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3 Steps to a Better Buddy Reading Program

When creating a Buddy Reading program in your primary classroom, there are a few key steps you can take to ensure it is a success.

1. Build a sense of urgency and clearly teach expected behaviours

 If children know what they are doing is important they will take it seriously. This can be such a powerful experience for both age groups.

Give Big Buddies explicit instruction with reading and thinking strategies, provide authentic practice with a peer, begin to compile the Keys to Reading.

All of this should occur before starting with the Little Buddies. They get so excited waiting to get started. The anticipation of FINALLY meeting their buddies is a great hook into the opportunity. 

Give big buddies explicit instruction in knowing how to coach a reader. I use a coaching bookmark as a prompt (if you don't have one, you can grab mine for free here).

Model, model, model for them. Practice the shared language.

For example, "Would you like time or coaching? What have you tried so far?"..."Does that match?" "Try that again."

Teach students a few lines of specific praise, “I like how you made the print and meaning match,” I like how you reread to make it make sense,” I notice your reading speed is picking up.”

Invite students to suggest feedback they may to give their buddy based on their own reading and partner reading experience. Don’t have them focus on what level the book is. Focusing on book levels promotes fake reading which we know does not build better readers or joyful reading. 

Take pictures and videos of successful buddy reading and feature these (on the SmartBoard as they walk in, in the hallways, in Parent Memos).

Start Buddy Reading up after  both classrooms have established classroom routines in the fall. Ensure both classes have some stamina. 

With both classes and teachers  together, model and practice expected and unexpected behaviours.

Stop when students run out of stamina (Big Buddies can do a read aloud if we are not out of time). We want to ensure students  train their brain to practice these reading skills in an expected way so don’t allow unexpected behaviours to continue.

At the wrap up of the session, have coaches and little buddies BOTH give specific feedback on how the other did in their role. What will be our plan for next week? Always thank each other for the reading experience and end with a high five, fist bump or handshake. 

The Big Buddy class will debrief after the Little Buddies have left. As a class we share tips they gave little buddies when coaching, ask for advice from their peers about times when they were stuck on how to coach (the group gives suggestions of what to do in that situation).

We do this a lot in the initial start up of Buddies and then eventually reduce the frequency and/or length of debriefs (although they are always an option when students request them or the teacher sees they are needed)

Big Buddies bring literacy to life with surprises for the Little Buddies along the way (come over and read in forts with us, check out our Disco Ball Reading Glasses, Let’s try some Mad Libs, Let me read you a story I wrote, Let me show you the “Keys to Reading.”

Other times we will show up and break into song, or dance or both to demo a strategy the Little Buddy teacher has mentioned their class is working on (for example -We Like To Chunk It, Chunk It to the tune of We Like to Move It, Move It)

2. Careful consideration of reading spaces and positive partnerships

We use both classrooms to split up the partnerships and alternate which room students head to. This allows both teachers to see their students in action. It significantly cuts down on crowding and significantly reduces reading noise levels. 

Both teachers collaborate to carefully set up partnerships. Consider behaviour needs, reading skills, odd number of students for pairings.  Adjust if the need arises. Some teachers switch up partnerships mid year. Remember the experience needs to be joyful for both age groups.Teachers quietly monitor the room. Students know teachers may listen in and that they should just carry on with what they are doing.

Teach the Big Buddies to take some time before reading to connect with their Little Buddy. Get to know each other as they build they’re school community and comfort levels.

Little Buddies will feel safer taking risks in their reading if they feel connected with their Big Buddy.

Provide cozy reading spaces: couches, cushions, carpet spaces, chairs, tables. Students can lay or sit. They needed to be a few arm lengths away from other groups so that they don’t distract and disrupt the stamina of others.

Both Little and Big Buddy have to be at the same height and be side by side with both students holding the book. (Don’t have one child on the couch and another on the floor. Don’t have them facing each other as then someone is not looking at the book in the right direction). “Elbow to Elbow, knee to knee, book in the middle so we both can see!”

3. Careful consideration of reading materials.

Ensure a wide variety of good fit books, fiction and non-fiction,  of student choice. The Little Buddy Class Teacher asks the Big Buddies to support the Little Buddies in having good fit books and the Big Buddies will help the Little Buddies bookshop in the Little Buddy classroom. Common language between the classrooms is key here.

Don’t focus so much on a book level but rather what is a good fit for moving each child’s reading forward.

Can they understand what they read? Do they know what to do to make print and meaning match? Do they notice word decoding errors and have strategies in place? 

A Final Thought: Reading Buddies take place regularly and are built into our weekly routine.

They are incredibly valuable reading opportunities for BOTH age groups. The best way to learn is to teach. The Big Buddies have an incredible opportunity to be very metacognitive about their own reading and provided supports for others. You will be amazed at what they can do!