Engage in Reading Madness!

Bobbie FrenchBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better


  • Tournament brackets are a great way to engage students in school.
  • March is the perfect time to use brackets for a book tournament.
  • Holding a March Madness tournament for books in your school can be highly engaging and involve all of your students and the community.

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble….

OK, maybe not rumble exactly….  

Let’s Get Ready to READ!

It’s time to think ahead to MARCH MADNESS.

But before we get there I need to preface this blog by saying that the Tournament of Books can be done at ALL grade levels and whole school, in a classroom, or even through the library.  My experience is with implementing March Madness in the whole school PK-8 so that’s what I write about here. I am going to provide a few resources at the end for you to explore other options. If you’re reading this and you’re a middle school person, you’ll want to check out this podcast episode from The Chey and Pav Show: Teachers Talking Teaching.

Now, before we get to the books, we need to start with tournament brackets….

Tournament Brackets

Tournament brackets can be used to engage staff or students in a variety of ways at school.  The brackets are typically used in a knockout-type tournament.  These brackets can be used to simply identify a class, school, or staff’s favorites: songs, movies, subject, foods, etc.  I’ve done an Oreo flavor bracket with both an eighth-grade class and staff.  Adding the taste testing to the bracket made it that much more engaging and fun.

Now that we’ve talked about tournament brackets, let’s get to one of my favorite school activities: March Madness Tournament of Books!

As most people know, I am a huge sports fan. Basketball is not usually one of my top sports, but I become an NCAA college basketball fan every March! So I was excited when I first heard about the March Madness Tournament of Books a few years ago.  I wish I knew who to give credit to for the original idea.   My school community was excited when I shared it with them. What an amazing way to celebrate our love of books and reading.  We have really made it our own over the years.

For many schools, the big reading celebrations in March are typically Read Across America Day, Dr. Seuss’ Birthday, and Community Reading Day.  We decided it was time to switch things up and quickly embraced March Madness.  In the past few years, we’ve been able to focus on having our March reading focus be more culturally relevant. We’ve been using our Tournament of Books as a way to both celebrate our favorite picture books and introduce students to new books.  


We get excited about choosing our books for the tournament. There are many ways to narrow down your booklist to your Sweet 16 that will end up in your bracket. The first year we ran our March Madness Tournament, we had staff recommend some of their favorite picture books. Students liked guessing which books were which teacher’s favorites.  We’ve expanded each year to add more variety, a theme, and diversity to the books that we choose. 

Another year we focused on the theme of ‘kindness’ and included books on kindness and acceptance.  We’ve started focusing more on the diversity in books which allows us to expose students to new literature, the culture of others, and create opportunities for students to see themselves in the books we choose.

We’ve started focusing more on the diversity in books which allows us to expose students to new literature, the culture of others, and create opportunities for students to see themselves in the books we choose. Click To Tweet

There are many ‘book lists’ to choose from when narrowing down your book choices.  Here are some of the book lists we’ve used in the past:


We’ve found a variety of ways for our students to engage with the books in our tournament. We originally had classes read ALL of the books at the beginning of the tournament in order to be able to vote. We have also divided the school in half for the first round so classes didn’t feel they had to read them all at once. And we have also divided the bracket into the four wings of the school (almost like 4 different ‘divisions’ of the school). Everyone came together to vote in the final 4 and championship rounds.

There are many ways you can share the books with students.  We started tying in our Community Reader Day and having guest readers during our tournament.

Invite Guest Readers

Inviting guest readers is one of the best parts of the tournament. We invite community members, parents, and other staff members to read in our classrooms. Our school nurse was the best reader. She read “Gaston” and came complete with props and popsicle stick puppets. The students are always excited to have someone new come read to them. We even had some of our elementary students read to the middle school classrooms. This was a huge hit! I love being one of the guest readers, especially when it’s one of my favorite books.  

Read Alouds

Kids of all ages love a great picture book read aloud!  If you want to take your book reading to the next level, check out the Novel Effect app.  Your students will be amazed by the unexpected sound effects.

You can even find YouTube video read alouds of all of your tournament books. This is another way to change it up so that students are not always hearing books read by the same people.  This also allows students to listen to books on their own or hear one of their favorite books read over and over again.  This option was helpful when we went virtual.

