How to Run a Reading Challenge Contest at Your School

Masthead Waves

From science to social studies, kids’ success in just about every subject hinges on their literacy skills and, ultimately, their relationship with reading. But developing that relationship can prove tricky, especially among unconfident or reluctant readers. With reading challenge contests, you can transform reading into a fun-filled game that, in turn, motivates and reinforces reading gains among all your students. Read on to learn who benefits most from reading competitions and how to set your school or district up for a successful contest. 

Body Image 1_How to Run Reading Challenge

Everyone Wins With Friendly Competition

Nothing quite captures students’ interest like a game—especially one that incorporates a little friendly competition, recognition, and rewards. A reading challenge contest harnesses those competitive gamification components to encourage big reading gains easily.


At its most basic level, a reading challenge competition tracks and rewards a community of students’ shared reading progress within a set period. During the reading challenge, students are awarded motivational badges and accolades for reaching reading milestones, like joining the 100-minute club or reading 20 minutes every day. Educators call out student, class, grade, or school standings to recognize reading gains and stoke student interest at key points in the competition. The challenge contest culminates in an ending celebration and sometimes includes prizes for the first-place winners, second-place, and even runner-ups.


A reading challenge competition can involve a single class or grade of students or can span an entire school or school district, including elementary, middle, and high schools. It can also occur during the school year, or even be a summer reading contest or summer reading program. By rewarding students’ reading time and effort, and not merely their reading outcomes and scores, reading challenge contests help motivate students at all reading levels and abilities through a comprehensive learning network. By recognizing reading progress within shorter intervals, like with weekly leaderboard updates, sprint reading competitions, and surprise shout-outs, all students can get invested in the experience and have a personal connection to the contest.


Tools to Amp Up Your Reading Competitions

Within Beanstack, there are a host of engaging and easy-to-use features to ramp up the excitement for your reading challenge contests. All of our teacher and staff tools are accessible in an intuitive admin dashboard that empowers educators to enhance their students’ reading experiences. Students can seamlessly log into our user-friendly web and mobile apps using single sign-on to log their reading, unlock new badges and rewards, and check their progress. Check out a sampling of our top-notch reading challenge competition tools below.


Customizable Challenge Types

Creating the perfect reading challenge for your community is Beanstack’s bread and butter. You can use our library of pre-made reading challenge templates or build your unique challenge from the ground up. Within your challenge, you can choose to track students’ independent reading progress by minutes, books, days, or pages read. And if you’d like to set up a reading list of required or recommended titles, perhaps for Battle of the Books or your state’s book award winners, you can use our one-of-a-kind reading list challenges to encourage and track reading of those specific books. Our platform even supports linking to external reading content, with no restrictions, so that readers can easily find and view included books. You can also choose to add enrichment activities and book reviews or lay out all your badges on a bingo card to let students choose their adventure.


Data Dashboards for Teachers and Staff

Educators can easily access all the reading data needed to track and publicize students, classes, and grades’ progress during reading challenge contests. Your Beanstack admin dashboard gives you a glance at reading activity and rankings for the current week. You can view customizable leaderboards, insights, and reports to check out specific statistics or dates and get a longitudinal view of reading progress at the school.


Community Reading Goals

With Beanstack, you can set and track school and district-wide progress toward a big community goal. Your reading goal can be anything, from 1,000 minutes a month to 10,000 books a year. Students can see how each of their logged reading sessions nudges their school closer to their goal via a real-time progress bar in the web and mobile apps, and staff can rally readers together for one last push when they’re close to the goal. Our research shows that schools that use community goals to motivate their students have more than three times as much active participation and more than double the total minutes logged.


Friends and Leaderboards

Students have the opportunity to connect with their peers by adding friends from their school, allowing them to check each other's reading stats and engage in friendly competition on personalized leaderboards. This sense of community and healthy rivalry provides students with the extra motivation they need to excel. Readers who have friends on Beanstack log an impressive seven times more minutes than those without any friends.


