Reading Buddies is a popular program in which first or second graders, who are just learning to read, are paired with students who are few years older. By working together, both students improve their reading skills.
They also develop cooperative learning behaviors, such as taking turns, listening, sharing knowledge, and praising one another’s efforts. In addition, the program fosters friendships across the grade levels, creating a stronger sense of community in schools.
Older buddies see themselves as role models. They take pride in mentoring younger students, and they can see that their younger buddies look up to them. That can lead to a stronger sense of self worth, especially among children who are struggling academically or socially.
In a world where state assessment tests mandated by No Child Left Behind legislation have forced schools to focus on reading and math—often at the expense of science education—Reading Buddies provides a unique opportunity for teachers to sneak science into their language arts curriculum.
In the last decade, science-themed picture books with layered text have become an increasingly popular. These books include two sections of text—short, simple text in large type conveys a general idea or science story with narrative appeal and longer sections in smaller type presents additional details. These books are perfect for Reading Buddies programs.
In my award-winning books A Place for Frogs, A Place for Birds, and A Place for Butterflies, the large, simple text running across the tops of the pages provides general information and can stand on its own. On each left-hand page, the text describes something people are doing (often accidentally or without forethought) to harm frogs or birds or butterflies.
The large text on each right-hand page explains a simple way that people can stop or reduce the effect of their negative behavior. The repetitive endings add lyricism to the text and help reinforce the idea that we can work together to save our world’s wild life and wild places.
The smaller text presented in sidebars provides additional details about the history of the problem and solutions that are occurring right now. By reading an entire spread, students gain a clear understanding of the effect their actions can have on the natural world.
Overall, the books are honest and also optimistic. Their structure invites younger buddies to read the larger, simpler type, while older children can focus on the more detailed sidebars. The buddies can then look for the animals in the stunning artwork created by Higgins Bond and discuss what they’ve just learned before moving on to the next double-page spread.