Strategies for Developing Strong Student Reading Partnerships

Reading partnerships can be a powerful tool for your classroom. Learn some actionable strategies for helping students to develop strong reading partnerships with each other. #reading #readersworkshop

This post is part of a 2-part series on reading partnerships. If you missed part 1 on setting the foundation for reading partnerships, you can catch up HERE.

In part 2 of this series, we're going to turn our focus to the "meat" of reading partnerships:  the book discussion.

Remember, reading partnerships are different than buddy reading in the sense that you are setting intentional purpose for the time students are spending together.  In part 1 we talked a bit about how the majority of the reading is done individually, and students meet to DISCUSS and REREAD.

The discussion component of reading partnerships is the heart, soul and PURPOSE of these partnerships.

However, student discussions can easily fizzle out if students are not taught the art of conversation. Remember that book talk guidelines poster I showed you in the last post?

In today's post we're going to break down the art of having quality conversations using the book talk poster with our students.

make sure you’ve downloaded the FREE Reading Partnership Starter Kit from our Member’s Resource Library.

But - before we get started, make sure you’ve downloaded the FREE Reading Partnership Starter Kit from our Member’s Resource Library.

If you’re already a member, head there now and find this resource under: “READING RESOURCES” inside the library.

Not a member yet? It’s FREE to join and you’ll have instant access to an ever-growing library of teacher resources and classroom printables INCLUDING this reading partnership starter kit! Fill out the form below and I’ll send you all the details on how to become a member!

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    To review, the book talk guidelines that students are following during their discussion looks like this:

    Having some book-talk guidelines will help students to stay focused during their reading partnership meetings.

    You'll want to walk students through each component of the book talk through a series of mini-lessons.  You can do separate mini-lessons for each component, or combine several into one lesson as it makes sense for your students.  The first two parts of a book talk (the retelling and sharing their favorite parts) should be quick.  The other components will take up the bulk of their meeting time.

    Here's what it looked like in my classroom:

    Modeling Retelling the Story

    One of the first things students will do when they meet is retell the portion of the story that they read prior to meeting.  Retelling is a skill that all students need to know how to do, so in my classroom, we practiced the retelling of a story daily, both orally and in writing.  

    I had my students follow a simple retelling formula:

    • In the beginning...

    • Next...

    • Then...

    • After that...

    • In the end...

    I had this formula on a small poster next to our gathering area for students to refer to.  To model, use books that you have read together as a class so that all students are familiar with it.  Take this modeling a step further by having 2 students volunteer to model how two people would work together to retell since they will be doing this in their partnership.  Remind students that their partner can help them remember details of the story, or help clear up any confusion that they may have had during the retelling of the story. 

    Modeling How To Share Your Favorite Parts of the Story

    This portion of the book talk is where students can incorporate some fluency practice.  Explain to students that they will be expected to share a part of the story that stood out to them.  Students will share WHY this part is their favorite from the section or why it stood out to them, and reread that portion to their partner. Again, you will model this with books that students are familiar with.

    Modeling How To Use 'Accountable Talk' to Ask Questions, Share Thoughts, and Express Insights

    The best part of the conversations will (hopefully) come during step 3 of the book talk guidelines.  You will want to model for students how to have conversations with their partner that are meaningful and go beyond the surface of the book's content (who are the characters, what's happening, where does the story take place...etc). An important component of my classroom was the use of accountable talk.  This type of talk uses open-ended discussion prompts and questions that help students to dive deeper into high-level thinking.  


    Essentially, with accountable talk we want our students to use elements of conversation that keep the discussion going.  One way to do this is to teach students to ask THICK questions vs. THIN questions. Thin questions are the questions that typically have one short answer.  They often begin with WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN...etc..  This questions are best used during the retelling of the story.

    Thick questions however encourage students to go deeper asking questions like "What might happen if... How would you feel... Do you think..."  These types of question have several potential answers based on the students' thinking.