Reading Streaks and Achievements

When students log consecutive days of reading in Beanstack, they build up their reading streak—sometimes, to prodigious heights (we heard about a 205-day streak recently!). As students build their reading streaks, they’re more likely to earn achievements, which are surprise badges for reading actions, like adding a friend or reading on a specific day. Streaks and achievements work together to motivate students to build strong reading habits—which can rocket them to the top of your school’s next competition standings.



Beanstack makes it easy to add rewards to any milestone in a challenge, whether you want to add an extra incentive for completing a book or completing the whole challenge. You can easily see reward statuses and mark redemptions to stay organized, while students get an extra incentive to keep reading and logging. Our recent research found that:

  • Adding just one reward to a challenge raises the average participation rate by 22 percentage points.
  • Challenges with two to six rewards garner 51% average reader participation.
  • Active readers in challenges with rewards log an average of 21 minutes a day.

Celebrate Your Success

More and more Beanstack clients are putting our tools to work to run reading challenge competitions at their schools. With more than 10,000 schools and libraries around the world using Beanstack, we’ve heard many creative ideas and big successes.


At Pasadena Independent School District in Texas, educators turned to short, six-week challenge contests to “keep reading fresh,” says Anne Farley, a library and instructional media specialist at Pasadena ISD. They even recruited Chick-fil-A as a sponsor, so that top readers and schools could win prizes like gift cards and even a school-wide “chicken nugget party.” With frequent challenge competitions and rewards throughout the year, Pasadena ISD has kept its students’ reading habits and reading scores on the rise.


Another big school district, Atlanta Public Schools in Georgia, also infuses a little friendly competition into their district-wide, year-long reading challenge. RACE2Read, Atlanta’s community-wide reading initiative, rewards top readers and schools each month—but who wins what is usually a surprise? One month, top student readers may receive a bundle of free books. Next, the school that reads the most may get tickets to Disney on Ice. The unknown element keeps kids guessing—and reading. Teachers also catch the competitive spirit, wanting their school and students to top the charts and get recognized at the district level.


On the individual school level, Mitchell County Middle School in Camilla, Georgia, paved the way to reading success by implementing monthly reading goals for the whole school. To promote self-competition and motivation, they offered fun, school-wide experiences as a reward, including a hayride and a tailgate party. Other schools get creative with their challenge contest themes, like the “Reading Super Bowl” at St. John’s Lutheran School in Corcoran, Minnesota, and rewards, such as offering lunch in the library or free screen time to watch animal cams at Frey Elementary School in Acworth, Georgia. The possibilities are endless!

Body Image 2_How to Run Reading Challenge

Kick-Off Your Reading Challenge Contest Today

Follow these five straightforward steps to start planning your reading challenge competition today!

  1. Decide your contest theme, type, and time frame.
    Pick your theme from our ready-made challenge templates or work with your dedicated school success manager to design your own. Decide if you’ll set a reading list of specific titles, like your state’s award winners, and if so, which ones. Then, set your contest timeline, making sure to mark specific midway points to give progress updates and rewards.

  2. Set your goals and rewards.
    Select an attainable reading goal for your timeframe, at the individual level, school, and/or district level. Then, match rewards to key milestones along the way to a grand prize. You don’t have to break the bank on prizes—even recognition and “free” incentives like a dress-down day, extra book checkout, or lunch in the library can get students motivated to read.

  3. Plan your promotion.
    Think through your communication plan for schools, students, and families. Our team makes it easy with pre-made promotional materials like flyers and social media share images. Many schools find success with newsletter blurbs, school hallway or library displays, and school-wide announcements.

  4. Build school and teacher buy-in.
    Get your media specialists and classroom teachers invested in the contest with staff communication and a quick refresher training or recording to make sure they know how to use Beanstack. You can even add a staff reward, like a catered lunch or a gift card, to stoke their competitive drive.

  5. Announce and celebrate progress during the contest.
    Deploy your promotional messaging, publish your challenge, and then keep track of and recognize your student’s progress toward their reading goal with planned or surprise leaderboard announcements and rewards. 

We’re here every step of the way to help you activate and encourage your students’ love of reading. Visit our Challenge Materials page or request a demo to learn more.


Keep up with the latest news and updates from Beanstack