Reminiscing: The Battle of the Books

Feb 26, 2018 | Posted by Jill

When I was teaching in a homeschool co-op back when my children were younger, each spring our local library invited area middle schools to engage in a round-robin competition, answering questions from any of fifteen assigned books. Each school could enter up to two teams of ten students each. Little did I know that this would be an event that my kids would look forward to each year.

The library selected books from notable award winners and provided a wide selection, from easier-to-read to thoughtful and challenging novels plus everything in between. That way, students from all walks of life could be given a list they could manage. Each student in our team was assigned five books and was required to take detailed notes on one of them to share with the team. Questions in the competition varied from “In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, what family did the Grangerfords feud with?” to “In The Giver, why did the nines’s new clothing include a pocket?” (In case you are curious, the Grangerfords feuded with the Shepherdsons, and the nines received a pocket to indicate that they were mature enough to keep track of their own small belongings.)

We met several times to practice, using questions that parents had collected from the fifteen books. I helped students learn how they could help each other pry the information out of their heads by asking questions. The practices were fun, but the competition was grand.

Competition Week was held during Library Month, and each battle was a nail-biting thirty minutes. Games were usually won by one or two questions, so competition was fierce! Years later, we still discuss them and fondly remember all those books that we studied in great detail. I still can’t read a book without thinking, Ah, that would make a great battle question!

An unexpected benefit of the experience is that it taught my students to read in depth. Instead of skimming over a detail, they learned to attend to it, mark it, and consider it important. It paid off in high school because they could then use those details in their literary analysis discussions. But the best part is the increased love of reading that it instilled in my students. They all loved to read, but this made them passionate about it—nothing like a competition among peers to gain appeal!

Sadly, our library stopped hosting the competition a few years back because the area middle schools were no longer interested in participating. However, I continue to use Battle questions in my literary classes to add interest to them. My students love the competition, and I love how it inspires their love of reading.

Jill Pike is a homeschooling mother of eight and an IEW® Accomplished Instructor. Serving as moderator of the IEWFamilies forum, she provides support to thousands of teachers and parents. She has authored many lesson plans offered by the Institute for Excellence in Writing, most recently adapting Anna Ingham's Blended Sound-Sight Program of Learning for home educators in the Primary Arts of Language. After graduating all eight of their children, Jill and her husband, Greg, continue to support home educators from their home state of Indiana.

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