to get kids excited about reading,” said Stacy Victory, a judge and a Page Elementary fourth-grade teacher. “Our fourth- and and fifth-graders love a good competition, so this is a great way to motivate them. The whole school gets involved building team spirit in each classroom.”

A calm, cool and collected Brock Hanson Jr. broke into a big smile just like his Dad’s after winning. Brock Hanson (same name) credited
his son’s success to his mom. “Brock’s mom (Holly Hanson) and him read books all the time. They have since he was little, almost every night,” he said.

While comprehension was the main goal, Page Principal Michael Gelmi did make one of those crazy promises common among principals to encourage students to reach goals. He told students if they read 1,000 books in two months he would sit on the roof of the school for 24 hours. Their combined 811 books fell a bit short, but Gelmi said he’d still sit on the roof awhile.

Which begs these two questions: Will he take a book to read? And, more important, will he comprehend it?


Newbery Award winners for children’s books

PTO Today “Principals Do the Darndest Things:”

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.


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