    Again, this asking strategy will need to be modeled.  Choose a short read-aloud and prepare several thin and thick questions related to the story.  You will want to write these questions on post-it notes.  Place the post-it notes within the book where you will be asking each question.  Create an anchor chart that includes a T-chart with "thick" written on one side and "thin" written on the other. (like the one above)

    As you read, pull out the prepared post-its and ask students whether it is a thin or thick question.  Place it on the correct side of the T-chart.  These thick questions can serve as a model for the types of questions the students will want to ask in their partnership meetings.

    Modeling Making Connections

    Making connections is an essential reading strategy that we teach students as soon as they step into kindergarten.  The goal is that students begin to make deeper connections the older that they get as they have more life experiences.  Making connection is an on-going reading strategy that we weave in to our instruction all year long, but it is especially important when conducting book discussions.

    Using familiar books, have students share their connections while you model your own as well.  I like to have students use the phrase "When I read __________ I made a connection to_______."

    This helps to keep the connection directly related to a character, event, or fact in the book. Remind students to stay on-topic when making their connections, as these connections can often trail off to conversations on other topics.

    Modeling Making Predictions

    The final component of the book talk encourages students to make predictions of what will happen next based on their discussions and what they've read.  Teach students to use information from the text to support their predictions.  They can use phrases like "When I read _______ it makes me think that __________ will happen next because____________."

    When students have completed all of the components of their book talk using the poster guidelines, they will make a plan for their next meeting.  They'll indicate the number of pages they will read before they meet again.  Remember, they can write this information down on the FREE reading partnership bookmark (provided in the Reading Partnerships Starter Kit inside the Member’s Resource Library)


    When students have completed their book together, they can complete a final project together that will then be presented to the class.  Here are some book project possibilities that you may consider:

    • Have students create a poster to advertise their book to their classmates.

    • Have students create a setting map showing all of the places that the main character(s) traveled to.

    • Have students create a comic strip with the major events.

    • Have students look through magazines to cut out pictures that represent the story to create a collage. (option: include a write-up explaining their picture choices)

    • Have students create a novel summary lapbook (like this one)

    • Have students create a reader's theater script for a critical event in the story OR create a reader's theater script rewriting an alternative ending to the story. Students can type these scripts up to share with their classmates.

    • Have students create a word cloud poster using words representing the characters and events in the story.

    Allow students to choose the activity that they complete and present to the class.  You may want to give them these options in the form of a choice board.  I have several fiction and nonfiction choice boards already done for you and ready to go.  You can check them out here.

    Tip:  Create a generic rubric that can be used with the projects above (or any others that you choose) that clearly outline expectations for student work.


    Book talk mastery happens gradually with lots of practice.  Don't give up too early!  In fact, if you want your students to develop their skill for discussing books, then give them plenty of opportunity to see what a quality book talk looks like.  Here are two ideas:

    • Have students audio record or video tape their conversations so that they can analyze their conversations. Students are often unaware of how they conduct themselves in these types of settings. Watching themselves often highlights areas of improvement.

    • Ask a model partnerships to demonstrate a successful book talk to help other students see the elements of a quality book talk. This can be done in a "fish bowl" setting where one partnership sits in the center of the class to conduct their conversation while the other students watch. After the conversation, discuss with the class positives and areas of improvement. This demonstration will give helpful pointers that students can apply in their own conversations.

    This reading partnership starter kit will help you set up reading partnerships in your classroom.

    Reading partnerships can be a valuable component of your reading program as it allows students to take the reigns in their reading.  The first time you have students conduct reading partnerships may look a little messy.  Make note of partnerships that need a little extra support or did not work well together so that you can make appropriate changes for the next round of reading partnerships.

    And remember - I've got that Reading Partnerships Starter Kit available to you FREE to get you going.  Grab it our Member’s Resource Library (of join for FREE below to get instant access.)

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