As some of you may know, I work part-time coordinating reading enrichment programs at the public library. In Reading Buddies, middle and high school volunteers are trained and then paired one-on-one with a younger child to read together and play literacy games in order to give the kids practice reading with a caring teen mentor in a fun, non-judgmental environment. They meet together once a week for two or three months, and thus a significant rapport can develop between the Little Buddies and their Big Buddies.
This summer, however, an elementary school with which we have partnered asked me to provide Big Buddies for their summer school program for first through fifth graders, and I knew that our traditional model of one Big Buddy per one Little Buddy wouldn't work--there wouldn't be enough volunteers available to assign one to each child in each grade. Plus, making a fourth or fifth grader read with a student who was only a couple of years older could feel like a punishment, like these kids were being singled out to prove that they're not very good readers.
Instead, we piloted a Writing Buddies program. Four experienced Big Buddies (aged 14 and above) worked in small groups with two classes. They met with me beforehand to plan out the lessons, and they were the ones in charge of carrying them out while I watched from the side. (This is a good exercise in not-being-a-control-freak for me!)
Here's what we did:
- Chose a theme (outer space exploration) that would connect all the reading and writing.
- Planned different types of writing assignments, most of which would help them practice skills they would need for writing in school.
- Created worksheets with brainstorming activities, graphic organizers, and writing prompts.
- Selected books to use for a short storytime at the beginning of each class to help the kids transition to our literacy class and start thinking about our theme.
The writing skills we focused (and the writing prompts we gave them) on were:
- Description: You are an astronaut who has been traveling for years and you just landed on a brand-new planet. Describe what it looks like.
- Procedural: Follow the directions to build a spaceship out of carrots, celery, peanut butter, and bread, and then describe in your own words what you did. (Click on the link, scroll down to The Jigaree, and select "Spaceship Snack")
- Persuasion: Convince the inhabitants of this planet why you deserve to stay there.
- Poetry: Exercise your creativity to write one or more of the following types of poems using the outer space theme: an acrostic poem, a shape poem, a haiku.
- Revision: Choose one piece and edit it for inclusion in the booklet we send home on the last day. (The kids each read one of their writings aloud.)
- Vocabulary Building: Do a Mad Lib written by the Big Buddies about traveling in outer space. (We had this one on hand for kids who finished the revision early.)
The most frustrating part was the inconsistency of the students' attendance; very few actually attended all the classes, and some joined after the first or second week, thus missing out on our attempts to set the stage for the rest. However, it worked well enough that I'm eager to start offering Writing Buddies at the library to serve the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students who are too old to be Little Buddies but too young to be Big Buddies in our reading programs.
I would love to hear about other similar programs that you might know about or learn more strategies of how to get kids to write and how to empower teen volunteers!
Email me at babybilingual (at) gmail (dot) com if you would like copies of the materials--I'm happy to share!
This post was written for inclusion in the Teach/Learn Blogging Carnival sponsored by Deb at Science@Home; the category for this month's carnival is "English." Click here to see the other authors' inspiring ideas for promoting literacy in your home or classroom!