Reading Olympics

This year, Temple University College of Education marks 10 years of hosting Philadelphia READS’ for their annual Reading Olympics. In an effort to foster a joy of reading and promote teamwork, the Reading Olympics encourages students in grades four through eight to read a specified list of books in preparation for a test of their knowledge about basic plot, character and setting facts. 

“The students are so enriched by the Reading Olympics,” said Jeanne Grimes EDU’69, a retired teacher of 40 years and an event volunteer. “They read 15 books in a short period of time, and it’s entirely voluntary. They choose to give up time after school or during lunch to prepare for this - I think that says a lot. And, it’s not just the students - the teachers and coaches also give up their time to help the students prepare.” 

Each year, public, private, parochial, charter and independent schools choose teams of up to 12 students to participate in reading books from a selected list. This year, students were given a list of 19 books at the intermediate level and 15 books at the middle school level. Students of all reading levels are encouraged to participate as the difficulty of the books vary widely. Students are accompanied by a coach who guides them throughout the spring semester by helping keep them motivated and on schedule. Coaches also assist in facilitating mock competitions and team discussions about the readings. 

The Competition

Throughout the day, excitement courses through each room as students showcase their hard work and preparation, which begins as early as January for some teams. Nervous school coaches and parents stand by, proudly smiling as their students rise to the challenge. Team captains speak for each team as they race to answer questions as quickly and quietly as possible so the other team doesn’t hear, while each question offers the opportunity for each teammate to shine. As they sport their matching team shirts, their school pride is palpable with each point earned. 

The competition features three rounds in which two teams compete against each other. Intermediate students are asked 20 questions and middle school students are asked 15 questions per round. Moderators alternate asking teams questions, allowing teams to collaborate and discuss their answers. After the third round, there is a short award ceremony to recognize each team. The Reading Olympics emphasizes there are no “winners” as the objective is to promote a love for reading and a collaborative space for students to work together. Instead, different colored ribbons are awarded to teams who acquire certain point totals from answering questions correctly. 

The event is made possible through a strong network of volunteers from Philadelphia businesses and community members. Eagles Charitable foundation helps by donating books for students to take home, and colleges and universities across the city host the event during different weeks throughout the month of May to facilitate the large number of participants. This year’s event at Temple featured 26 teams, which is the largest in program history as well as the largest Reading Olympics event this year.

Kaiyla Darmer