Over the years, we’ve noticed that many of our teachers and librarians use Reading Rewards year after year and seem to have tremendous success getting their students excited about it and using it consistently. By the same token, we’ve also seen other cases where the reading program falls into disuse after a few weeks or months.

We suspected that the difference lay in how the teacher or librarian nurtured the program. We were intrigued to find out more.

Denise Willbanks is a 7th grade teacher who has been using Reading Rewards for the past two years, and whose students tend to be avid and consistent readers. We reached out to Denise, to ask her if she would share her thoughts on what has made her so successful with Reading Rewards. We were thrilled when she agreed to share a guest post here.

Denise Willbanks

7th Grade Language Arts
Ovid-Elsie Middle School

Denise has a degree as a K-12 Literacy Specialist and has been teaching 7th grade Language Arts for more than eight years.

She also works as a Reading Consultant doing Professional Development for other districts and developing schoolwide reading or vocabulary initiatives.

“Just Do It” may have been a successful slogan for Nike years ago, but it certainly doesn’t work in the classroom! I believe my seventh grade students have had enormous success with Reading Rewards because I do some of the following routines to set them up for success. With these in place, many of my students read more than they ever have before, books are talked about and shared, and I get to see reading become “cool” again, as I give them the freedom to read anything and everything that has words in it! 

1. Put titles in ahead of time

stack_of_booksGive them time to pre-load in all the book/magazine titles that they may read this year ahead of time. Then the title won’t ever be a roadblock to logging later. I have everyone load “internet articles” too, to cover any online reading. I like to emphasize “close enough” when it comes to titles of obscure or unique texts!

2. Practice logging IN class first

During the first few weeks of school, after everyone has gone into their account, changed their avatar, and joined the class, I have them all read a one-page article in class and log it.

We write the sentences I’m looking for in the comment box on paper, go over them, share with a partner, discuss, then type it in the real comment box with “internet articles” as the title and 5 minutes of time.

We might do this 2 or 3 times with fiction and nonfiction IN CLASS before the real logging begins at home. This way, no one is wondering what I’m looking for and they all have experience doing it. This builds confidence, and I do more whole class logging again after longer holiday breaks to make sure everyone is back on track with my expectations.

reading-strategy3. Be specific, yet realistic, in what you want from the comment box

If you ask them to write a paragraph, it makes the logging seem too daunting and they just won’t log. I require precisely TWO sentences. The first is a SIS (Summary In a Sentence) of what they read and the second is a Reading Strategy sentence (Question, Prediction, Visualization, Evaluation, Clarification, Connection).

I have them use labels before each sentence (SIS: and STRATEGY:) in all caps before writing the sentence to make them very easy for me to grade. We practice both types of sentences in class frequently during the first few weeks of school. 

Photo credit: Keith Kingsbury

Photo credit: Keith Kingsbury

4. Grade with a rubric, and give it to the students ahead of time

They are more likely to log when they have clear expectations. I have four areas on the rubric: minutes, span of log dates, comment quality, and comment formality…because I desperately want them to realize technology can be used academically, not just LOL and 🙂  

Every month ONE WEEK before monthly minutes are due, I have them each take a rubric, log in to their own account, and grade themselves to see what grade they would get if I were to do it right now. This is a wake up call for some of them, and a nice self-reflection moment. I do it EVERY month!

5. Show examples and non-examples

Show quality examples of what you are looking for, not just in the beginning, but frequently bring up examples to show the class. This can be done without even saying whose it is.

Photo credit: Keith Kingsbury

6. Remind them in class often.

I have it in my homework box, and tell them about how many minutes they should have at the end of each week. For example, if the goal is 240 minutes a month, every Friday I say “You should have ____ minutes by now.”

7. Consider those without internet

I always tell students they can read at home and log when they get to school, and even have available paper versions of reading log entries for them to write on at home and then transfer into Reading-rewards using the school’s internet. Additionally, logging reading is always an option when you finish your work early in class or during any kind of “study hall” time at the beginning or end of day. 

8. Don’t let zeros slide

Meet with the kids who aren’t logging, call home, ask if they need help finding books. Catch those with no minutes about 1/3 of the way through the month, rather than the day before it’s due! 

stick_figure_holding_checkered_flag_800_clr_39179. Get competitive

I show the screen that shows all my classes so they can see which class is in the lead with total minutes. I also say who in each class read the most minutes that month. To keep things fair for classes with smaller numbers, I always divide the minutes by the number of students in the class. Kids like to get out their calculators and do this too!

….Last but certainly not least!!!!!


I have three levels of rewards:

  1. A monthly reward raffle for anyone who qualifies and purchased an entry in time,
  2. A yearlong competition between the classes (ice cream party for one with most minutes) and
  3. A yearlong competition for the top 5 readers, who get a pack of local gift certificates.
Photo credit: Keith Kingsbury

Photo credit: Keith Kingsbury

For the monthly reward raffle, I just have 1 reward they can purchase in the store if they met their monthly goal (240 miles). The reward is their name in the Monthly raffle, and they can purchase as many as they earn, so those who go above and beyond are rewarded! Then at the end of the month, all the names are dumped in an online random generator (basically a hat!) and two get a prize from my prize bucket.

The top reader with the most minutes gets a guaranteed pick as well. My prize bucket has gum, mints, coupons for lunch with me, coupons for “sit anywhere you want” and others.