Take It Virtual

We transitioned our Tournament of Books virtually the past two years. Especially the year Coronavirus shut us down unexpectedly in the middle of our tournament. If you still have limits on visitors to your school or being able to get your students together for assemblies, you can take it virtually.

We will be doing our kick-off and weekly assemblies via Zoom.  This will allow all of our classes to join and be together safely. We have a weekly assembly to reveal the winners as we narrow down the tournament bracket each week (or how often you have it scheduled for).  We start our assembly with a visual reveal of the winners. I like to include the Google Form graph that gives students a visual of how the voting was represented for each of the books competing with each other.  This could turn into a math lesson!!  We end our assembly with a guest reader of one of the books left in the tournament. 

I love using this as a way to bring the whole school community together for the month. We invite local heroes and celebrities (the principal, firefighters, police officers, nurses) to record themselves reading the books that we share at the assembly or share the link out to classes to watch together.

One year we even connected with the PALS program that allowed our students to read the books to dogs virtually! This was a huge hit with our students and the dogs.

Let’s VOTE

There’s always something unpredictable about a tournament bracket. If you’ve followed the NFL playoffs, you know what I mean!  Anything can happen in a sports game (we all love the underdog) as well as book voting.

I think voting in the tournament of books is the opportune time to give ALL students a voice. Google Forms makes this so easy that even our kindergarten students could cast their own vote.  The easiest way was to use an iPad and the kids just had to touch the picture of their book choice. The form was set up to take another response so you could go from student to student for them to vote.

They were so excited to be able to vote on their own and felt a lot of responsibility. They are very insightful and purposeful in their thinking as they decide which book to vote for.  

If you prefer, you can also use paper voting ballots and have students tally the votes and enter those on a Google Form or a master list. 

Our preschool class would vote by standing on whichever side of the room had their favorite book. The voting possibilities are endless and a fantastic way to include ALL students.

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Show It Off

Your school or class is going to want to see the results and cheer for their favorite book. We create a bulletin board where the whole school community or your class(es) can see the tournament come to life. Print photos of your books in whatever size is going to work for your space. This is a great project for some of the older students, and it will include a practical application for measuring.  Each week you can put the photo of the winners from each round on the board to announce the winners. There’s lots of excitement to see which books survived the round and would be moving on.  This can be done in addition to a virtual or in-person assembly or in lieu of. You know what will work best for your class or school.

The BIG Reveal

This is the best part of the tournament—getting to reveal the CHAMPION! Let your creativity drive your reveal. You can even include students to help plan or be part of the reveal.

The first year we had 8th graders decorate two paper boxes like the two finalist books. On the day of the assembly, I put balloons in the box of the winning book. We held a whole school assembly. Two teachers did a very dramatic read-off of the 2 final books. We had students cheering for which book they thought should be the winner. The two 8th graders then lifted the covers of the boxes to reveal the balloons and winner!

The favorite reveal is when I set off a confetti cannon on the side of the winning book. There’s nothing like confetti to celebrate a championship.

We’ve even created big reveal videos to show to students, which of course included some special effects and a confetti cannon!

No matter what books you choose, how you vote, who you invite in to read, or how you choose to reveal the winner: CELEBRATE THE LOVE OF BOOKS AND READING DURING MARCH MADNESS!

Check out these other amazing ideas for the Tournament of Books in older grades or for other ideas to take your tournament to another level!

The Brown Bag Teacher Post

March Book Madness: A Library Tournament (high school)

March Book Madness – Ideas for all levels

About Bobbie French

Bobbie French is an educational leader, presenter and writer from Massachusetts.

Bobbie has been an educator for over 24 years. She has been an elementary guidance counselor, classroom teacher, special education coordinator, Title I Director, Preschool Director and Administrator.

Bobbie is passionate about focusing on the whole child and creating an environment where all students have a sense of belonging. She appreciates and recognizes the hard work of teachers, and is committed to supporting others to be their best for kids every day. Her passion and enthusiasm for creating a positive and engaging school culture is contagious.

Bobbie is also an avid photographer and loves to tell her school’s story.