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 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. And identifying appropriate science-themed picture books is easier than you might think.
In the last decade, what some people call “list books” have become an increasingly popular way of presenting science concepts to the picture book crowd. These books include two sections of text—short, simple text in large type conveys a general idea and longer sections in smaller type presents additional details.
In books like Beaks! and Wings by Sneed Collard and my own titles A Place for Birds and A Place for Butterflies, the two sections of text appear on each double-page spread. This structure invites younger buddies to read the larger, simpler type, while older children can focus on the longer, smaller text blocks. Thus, each child plays a role in “digesting” the spread, and reading becomes a shared endeavor. The buddies can then look at the artwork together and discuss what they’ve just learned before turning the page.
Books like An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston offer a more poetic main text. And while the language is simple, the statements are sometimes surprising and can provoke a bit of thoughtful discussion. For example, in An Egg is Quiet, the main text on one spread says, “An egg is clever.” Most children (and adults) have never thought of an egg in this way before. It is only after reading the smaller, supporting text scattered across the page that the real meaning of the main text becomes clear.
In most of the books created by Steve Jenkins, the spare main text is masterfully illustrated with paper collage art and enhanced by an extensive backmatter full of fascinating facts. As Reading Buddies work their way through books like Move! and What Would You Do with a Tail Like This?, the younger child can read the main text. Then the buddies can flip to the back of the book, and the older child can read the relevant section of backmatter.
Because each buddy makes his or her own contribution to exploring a science-themed list book and understanding its content, these titles accomplish several educational goals simultaneously. They strengthen reading skills, introduce and reinforce a range of age-appropriate science concepts, and promote cooperation and camaraderie. What could be better than that?
Recommended science books for Reading buddies programs:
Animals Asleep, Animal Dads, Beaks, Leaving Home, and Wings by Sneed Collard
How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly?, Move!, and What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins
The Moonflower by Peter Loewer and Jean Loewer
A Place for Birds and A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart