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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

My Carrots-and-Sticks (Gotta Have Sticks!) Reading Incentive Program

Leave a comment or email me if you'd like a copy of my Book Buddies reading incentive contract.

At times, getting tweens to read is like bleeding a stone. Sometimes, you just have to cram books down their metaphorical throats and make them read. You just do.

That’s the sticks half of my carrots-and-sticks reading incentive program and, say what you will about bribes and rewards and force feeding, it’s worked well for me for the past 20 years.

I call the program Book Buddies—corny, I know, but books are our friends (I tell my students) and a local business called Buddy’s provides the carrots in the form of coupons.

My biggest stick is: The program counts toward their grades. Here’s how it works.


Each September, my students sign a contract to read a minimum of one book per month from October through April. That means everyone must read at least seven books at their reading level. That’s seven whole books. For the whole school year. And for some kids, that’s a struggle, believe me.

For each book completed, students will fill out a verification slip with their name, the book title, the author, and a parent/guardian signature.

At orientation night at the beginning of the year, I speak to the parents at great length about reading. I give them some ideas for discussing books with their children—a great family dinnertime conversation. Christopher Paul Curtis in The Mighty Miss Malone would call this “Chief’s and Children’s Chow Chat”!

Of course, the kids are welcome to pledge and read as many books as they like each month. Last year, one girl logged an astonishing 119 titles. My classes as a whole (85 students) read 1,752 books!

I have actually had parents call me to complain that their kids were reading too much and not getting chores or homework done, or not getting enough sleep. Other kids aim a little higher than they can reach with their monthly goals. That’s why I make those goals eligible for negotiation and adjustment, even though the contract is a “legal document.”

That sounds like a stick, doesn’t it?


Each month that students achieve their goal, they receive a bookmark that’s a coupon to a local pizza place.

Meanwhile, I collect the verification slips in a bag throughout the school year, and they become raffle tickets any time we draw for prizes in class. Clever, right? The more books kids read, the more chances they have at winning something.

I host a monthly prize drawing in which I give away books, bookmarks, posters, pencils, and cinch bags. Bookmarks are a surprisingly popular item. These are colorful, sturdy, good-looking bookmarks made out of tissue boxes by our environmental service club, The Green Team.

After a monthly raffle, I put all the verification slips into an envelope for storage, and the process starts all over again with a fresh bag of slips.

The best carrots are intrinsic, of course. I include time in class, twice a week, to discuss what kids are reading, since word of mouth is the number one way to get kids (and adults) to pick up a book.

The Book Buddies tickets come in handy for this, too. I randomly pick slips from the bag and ask the student who read that book to convince someone in their class to read it, or explain what kind of a reader would enjoy this book, or give the class a brief review ending with a 1 to 10 rating (10 being the best).

When kids know they might have to talk about a book, they’re more likely to read it well and remember a thing or two. Yes, there has to be a level of accountability. It would be inaccurate to say that I haven’t encountered cheating.

These book discussions become animated. Other students who have read the featured book also want to chime in with their opinion. If a book gets a low rank, say a 5 or 6 from one reader, another student may jump in to defend it as an 8 or 9.


Sometimes, when a title is announced, I can sense the excitement among the students who have read it—that shared experience—and they all agree a book is a 10! The most recent overwhelming 10 was when I pulled The Hunger Games out of the bag. Another popular title this year was Firehorse, by Diane Lee Wilson.

At the end of a book discussion, students make up their own minds if a title is worth reading or not. I feel all fuzzy warm inside when kids choose books independently, without a carrot or a stick.

At the end of the year, I give each child their envelope, and they have a permanent record of the books they read in sixth grade. (Now, if only I had kept a record myself of the most popular titles all those years!)

All students who achieved their monthly goals for six out of the seven months are invited to a Book Buddies luncheon. Last year year, 82% of the students were eligible.

Right or wrong, I have included goal setting and rewards and force feeding to get kids to read. I’d be interested to hear your opinion.

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