These March Madness Classroom Activities Are a Slam Dunk!
The Classroom

These March Madness Classroom Activities Are a Slam Dunk!

Newsela Editorial
Mar 22, 2024

Whether your city is hosting a March Madness game, you have a college with a participating team nearby, or your students just really love basketball, mid-March to early April is an exciting time for college basketball fans. We’ve curated a collection of articles, interactive activities, and lessons to make it easier for you to bring March Madness classroom activities to your students throughout the tournament:

Start a March Madness reading bracket

Hit a three-pointer with your students by adding March Madness ELA activities to your lesson plans this month:

March Madness fiction and poetry

Create your own March Madness-style literary bracket with your students. When you use Newsela ELA content for your challenge, you can pick the correct grade band and start assigning articles that meet your students’ interests and reading levels. Over a few class periods, students can read engaging fiction and poetry texts and vote on their favorites. For even more participation, have students create their own personalized brackets and use a classwide bracket to track the majority picks. Some selections from each grade band’s collections include:

Elementary fiction

  • Zirak and Ring-Dove: An Iraqi story” by Angela McAllister

  • The Land of Laughter” by Angelina W. Grimké

  • Excellent Pets” by Rolli

Elementary poetry

  • Nibbles” by Rachel Delaney

  • Rain Music” by Neal Levin

  • My Grandfather’s Typewriter” by Tatiana Rebecca Shrayer

Middle school fiction

  • Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan

  • Little Green Lies” by Anna Zumbro

  • Open Window” by Saki

Middle school poetry

  • Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins

  • A Minor Bird” by Robert Frost

  • Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll

High school fiction

  • The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence

  • Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan

  • A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

High school poetry

  • Ode to the Only Black Kid in the Class” by Clint Smith

  • O Me! O Life!” by Walt Whitman

  • Protest” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Extend your in-class March Madness bracket with science content

ELA classrooms don’t get to have all the fun! Have students create a March Madness bracket with science content or add nonfiction resources to your ELA bracket to make the voting even more interesting. Some of the Newsela Science articles you can choose for your competition include:

  • Learning about how tiny bumps on polar bear paws help them run and walk in the snow.

  • Seeing if playing video games can improve your memory and attention span.

  • Discovering how chinstrap penguins survive on microsleeps.

  • Marveling at how scientists 3D-printed a slice of cake.

Go beyond the bracket with more March Madness ELA classroom activities

Do more than just create a reading bracket with your students during this year’s March Madness tournament. Explore other ways to create themed lessons through reading, writing, and debates to keep them engaged:

March Madness and opinion writing

Have students practice their opinion analysis and writing skills on topics that relate to March Madness, like:

  • Should college athletes play for free?

  • Which is better, college or professional basketball?

Then, have students write their own opinion essay using our new, free student writing assistant, EverWrite. Add the program to Google Docs and use it to create a short- or long-form assignment, with an AI-generated prompt or one you’ve created. 

You can also align your assignment to the rubric of your choice for better, more accurate grading and student tips. Encourage students to use Newsela articles and videos to research the topic and find evidence to support their claims.

ELA debate and discussion: Should college athletes be compensated?

Take students’ opinions off the page and encourage healthy debate and discussion in the classroom:

  • Have students read articles from different viewpoints about the debate topic: Should college athletes be compensated?

  • Use a Debate Text Evidence Organizer to track opinions and evidence for each viewpoint as they read.

  • Split the class into groups to debate if college athletes should receive payment for their playing performance and use of their likeness. Use a Debate Rubric to score their participation.

Basketball novel studies

Add novel studies that include articles and activities about basketball to your lesson plans to build background knowledge and explore themes that tie March Madness to literature:

Explore basketball benefits off the court

Basketball and March Madness have benefits beyond entertainment. Show your students what other life skills they can learn from the sport and the tournament with Newsela SEL activities to add to lessons you assign with your other Newsela products:

Math and basketball: Unleashing transferrable skills

Teach students about the value of transferable skills in sports and life:

  • Read an article about college basketball player Patrick Steeves and how he uses his high IQ and math skills to play the game better.

  • Have students complete a strengths survey to analyze their best qualities and see how they use them daily.

  • Encourage students to think about their transferable skills and how they can use them inside and outside the classroom using a Venn Diagram.

Basketball success: Mind over matter

Help students discover the mental side of individual and team sports:

  • Brainstorm why athletes like Serena Williams and Lebron James are successful and use a Web Chart or another graphic organizer to track students’ ideas.

  • Read the article that discusses how psychological traits like work ethic and competitiveness help basketball players elevate their game.

  • Have students create a physical or digital collage representing one quality that will help them achieve their goals. Encourage them to use text, images, and other visuals to illustrate their points.

A basketball star’s path to mental health awareness

Athletes, even professional ones, aren’t immune from mental health struggles. Explore one basketball player’s fight for mental health awareness with your students:

  • Use a reflect and respond chart to analyze the differences between mental and physical health as a class.

  • Read an article about former Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love and his struggle with panic attacks during NBA games.

  • Assign an EverWrite prompt to have students reflect on the topic of mental health. Sample prompts may include: “Is mental health a public issue?” or “What factors make it difficult for people to open up about their mental health struggles?

Finding the right college for your future

There are plenty of reasons to attend a specific college or university. Athletic scholarships and a chance to play in the March Madness tournament are just a few! Use an SEL lesson to get students thinking about their futures and how to pick the college that’s right for them:

  • Introduce the lesson with a Write-Pair-Share activity and have students answer the following questions: “Have you thought about whether you would like to go to college? What would you like to do after you graduate high school?

  • Read an article about former Montana high school basketball star Mya Fourstar and her aspirations for playing the sport for a college team.

  • Have students use the College Board College Search website to research colleges by majors, location, affordability, and campus life to make a list of their top choices.

Keep the competition going with the Independent Reading Challenge

Competitive reading fun doesn’t have to stop when March Madness is over. Use the Newsela Independent Reading Challenge each month in your classroom! This gamified event encourages students to practice literacy skills and read about topics that spark their interests. They can earn tokens and badges for completing quizzes and Power Words activities on articles included in the challenge.

Ready to see how the challenge works in your classroom? Log in to your Newsela account to get started. Or sign up for Newsela Lite and request your free trial to explore the Independent Reading Challenge and other premium features!

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