What is a reading buddy program?
A reading buddy program is a fun, personal and effective way to introduce the pleasures of reading to younger readers, especially if they are ESL (English as a Second Language) students.
Reading buddy programs are initiatives where volunteers, parents, or older students participate in a paired reading activity with younger students.
The idea is to offer students one-on-one guided reading time to improve their reading and comprehension skills and by extension their vocabulary and overall ESL learning success.
Reading buddy initiatives have a wide range of applications, and are not limited to school settings and native-language education; reading buddy programs can definitely benefit ESL learners as well.
The defining feature of reading buddy programs is that it's intergenerational. A student is “buddies up” with an adult volunteer or older student who interacts with their younger buddy through reading. Both sides get to reap the multiple benefits paired reading brings.
A reading buddy program is scalable, so it can be adapted for an entire school or grade level, used in an individual classroom setting, or applied to only one group of students. To get the best results, each program should be organized according to the goals and resources available in any given circumstances.
What are the benefits for ESL learners?
Improve ESL learner confidence and self-esteem
Once of the most enduring and complex issues teachers face with ESL learners is their hesitation and lack of confidence to speak the language and practice it orally.
One-on-one reading buddy programs take some the pressure off the students, allowing them to more easily speak out and not be intimidated by their mistakes or limiting vocabulary in front of a larger audience.
One-on-one reading sessions also help the young ESL learner acquire confidence through interaction with an older student/adult, while sparing them the dread of having to speak in front of a whole class or in a situation where they feel they might be judged or evaluated on their language skills.
Improve speaking fluency and vocabulary
A substantial advantage of reading buddy programs is that the student gets to improve their speaking and vocabulary skills while they’re reading in a non-threatening setting.
Everybody Wins!, a reading initiative in which adult volunteers read with their younger buddies at what the program calls “power lunches,” has proven with its positive results that reading buddy programs actually improve literacy and increase a student’s interest in reading and learning.
Improve literacy skills
The efficiency of reading buddy programs has been confirmed by numerous independent studies that show reading buddy initiatives promote learning and improve literacy whenever they are implemented.
Foster a love of reading
Of especial importance for students whose lack of skills or self-confidence has kept them from developing an interest in books, reading buddy programs help re-engage the student in the joys of reading and learning.
A reading buddy makes reading seem fun rather than a chore. As a result, such programs tend to increase the student’s willingness to actively participate in the reading buddy sessions, leading to an overall improvement in their ESL learning efforts.
Help struggling readers
ESL learners who find it hard keeping up with the rest of the class find it extremely helpful to have an individual reading session, in which they can learn through reading at their own comfortable pace. It motivates them to try harder and keeps them interested in reading, despite being a bit harder for them than it is for others.
Develop social skills
But there’s more to this type of reading program than books. Reading buddy programs also help to improve an ESL learner’s social skills. A reading session will inevitably raise questions and lead to discussions, allowing the ESL learner to not only practice their English skills, but also learn how to communicate and expand their education through interaction and feedback.
A win-win deal
The older reading buddy, who at first might be reluctant and uninterested in joining such a program, generally becomes enthusiastic when they realize that they benefit as much as the younger reading buddy. The older reading buddy:
- Gains confidence in helping others with literacy and educational growth
- Feels good about having younger students admire and look up to them
- Improve his or her own communication and instructional skills, by assuming the role of the teacher
- Has fun in a nurturing, tolerant environment that promotes learning and communication with a different age group.
When can you use a reading buddy program?
Reading buddy programs can be used in both public and private educational school settings, or even by homeschooling parents. These programs have also been widely successful in after-school programs sponsored by libraries, camps, or groups such as the Boys & Girls Clubs. ESL learners, even more than native English speakers, are in need of sustained and thorough exposure to reading; reading skills are the nucleus around which their knowledge and use of English forms.
A reading buddy program is a flexible concept that easily adjusts to the resources and needs of your school, your students, or any other English language learning organization you are involved with.
Here are some points you might want to consider while planning your own reading buddy program:
- Assign the supervision of the reading buddy program to a competent, responsible person
- Assign the organization and promotion of the initiative to someone who can communicate well with all ages of students and school or community representatives
- Decide who the older buddies will be (older students, same-age students, community volunteers, teachers, parents) and how they will be screened for efficiency and suitability
- Determine if a reading program for younger students needs to focus on struggling ESL learners or be a program for every single student in the group
- Identify the source of the financial support for the program, and coordinate fundraising efforts where possible with the school and/or community
- Determine where, when and for how long the reading buddy program will last and prepare a schedule so that both parents and teachers can plan around it
- Decide how the reading buddy program is to be evaluated, and whether the results will be used for formal or informal purposes
- Keep on top of the program from start to finish by using a volunteer coordinator who will recruit, schedule, and check upon the older buddies so that students are not left without a reading partner at any time
Duration and Structure
The reading buddy system is usually a short-term initiative, where the reading buddies get together for at least 20 minutes each week for an agreed-upon period of time, either for a few weeks or for a whole school year.
Having a systematic schedule to follow helps the younger reading buddy (and their older partner) to take the project seriously and invest in it more willingly.
If you’re going to design your own small-scale reading buddy program, things are much easier to handle, and the knowledge you gain from how the program works can be easily applied to larger initiatives in the future. Identify five students (or a few more or less) who most need help, and match them with reading buddies. With this smaller number of students, you'll make it easier to manage and coordinate their progress and resolve any issue not anticipated or planned for from the start. Once the small-scale program is running smoothly, you can expand it to include more reading pairs.
Paired reading has a substantial range of benefits for the ESL community.
Including it in your curriculum is an excellent way to further advance the academic performance and confidence of your ESL students, helping them improve on skills and competencies, and providing individualized assistance that group classes alone often cannot provide.
This is a guest article by Jovell Alingod. Jovell is a Project Manager for eReflect – a world leader in self-improvement software for all ages. eReflect strives to provide the best in vocabulary, spelling, typing, and speed reading software. Currently these products are being used by tens of thousands of happy customers in over 110 countries