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The City Journals

South Jordan schools hold own Battle of Books to encourage reading during pandemic

Jun 29, 2021 02:52PM ● By Julie Slama

South Jordan Elementary Battle of the Books winners received a medal in the school’s inaugural event. (Bev Griffith/South Jordan Elementary)

By Julie Slama|[email protected]

Many educators this past year wanted to give their students a sense of normalcy in a pandemic like none other but still continue to encourage youth to read and learn.

While there was no Jordan School District title to claim, many South Jordan elementary schools chose to hold their own version of America’s Battle of the Books.

Eastlake Elementary held its own Battle of the Books, with teams of four or five students reading from the booklist that was provided the previous summer. In 30-minute battles, students answered comprehension questions, needing to reply with the title of the book and author’s name to get full points.

Third and fourth grade teams competed against other, while fifth graders competed against sixth graders. There were about 34 teams per grade.

“Then the top four from the grade level challenge each other to top two then to top winning team and won a trophy,” Principal Kristie Howe said, adding that it was a third grade and a sixth grade team that each won the school awards.

She said that there were posters displayed in the classrooms and library all year and during their library rotation, students were encouraged to read the books.

“We have students chat about a book each month over morning announcements. In theory, it's optional, but teachers strongly encourage students to read and be part of the team,” she said, adding that the PTA provides T-shirts for the student teams. “This is just to encourage students to read and really focus on the fun of reading a variety of books, and on working as a team. Students love this challenge and look forward to it each year.”

Learning about other schools’ positive experiences with Battle of the Books inspired Principal Bev Griffith to bring the program to South Jordan Elementary this year.

“I like having kids having books in their hands,” she said. “The kids were reading books they wouldn’t have read otherwise. Some read them and really liked genres they wouldn’t read before. They learned to not judge a book by its cover for sure.”

With the help of the school’s PTA buying sets of the books on the list, students began reading the books and filling out graphic organizers. Classroom discussions focused on many of the books on the list.

“Students had some class time, but some worked afterschool with their team, putting their heads together and working together as a team,” she said about the teams of four students in third through sixth grades. “Some of them had a lot of fun and were creative. A fourth grade team got T-shirts made with their team name, ‘Team Over There,’ and many had fun coming up with their names. There was a team of sixth grade girls called the Fearsome Four, and the sixth grade winners named themselves after food: Bush’s Baked Beans.”

Other winners include the third grade “The Wolves” team; fourth grade “Five Amigos”; and fifth grade, “Bookworms.” Parents were able to watch the semifinals and finals of the competition.

She said that some teams that enjoyed the competition so much returned off-track to be able to compete against other students who were on-track.

Griffith, who read part of the books on the list, said teachers saw more students reading for enjoyment.

“They’re not reading because their teacher says to read, but now they are reading because they enjoy curling up with a good book,” she said.

Griffith would “definitely do it again,” adding that the PTA and parent volunteers already have offered to oversee it next year.

At Welby Elementary, in one classroom, third grade students competed against themselves.

“They’re not in teams; they’re doing it individually,” third grade teacher Carolyn Smith said. “They read the book and check it off with me and they can earn pins [that represent the book they read]. I have kids with pins down their backpack shoulder straps or some have a lanyard. They’re collecting the pins.”

While it’s not a competition and Smith didn’t keep track of the number of books each student read, she said she offered it “for the enjoyment of reading.”

Before the end of the school year, Smith gave each student a parting gift, “Because of Winn Dixie,” which was on the reading list and a book they can read in the summer to prepare themselves for the first story they’ll read in the fall.

“My theme is M&Ms, so I give them a pack of M&Ms and tell them to have their own M&M Fest through the summer and read this book,” she said. “They’ll get to read a good book and be ready for fourth grade.”