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Simple Ways To Build Partnerships Into Your Reading Workshop

When I was teaching in the classroom, I prioritized time for kids to share with partners during the reading workshop.

This is important for a few reasons — building stamina helping kids read and speak longer during reading workshop. It helps kids build a relationship with another reader around books and supports their reading comprehension, fluency, and accuracy — if you teach kids how to coach one another.

We all need to work well with others no matter our career path, so setting kids up for success in working with partners early and often will support them in their future.

Most of all, the idea of a reading workshop is based on helping kids build reading lives, where reading is a natural part of every day, just like adults have.

The most proficient readers not only read books — they talk about books.

How to get started with partners in reading workshop:

  • Assign partners.
    This differs from writing as you’ll need to pair students by reading level. This pairing is important because a student reading chapter books isn’t interested in reading with a student reading simple pattern books. In addition, if they can access and read the same books independently, they can have meaningful dialogue about them.
  • Create a habit.
    Build time into your reading workshop, so partnerships become a routine. We suggest starting with just five minutes and then building up to ten.
  • Let students decide where to meet.
    Have kids decide where they’ll meet their partners to work together. They could have their independent time spots near each other for a smoother transition. This way, kids won’t have to attempt a 50-yard dash across the room during the workshop. Many teachers find it helpful to create a classroom map — put kids’ names on sticky notes, and place them in the spots kids are trying out. This way, you can easily see which spots work.
  • Make sure your reading unit will support reading partner work.
    Consider if you’ll have one mini-lesson a week focused here, one bend in the road, or a week of teaching that’s tailored for partners. Think about if you’ll use the mid-workshop interruption to transition into partners rounding the kids back to the gathering area and doing a demo of something they can do in pairs.
  • Create charts to support this work.
    Start with a list of the partners, things they can do with each other, and where they meet. This is also helpful in case you’re absent — a substitute teacher can easily take over your reading workshop. In addition, kids will be more independent with using partner strategies if they have a place to refer to the ones they’ve learned.

Expert teaching tips to consider:

Keep in mind that different levels of readers will do different work with one another.
Emergent readers and levels A-E can read to each other, do choral reading, echo reading or take turns reading 1-2 pages at a time. Then you can move them toward talking about reading.

With readers in levels F-I, you could have them practice fluency with partners. They might read a section rather than the entire text. They might focus on text features, punctuation, characters’ voices, etc.

And finally, with levels J and up, once students have graduated to chapter books (Think Henry and Mudge), they should be doing more talking than reading. They can choose characters to talk about, relationships between characters, story themes, and symbolism. Also, they can collect new vocabulary words and idiomatic phrases to discuss.

Some other considerations:

I was visiting a 2nd-grade classroom to do staff development. I entered Marnie’s room excitedly with a group of teachers. The kids were spread all around the room, sitting with their books and partners. We pulled up a partnership that was reading different books.

Serene opened her Iris and Walter book and said to her partner, Jack, ”Let’s act out this part!” He looked at her confused, and I immediately knew why. Jack hadn’t read the book yet, so he couldn’t participate in dramatizing two characters.

It’s always easier to talk about the same book, but often in the primary grades, kids will be reading different books. It’s helpful to teach kids a routine for when they’re reading different books: Suggest they start by asking their partner, “Have you read this book?” If not, allow the reader or speaker to do a quick retelling. Then they can get to sharing ideas and doing deeper comprehension work.

When kids are reading the same book — whether you’ve set up same book partnerships or book clubs — retelling can still be extremely valuable to make sure we’ve read and understood the material well. Kids can take a few minutes to ensure they’re on the same page and have the same understanding. Then, they can jump into sharing ideas.

As you see how the partnerships benefit your students, you might be looking for other possible work they can do together. Here are some more partnership ideas:

  • Goal setting
  • Asking for help where you need it
  • Opportunity to practice or share what you tried from the mini-lesson
  • Talk about places where you’re confused. This can include collecting and discussing new vocabulary or phrases or expressions you don’t understand..
  • Being a cheerleader and complimenting your partner on reading, retelling, or their thinking.
  • Coaching each other on the print work with some of these suggestions, “What might make sense there?” “Check the picture!” or “Look at the word part by part.”

Creating solid partnerships in the classroom is foundational to more than literacy skills. It also develops kids’ empathy, communication, and emotional skills that will serve them for life. As you get started with partnerships in your curriculum and run into challenges. Get in touch — we can support you with this.

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