Using Tournament Brackets to Teach

During this time of year, basketball is on many students’ minds. The big college basketball tournament is right around the corner, and there are many ways to incorporate it into your lesson plans. It’s a great opportunity to create cross-curricular activities to show students that what they learn in school has real-world application outside the classroom. The time between winter and spring breaks can seem long for students, and this is one way to liven up their learning experiences. Whether your students are devoted basketball fans or not, everyone can find something to get excited about with these interdisciplinary activities.

Bracket Activities

One of the easiest ways to incorporate the tournament into your lessons is to have students randomly draw a team to follow throughout the competition. Make an interactive bracket on classroom bulletin boards so that students can keep track of how their teams are doing, or give each student his or her own bracket to fill out.

You can award small prizes like stickers or bookmarks when a team wins a game, and even create a losing bracket so students who draw eliminated teams can continue to join in on the fun. This is an ongoing activity that can be a “brain break” during busy days, but there are many ways you can tie the tournament bracket concept to specific subjects. Check out the following ideas to get started.


As with any sporting event, the tournament is directly applicable to students who are learning probability. Using bracket printouts, divide students into groups and have them calculate the probability of a specific team winning the tournament. Then explain that because of where the teams are seeded, some have a much better chance of winning than others. This is a great way to introduce the concept of weighted probability. Students can recalculate the probabilities of different scenarios, such as the probability of two given teams playing each other. You can also discuss the difference between theoretical and actual probability here.

There are many other ways to incorporate the tournament into math lessons. For example, task students with graphing win-loss records and the height of a team’s players, or calculate the average points scored by a team or player during a specific game.

A Tournament of Books

If you want to focus on language arts for your classroom’s bracket activity, create a “tournament of books” in which your students vote on their favorite titles. You can include books you’ve covered in class or the books most frequently checked out of your classroom library. This is a great way to get students excited about reading.

Whether you choose to utilize the traditional bracket format or have “matchups” each week, this activity gets the whole class involved.

Need help filling out the bracket? Use our list of book suggestions for 3rd through 8th graders.

Poet vs. Poet

Another way to incorporate the tournament into your lesson plans is by creating a bracket of poems. This gets students thinking critically about poetry as you expose them to writers they may not have studied previously. You can select poems based on your personal favorites or poems that focus on themes that are relevant to other classroom activities, such as historical events or cultural movements. You could also ask students to submit poems they like.

Read each pair of poems and have students vote on their favorite. This is an ideal time to ask students to think critically about each poem and discuss why they are choosing one poem over the other. Ask questions like:

  • How did this poem make you feel?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this poem?
  • In what ways are the two poems similar? How are they different?

By the end of the activity, your class will have chosen a favorite poem. This opens up the activity even further, as you can create lessons around other poems by the same author and learn more about that author’s life.

Join Our Teacher Bracket Challenge!

To get into the spirit of the tournament, Advancement Courses is hosting our own bracket challenge! For a fun twist, we’ve chosen 32 fictional teachers from books, movies, and more to see how they stack up! From March 12-21, you can submit your own bracket on our website. Then, from March 22-31, vote on the teachers you think should advance to the next round.  

The winner will be announced April 2. Afterward, we’ll share the first, second, and third place winners of our challenge based on who submitted the most accurate brackets. Here’s a breakdown of the prizes:

  • 1st Place: $500 Amazon Gift Card
  • 2nd Place: $250 Amazon Gift Card
  • 3rd Place (3 entrants will win this prize): Free professional development course from Advancement Courses

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the bracket competition and how to enter!

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