Mini-lesson Monday: Personal Reading Challenges

If you’ve ever taught juniors, you probably know my struggle. The third quarter of every year, students hit some kind of mountain of a speed bump. I think they are tired, overwhelmed, a little undone.

Junior year is hard for many of my readers. It’s the first time most have taken an AP class, and some are taking two or three. Competing with APUSH is something I’ve become accustomed to —students choose to do their history homework over English every year. Textbook reading for history looks like homework while the reading I need students to do, reading books that fill their heads with knowledge and stories and vocabulary and empathy does not.

When we hit the wall this spring, I asked a group of my students to help me design a plan to get our reading lives re-energized. They kept it simple:

  1. We should create personal reading challenges.
  2. You should talk to us more about what we are reading.
  3. We should talk to each other more about what we are reading.

This lesson shows how we created our challenges. The more talk part? That was a reminder to up my game with conference and to remember to schedule time for more talk around books.

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will assess their reading lives so far this year, predict how many books they can read this spring, and design a personal challenge that will help them continue to grow as readers.

Lesson:  I projected this question on the board at the beginning of class and asked students to write for five minutes in response:  Think about your reading growth and improvement this year. Can you honestly say you are better now than you when you walked in the classroom in the fall?


I then asked students to talk to one another about their responses. And then we talked as a group about how we can up our reading game. I explained that a few of their peers had suggested that everyone craft their own reading challenge, and I showed them mine.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.25.13 PM

Then, I gave everyone a notecard, and they went to work. Here’s a sampling of some of my students’ personal reading challenges for the end of the year. I think they’ve decided we are playing bingo. (An interesting idea for the beginning of next year, too.)

Read a book that makes your brain hurt. That’s my favorite!

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.33.17 PM

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.34.29 PM

Follow up:  I’ve met with more students the past week than I had in the three weeks prior to creating these challenge cards. I appreciate my students reminding me — and wanting me to talk to them more about their reading. The cards serve as excellent talking points for our conferences.

We can never talk to our students one-on-one enough! I know that is true, and I know we get caught up in a million other things that consumes our conferring time. I am recommitted. I want my students to leave me with a sure knowledge that they’ve advances as critical and thoughtful readers who know how to choose books they enjoy and books that challenge their thinking and their abilities. Since students came up with the idea for this little challenge, they have shown much more interest in it than other challenges I’ve created in the past. A good reminder for me. Now, I see kids standing at the books shelves, and when I ask what they are looking for or if I can help them find a book, more often than not, they tell me they need to find a book on their challenge card.



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21 thoughts on “Mini-lesson Monday: Personal Reading Challenges

  1. Salvaging the Threads | Three Teachers Talk November 26, 2018 at 8:02 am Reply

    […] reading: Last year I tried Amy’s personal reading challenges, which she writes about here. In true late-to-the-party form, last year I finally got around to it in the middle of quarter 3. […]


  2. […] messages of both attitude and product. I’m still processing the 40 Book Challenge and using Three Teachers Talk as a guide and trying to figure out the most important ingredients for next year’s secret […]


  3. […] over the break.  Here are a few ideas from my colleagues.  We ran out of time to make our own reading challenges this semester, but we will in the […]


  4. […] books we’ve read, we’ve started, abandoned, and we’ve finished. We updated our challenge cards and checked our […]


  5. […] A few weeks later, I extended an opportunity to my ever-drowning sufferers of Senioritis.  I proverbial life-preserver was an opportunity to drop a low daily grade if they had accomplished at least three reading challenge squares. […]


  6. […] Now, don’t get me wrong. These kids are reading, but even though my book talks are riveting (I’m sure) and full of variety, and we explore countless texts together through mini lessons, and, and, and…they are still reading only what they know already. For this group, and for all, I’m going to try Amy’s Personal Reading Challenge.  […]


  7. Join the #3TTBookClub | January 2, 2017 at 6:34 am Reply

    […] We’ve also probably set reading goals for ourselves. I played in my new planner, setting some goals that I will share with my students when I ask them to create their new challenges. […]


  8. […] will read this article this week “Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?” and create our personal reading challenge cards. But before we do, I want to get students thinking about themselves as readers and what […]


  9. […] I love using Book Bingo Challenge Sheets as invitations to read and really like Three Teachers Talk’s version: the students make their own personal reading challenges. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  10. […] Monday, Amy posted an excellent mini-lesson about personal reading challenges.  This Monday, I can’t seem to […]


  11. […] the mini-lesson I posted Monday, I mentioned that I’d asked my students to write for five minutes in response to this: […]


  12. sarahoeppner April 19, 2016 at 9:27 pm Reply

    Love this. Thanks. With only 5 weeks left in the school year, my students need some inspiration. Maybe this is the ticket.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy April 19, 2016 at 11:00 pm Reply

      Good luck. Please let me know how it goes.


