In our classroom, I utilize a reading workshop model. A mini-lesson followed by independent reading and guided reading. I’ve always wondered how I could make independent reading more robust. I love the “why” of independent reading but there were always a few students who weren’t totally into it. Given that so much time is spent independent reading each day, I needed to make sure students were getting a ton out of it. Last year I had the opportunity to see Ellin Keene model a guided reading lesson with some students from our school and a light bulb went off as she was teaching. So, at the end of last year, my class and I started partner reading. The basic premise goes like this… as long as you are not meeting for guided reading on a given day, you may read with a partner. Easy, right? Want to get started? Here’s how we did it.
- Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
- I didn’t want the kids to have to read with someone in their guided reading group. So I asked the kids before we started, “What will we do if your partner is in guided reading one day and you get called to guided reading on a different day?” Their response, “We’ll read a different book until our partner is available.” Problem solved. Kids are the best, aren’t they?
- If you don’t have two copies of the same book for each partner, the kids will read out of one copy.
- Let the kids decide how they read. They can alternate reading aloud by paragraph, page, chapter or section. Some prefer to read a chunk silently then talk. Others assign roles and alternate by characters, narrator etc (more on this to come).
- Don’t think about reading levels. Don’t choose the book for the kids. Let them pick by interest only. They’ll abandon the book if they aren’t getting anything out of it.
- Let it be fluid. When they finish, they can read another book with the same partner or wait for a new partner to become available. While they wait, they read independently. It doesn’t need to be complicated. No rotating charts. Leave it to the kids to figure out.
- Make sure there is some variety in reading partners. I really don’t monitor this much because the partners have changed naturally but just make sure the same two kids aren’t always reading together. They’ll learn different things from different partners.
- Embrace the noise! Reading time is supposed to be quiet, right? Wrong! The room will be louder than you’re probably used to during independent reading time but as you listen in, you’ll hear amazing things. I like a loud classroom but still found I noticed the noise initially. I would look up from my guided reading group to scan the room. After a quick scan I realized I was the only one who noticed the noise. Seeing the benefits, I quickly embraced the noise.
- Increase in on-task behavior during reading time. With an accountability partner, students are more engaged and they all read.
- More questions are asked and predictions are shared as kids read. When you have a buddy to turn to, why not ask and share?
- Word solving becomes more fun. The kids are more likely to stop and figure out words when they have a buddy to help. They are also more likely to notice they’ve made a mistake in the first place.
- Huge increase in fluency. Students become the characters. I mean, they really get into it! They change their voices and take on roles as they read, just like a play. Conversations can actually be read in a back and forth style. I’m not sure this always happens when students read independently.
- Book recommendations, galore! Students become more interested in what other people are reading because they overhear bits and pieces. Plus, they are more into what they’re reading so they beg others to read the books when they’re done.
- Interactions with multiple students in the class. Sometimes the partners they choose surprise me, in the best way. It’s great to see students step out of their comfort zones and bond over a love for a certain type of book.
- It’s enjoyable! They’ll be reading more accurately and fluently. They understand better. What’s not to enjoy? I hear giggling and gasping, belly laughing and anger. They run up to me when reading is over and grill me, “Why would the author do that?”
- Did I mention how much they look forward to reading? When I call guided reading groups I hear a lot of, “Urgh! Now we have to wait until tomorrow to read together!” comments. It’s not because they don’t like guided reading but rather that they’re dying to partner read.
We are social people. When I read a book, I talk about it. I join Twitter chats and Voxer groups so I can flesh out my thinking. Let’s not deprive our students of this natural reading opportunity in the classroom.