Partner Reading: Building Confidence, Releasing Responsibility

by Claudia Anne Katz and Susan Bohman

Upper elementary school through middle school

What Is Partner Reading?

Partner Reading as it exists in Susan Bohman’s urban fifth-grade classroom is a simple, independent reading activity that can be facilitated with books or periodicals from the school or classroom library. During Partner Reading, students monitor the reading of a fellow student. Pairs work together on a variety of texts, building their reading confidence, increasing concentration, practicing interacting socially in a positive way, and improving their motivation to read. Partner Reading improves fluency, reading rate, and word attack skills, and helps students monitor their own comprehension.

Partner Reading also fosters a gradual release of responsibility, where students move away from total dependence on the teacher to reading independently without the teacher’s intervention. Best of all, Partner Reading is a lot of fun. Students enjoy doing it, and most teachers recognize that children who are motivated and enjoy reading are ultimately better readers.

An Example of Partner Reading

Susan rings a bamboo chime suspended from the ceiling, and 32 fifth-grade students move to take their places at their desks or on the rug. She pairs them randomly using Magic Sticks or Like Objects. Today students reach into the Like Objects bowl and select paper clips, erasers, sticky notes, or other objects from Susan’s desk, then quickly find their match with another student in the room.

Edith and Celeste are delighted to discover they each have a penny. Swiftly, they sit shoulder-to-shoulder and Celeste begins to read a page from her book,
Changes for Molly by Valerie Tripp. She reads quietly, only loud enough for Edith to hear her. When she stumbles on a word, Edith waits to see if Celeste can decode it herself. A particular word proves too difficult for Celeste. Edith quietly offers help. “Do you want to try that word again?”

“What word?”

“That one.” Edith points to the word that Celeste has read as “completed.”

“Oh,” Celeste pauses. “Do you mean ‘com-play-acted’?”

“Yes, but I don’t think that is correct either. I’ll point to each part in the word and you read it.”

“OK.” Celeste reads, “Com-pli-ca-ted,” as Edith points to each syllable.

“Say it fast.”


“Great! Now read the entire sentence again.”

There are few of these tutorial moments because the book Celeste is reading is at her recreational reading level and she has at least 95 to 100 percent accuracy with it. When Celeste finishes her page, Edith asks a question about what Celeste has just read. “Why did Molly practice the complicated dance?”

They enter into a quiet discussion. Edith is not satisfied with Celeste’s answer and offers evidence from the story to back up her opinion. “I don’t think that’s why she was practicing. You could look back on the page to find a better answer.”

Celeste scans the page she just read. “Oh, I see.” She smiles. “I think Molly wants to do a special solo dance. I did a solo dance when I took ballet lessons. That must be why she needs to practice.”

Now it is Edith’s turn to read. Edith is a stronger reader than Celeste, and her book,
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, is more difficult than Celeste’s book. Luckily, there are no words that force Edith to stop, and she completes the page she is reading without error. Celeste poses a question and Edith answers it. Because they are focused on the task, each girl reads three pages from her book, stopping occasionally to work on a difficult word or make sense of some unusual syntax.

After each page is read, they engage in a brief question-and-answer session. Afterward, it is time for both girls to take out a Reading Log and record the session’s work. When the chime rings shortly after, Celeste and Edith have completed a perfect Partner Reading session.

Overcoming Challenges

Susan had done Partner Reading with eighth-graders at her previous school, and she is currently using this approach with these fifth-grade students. Early in the school year, she devoted one week to establishing Partner Reading. She spent a half-hour a day teaching her students how to read to each other in pairs, reflecting her goal of having her students do more actual, connected reading.

