Challenge Accepted! A Reading Challenge to Promote Reading

For the first time in several years, I completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge… and actually, one month ahead of time! (A big ‘Yay!’ to me.)

Apparently, it was all about setting a feasible goal. Being a full-time student who is learning a new language and living in a new city, it was perhaps too ambitious to read more than one book a month. Especially because I have the tendency of choosing books over 300 pages long (My bad!)

If you were curious, these are the books I read.

When I finished my challenge, I went back to check the books I read and it was actually a nice experience, not only to remember the stories and poems I enjoyed, but also the places where I read them and the people with whom I shared them. This made me think of all the aspects involved in a reading challenge and how these aspects can add up to a good strategy for reading promotion.

Why do reading challenges work?

Probably the most attractive element of a challenge is the rewarding sense of completion. It is the same feeling of satisfaction that runners get when they cross the finish line or when you tick off all the things on your to-do list, or when you finish cleaning up your kitchen at night. The idea of completing the challenge helps some people to find the motivation for choosing their next book and to find at least a moment in their busy routines to read a bit more.

Then, of course, there is the gamification element of a challenge. The fact that you can see progress bars or that you can get badges could be powerful tools to motivate people to keep participating in the ‘game’ even when the intrinsic motivation of reading might be dropping. There are several studies which focus on the positive effects of gamification in younger audiences, but Koivisto & Malik (2021), for example, concluded that this strategy can also have positive effect in older audiences. Who does not like fun?

Image by Florian Schmetz on Unsplash

Furthermore, an important feature of challenges is socialisation. People tend to think of reading as a solitary activity, but it does not have to be. Sharing your thoughts on a book with a fellow reader, attending a storytelling, posting your favourite quotes on social media are all activities where sharing increases and complements the joy of reading. A reading challenge often allows you to share your progress, the books you are reading and your thoughts on those books (you can rate and review books). By participating in challenges, I discovered things in common with some friends and I have also found great book recommendations.

Why do some reading challenges not work?

When it comes to reading promotion there is not a one-fits-all solution. You have to know your audience to design an activity that is engaging for them. According to Professor Kevin Werbach on his course on Gamification on Coursera, voluntariness is a key element when it comes to games. People cannot be forced to have fun and games must be fun, but as Prof. Werbach says, ‘fun must be designed’.

People who participate in Goodreads challenge each year are people who already like to read or people who believe that reading is important and therefore want to make sure that they read a decent number of books each year. But how do we design a reading challenge for people who do not want to read or are not convinced of the importance of reading?

How to use reading challenges as tools for reading promotion?

We can start, by keeping it short and simple. One year is a very long period for keeping motivation on an activity which does not interest you in the first place. So, we can start with a monthly challenge or a summer challenge or a season challenge (Christmas challenge, for example) and set a feasible number of texts to read during that period considering the time constraints of our audience.

Drawing again on Prof. Werbach’s teachings, the right degree of difficulty is what creates engagement. The challenge, therefore, should not be too easy or too difficult to complete, so individuals want to continue participating. It is also advisable to offer some sort of help or scaffolding for people who are struggling to keep up with the game. It could be in the form of substituting one of the books in the challenge for one that interests readers more or using a book they have already read as part of the challenge if they are falling behind schedule.

Image by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Exploration is also an important element when it comes to reading promotion. Sometimes the reason people do not like to read is because they have not found a genre they like. Some young people who do not like novels or poetry, enjoy reading graphic novels and music lyrics. Creating a challenge that allows readers to explore different forms of literature can help individuals to find their identity as readers.

If it is possible, it is also a good idea to give readers some freedom to choose their own texts. For example, instead of saying ‘read this graphic novel’ we could state ‘read a graphic novel’. Moreover, as designers of a reading challenge, we should also remember that not all literature comes in the form of books and that some unconventional types of texts could be a doorway into literature for people who have not discovered joy in reading just yet.

Let us not forget about the importance of socialisation; in the end a reading challenge is a game and playing is more fun when you play with others. When designing a reading challenge, we should offer readers opportunities for sharing their thoughts with others, expressing opinions about the texts, and recommending texts to other fellow readers. This socialisation could take many different forms. For example, rating the books with stars, creating a shared document or a Padlet to recommend books, post their favourite quotes on social media.

What do you think? Would you like to implement a reading challenge in your reading promotion efforts? Let me know in the comments.


Koivisto, J., & Malik, A. (2021). Gamification for Older Adults: A Systematic Literature Review. The Gerontologist, 61(7), e360-e372.

Werbach, K. (n.d.). Gamification. Course by University of Pensilvanya. Retrieved from Coursera:

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