Curriculum

How to: Read-a-thon

Read-a-thon events promote literacy and the love of reading besides raising money for schools and keeping educational standards high.

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Why and how to have a read-a-thon?

If you like the idea of a fundraiser that only needs a few volunteers, boosts literacy or other learning, while bringing learners together, then you need to consider holding a read-a-thon.

Just the same way other “-athon” fundraising approaches like jogathons work, schools and teachers raise funds in many ways and also by having students get pledges from neighbors, relatives, family friends and others for participating in certain reading competitions. However, how the reading is tallied should vary. For instance, you may choose to count pages, chapters, or reading periods like sessions, minutes, or hours. That said, one of the most common read-a-thon models is to have learners read as much as they can during the designated time frame.

The same concept applies to other educational fundraisers like spell-a-thons and math-a-thons. For all these fundraising ideas, sponsors offer either a per-right-answer donation or flat donation. Students are typically awarded a grade-level-appropriate list of math facts or words by the teacher who will evaluate how well they perform. For example, the Cactus Valley Elementary PTA in Silt, Colorado starts off each school year with a Mathapalooza during which students solve math problems while earning pledges towards math game prizes.

Read-a-thon organization

Organization, help, making it fun, coordination and outreach are the key factors for a read-a-thons success.

Read-a-thon – with or without help?

One of the first decisions you will need to make is whether you are going to work with a read-a-thon company to organize the event or do it yourself. Working with a company has its benefits, especially if your school is holding this kind of fundraiser for the first time. Typically, read-a-thon fundraising companies offer tools (both electronic and print) for students to reach out to as many potential supporters as possible, provide suggestions and tips to participants, and electronically manage the donations.

If you have opted to organize the read-a-thon event yourself, then some of the tasks you will need to perform include preparing classrooms with reading packets for tracking participants’ reading minutes as well as collecting pledges. Keep in mind that you will most likely increase donations by putting in place online payment options so the readers do not have to collect cash; simply get parents to provide the payment link to their child’s sponsors.

The other steps, i.e publicity, timing, working with recruiting volunteers and teachers, and choosing incentives and themes apply whether you are contracting a company or working on your own.

Some schools opt to incorporate technology themselves. For example, Franklin Elementary in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, has learners use an application to track their reading and books. At the end of each read-a-thon event, learners had tracked well over 44,000 minutes.

Make it fun

Add more fun to the read-a-thon event by tying it to a theme. Pick a theme that has a broad appeal, such as animals and heroes, and get the school librarian to help select books related to the theme for read-a-thon participants to borrow.

You might set up the event as part of a themed family reading night at school. Assign a common area where learners can read together or be read to for a set time frame. It is safe to stick to about an hour and get volunteers to set up beanbags or tables. You may also organize a simple reading-related craft like making bookmarks and providing light snacks to the participants. Some of the popular themes that you might want to consider include Mystery Night, Dr. Seuss, A Winter’s Tale, Treasure Hunt Night, and Under the Stars.

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Coordination

Most schools coordinate their read-a-thon fundraisers to overlap with their book swaps or book fairs in order to get learners motivated about reading and raising funds for the school at the same time.

Additional factors to consider include whether the other groups are organizing their fundraisers at the same time as you and when your school is scheduling its testing period. You may not want students to participate in read-a-thons if they are already reading for exams.

Outreach

Just like with any other educational fundraiser, it is important that you give families adequate time to find sponsors and gather books for the read-a-thon.

As such, a few weeks before the fundraiser, be sure to send out flyers, mention it in your newsletter, share it on the school’s social media pages, and provide a few reminders leading up to the actual read-a-thon.

Who helps?

One of the amazing benefits of educational fundraisers is that it requires very limited volunteer effort. When it comes to a read-a-thon event, some of the volunteer tasks you may want to consider include promoting the events, reading to children, encouraging progress in readers, organizing and presenting prizes and incentives, and collecting tracking data.

The academic aspect of a read-a-thon makes it necessary to involve readers. First, it is important that the read-a-thon is not planned to coincide with any school testing that requires extra reading. Also, it is important to find out whether teachers want to coordinate the read-a-thon event with books the students are currently studying as part of the curriculum. Some teachers may decide to let the students pick their own books for this event. Teachers can also help check reading logs and encourage students to stay on track.

Additional incentives to boost participation and make your school read-a-thon competition more appealing include:
1. Use someone as an incentive

Jump onto the bandwagon of school principals who step out of their comfort zones to help fundraisers raise more money by asking your school administration to participate in a silly stunt at the end of the read-a-thon event.

2. Take photos

Get a crafty parent to design a simple backdrop, create some cute props that match the event’s theme, and get parents to post their children’s photos on the school’s Facebook page.

3. Display a progress report

Remember those old-school thermometer charts? Well, they do a great job as visual incentives to let participants know their reading efforts are actually stacking up.

4. Offer rewards and awards

Consider buying books to award top readers in each stream as well as top readers in each grade.

Read-a-thons for fun and literacy

Most schools and parent groups organize read-a-thons as well as other educational events like spell-a-thons with the sole purpose of promoting learning and literacy. Here too, it is important that the event does not coincide with the school’s testing period.

Getting children to read for pleasure can turn into a lifelong habit and help build the learners’ vocabulary and critical thinking along the way.

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