Susan believes in the value of Partner Reading. That is why when she encounters a problem in a less-than-perfect Partner Reading session, she seeks a solution. It is often the case that an activity will go well with most students, like Edith and Celeste, but fall flat with a few others. It is in these situations that teachers find themselves abandoning good practice because it is not working perfectly for everyone. She might have done that when a session does not go well and some students do not engage in the task, but she believes strongly in the value of Partner Reading. Instead of walking away, she initiates the following remedial instructional interventions:

  • With her students’ help, she reintroduces the “Procedure of the Process” (POP) Chart that she presented during the initial establishment of Partner Reading. The POP chart lists the rules that govern the process of Partner Reading, including:
    • Sit shoulder-to-shoulder with your partner.
    • Read one page at a time.
    • Read the entire page.
    • Ask a question to confirm comprehension with your partner.
  • The Partner Reading Log is reviewed. It has five columns: one for the date of the session; a second for the listener’s name; a third for the amount of time spent reading; a fourth for the title of the book; and a fifth for the number of pages read.
  • Susan then gives each student a "Confirm Comprehension" bookmark to remind them to support their partner’s reading. The text on the bookmark reads “Word or Wait? Count to 3. Then ask, ‘Do you want me to give you the word, or do you want me to wait?’” The bookmark is laminated, and students keep it in their Partner Reading folder.

Partner Reading, Take Two

After the bookmark has been introduced, David and Victoria sit shoulder-to-shoulder on the Partner Reading rug and pull out their books. They are both reading
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. They will each read the same page of the book. As Victoria reads, David lightly marks his page with a pencil. After Victoria finishes, David points out the words she missed. Then he asks a question. “Why didn’t Rob’s mom need to teach him about whittling in wood?”

Victoria looks back at the page she has just read and says, “His mom says his hands already know what to do. I wonder how that works.”

David does not engage in a discussion with Victoria. Instead, he begins to read the page Victoria has just read. When David finishes, Victoria says, “You had seven errors but they were all little words. Do you want to read the middle paragraph again?”

David shrugs his shoulders. “OK.” He begins to read the middle paragraph again, this time more slowly. In the second reading, he reads each word correctly. When he finishes, he sits back to listen while Victoria poses a question. Because he has been focused on the text, David easily responds to the question, offering evidence from the story in his answer.

“That was a good answer,” Victoria says. Now it is Victoria’s turn to read. She reads a short page at the end of the chapter with only two errors. David reads the same page with one error. They start a new chapter, and when Victoria comes to the word interact, she reads it as interiors. David has his bookmark out and counts to three in his head, his lips silently forming the numbers. Then he says, “Do you want me to give you the word, or do you want me to wait?”

“Wait,” Victoria answers. She is also looking at her bookmark. She rereads the sentence. This time she is able to pronounce the word correctly. She finishes the page and waits for David to ask a question.

David is watching the clock. “We only have four minutes left. We’d better fill out the Reading Log.” The children take their logs out of their folders. Susan rings the bamboo chime to indicate the end of this Partner Reading session.

Although David and Victoria might have read more pages during their session, their practice is improved considerably from the behavior demonstrated by David and a different partner in a session that took place before the teacher’s remedial instruction. Their concentration has increased, and they are more engaged in what’s happening in the text. Susan’s intervention was successful, and literature is alive and well in her classroom.

Professional Resources

  • Boushey, Gail, and Joan Moser.
    The Daily Five: Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades. 2006. 144p. Stenhouse, paper, $18 (9781571104298).

    The approach to Partner Reading described in this article is partly based on a chapter in Boushey and Moser’s book called “Read to Someone and Listen to Reading.” “The sisters” provide teachers with the structure for developing purposeful activities in their classrooms during guided reading sessions. This is a “must-have” text for teachers who want to set up a guided reading classroom.
  • Routman, Reggie.
    Reading Essentials: The Specifics You Need to Teach Reading Well. 2002. 288p. Heinemann, paper, $27.50 (9780325004921).

    Short and to the point, Routman’s guide supplies the teacher with the tools required for setting up a guided reading program and centers in the classroom. Along with Boushey and Moser’s book, above, it provides the specifics needed to teach reading well.

A former middle-school teacher,
Claudia Anne Katz is now an assistant professor at National-Louis University.
Susan Bohman is a fifth-grade teacher at Talcott Fine Arts and Museum Academy in Chicago, Illinois.