School & District Management

Innovation: “Million Word Challenge”

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 06, 2009 1 min read

Sarra Said, an English-language learner who arrived in Tucson, Ariz., two years ago from Tripoli, Libya, has risen to the “Million Word Challenge” designed by her school’s English-language-development department. The 15-year-old student at Amphitheater High School, whose first language is Arabic, has read more than 1,500,000 words in English books, according to a story in the Arizona Daily Star. She’s now in the middle of reading Gone with the Wind. (Hat tip to TESOL in the News.)

Said, who now reads “for fun,” wasn’t that interested in reading before the challenge, the article says.

The million-word challenge sparked me to remember the gist of the book I finished reading last night, Life List, by Olivia Gentile. The book tells the story of how the late Phoebe Snetsinger met her goal of seeing 8,000 bird species. The quest of meeting a numerical goal had more meaning for this woman than anything else in her life. I’m a birder (a new one) myself, but at this point I’m more motivated to learn a lot about a limited number of birds, those in my part of the country, rather than develop a long list of bird species that I’ve seen.

The connection between the million-word challenge and the challenge of seeing almost all the world’s birds is that for some personalities, a numerical goal is extremely motivating.

Those of you who work at the classroom level, do you think this kind of numerical goal can be a motivator for most of the students in your classes or would it likely be motivating only for a few?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.