  13. Jesters1&11 April 19, 2016 at 8:53 pm Reply

    Love this idea! I did it with my classes today and some of their book choices are fun: a book my mom hates, a book by a felon, a book by a celebrity, a book from the For Dummies series.
    One of my seniors asked how she can let me know when she is done. It really touched my heart when she asked.
    Since my AP students have to take the AP exam the day after their American Lit state mandated exam (a 2-day test), I have decided to let them work on their reading challenge cards for the last 2 weeks of school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy April 19, 2016 at 9:08 pm Reply

      I love your students’ book choices. Clever. I’ve had a lot of fun helping students find books that meet their challenges this week. Many have traded what they were previously reading — abandoning books really — and moved on to others they think will be more engaging. One student brought me Stargirl, a darling book but way to easy a read for this advanced student (She had this book for three weeks and was just on page 109), and she left with All American Boys. Every essay she’s written so far this year has been on race relationship, and she’d put “a book for boys” on her challenge card. Another student asked me for a “book on the AP Lit list” suggestion. She started Frankenstein today. One girl asked if I had any gory books. Stumped me with that one. Finally, I remembered that a former student told me Horrorstor, the book set in an IKEA, was pretty gory. She checked it out right away.

      While it is working out to be a great end of year activity, I want to figure out something similar to do much earlier in the year. I don’t think the same thing will work though. Too many of my students do not know about books to know what their options are.

      Thanks for your comment — and best wishes to your students and their pile-on of tests. And I hope your senior student will get in touch with you when she’s filled her challenge card with all that reading. A memory to treasure!


  14. […] As Amy alluded to yesterday in her post about personal reading challenges, we can’t always win the competition between getting our students reading and other homework, extracurriculars, or spring sunshine, but we can work to spark their interest and show them ways to make reading possible in their own lives. […]


  15. AshleyPo April 18, 2016 at 12:18 pm Reply

    Add to that some states (like mine, WI) now mandate the ACT in early March for all Juniors. It’s great that they don’t have to pay to take the test anymore, but all the pressure for both the students and the school make getting them to focus on content really difficult. I like these goals a lot. I’ve setting up a reading challenge as extra credit in my room this year, but this sounds like a really great way to make my attempt at a workshop work a little better 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Leigh Anne April 18, 2016 at 9:47 am Reply

    I love this idea. The end of the school can be quite challenging. I do wonder though, what were some of their responses to how they grew as readers this year. I only teach 6th grade, but answering this question seems to be a struggle for them. I can’t image how junior AP students would answer it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy April 19, 2016 at 9:27 am Reply

      Leigh Anne, I wanted to add some of the student responses in the original post, but I didn’t have their notebooks handy. I snapped some photos of a few responses yesterday. Once I get a chance, I’ll revise the post to include those. Thanks for the suggestion. And thanks for reading.


  17. Lisa Dennis April 18, 2016 at 7:42 am Reply

    What a wonderful idea! We’ve been bumping into a wall too. The weather is finally warmer and AP tests are looming. I can totally relate to your struggle. I told my classes the other day that while they may have been thinking of our two hours of reading a week as a “cute suggestion,” it is an expectation. So, I need to both make it more appealing to them and work to hold them more accountable. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erika B. April 18, 2016 at 10:12 am Reply


      I literally lol when I read your quoted “cute suggestion” as I had this same conversation with my students this morning. It’s refreshing to know…we are all in it together.

      I love this thinking…and I also like the idea of bingo. Leave it to students, they tend to trump us (sometimes!) with creativity. Excitingly, we are past our 250 books read for the year and hoping (and reading abundantly) to hit our newly set goal of 300.

      Best to all for the remainder of a strong school year!


      Liked by 2 people

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