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Dedicated to Teachers

Setting up Strong Reading and Writing Partnerships at the Beginning of a New School Year

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by Anna Gratz Cockerille​

In most reading and writing units, students work in partnerships to support and extend their work. Over time, even very young students can learn to turn to a partner as the first line of defense when trouble arises. When they encounter a tricky word in their reading, for example, they can ask a partner for help rather than running to a teacher. Or, when they aren’t sure what to write about, they can ask a partner to spend a couple of minutes brainstorming. As Lucy Calkins writes in A Guide to the Reading Workshop: Primary Grades, “Partner time is designed to give young readers a second wind, renewing their energy to continue on” (p. 52). The same is true for young writers, too. With a bit of extra instruction and time, partners can learn to act as confidantes, sounding boards, and cheerleaders for each other, spurring each other on to do their best work. 

Some tips to help with setting up partnerships: 

  • Consider social dynamics. Partnerships are usually the most successful when the teacher selects them. It seems in line with the independence we try to instill in students in reading and writing workshop to let them choose their own partners. However, most teachers’ experience shows that the best friends students choose to play with on the playground do not make the most focused, supportive partners in the classroom. 
  • Consider levels. In writing, partnerships do not need to be ability based. Often students who have different strengths make great partners, such as one whose strength is detail and one whose strength is organization. in reading, partners should be reading at or very close to the same level, particularly if you have multiple copies of books that they can read together. 
  • Consider personality. Often, quiet students partner well with other quiet students, and talkative students partner well with other talkative students. Make sure that no student is in a partnership where her voice will not be heard.  
  •  Consider longevity of partnerships. Ideally, partners stay together for an entire unit. If a partnership really not working well, they can be changed mid-unit. If a partnership is very strong, they might stay together for the next unit, as well. 
  • Consider English Language Learners. ELLs are best supported by partnering them with a proficient speaker. Or, if they are pre-emergent speakers, they might work in a triad with two proficient speakers who can act as models. 

At this week’s TCRWP Twitter chat, staff developers Jessica Greiss and Ann Keyser will be on hand to talk about ways to get great partnerships up and going in reading and writing right at the start of the school year. Please join for tips on how to tap into this powerful structure in your classroom. 

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Each Wednesday night at 7:30 pm Eastern, The Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project hosts a Twitter chat using the hashtag #TCRWP. Join @MrsJessToTheG & @Ann_L_Keyser to chat about setting up strong partnerships in primary classrooms Wednesday evening. 

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Not on Twitter? Take Heinemann’s free Twitter for Educators course here.

Cockerille_Anna_GratzAnna Gratz Cockerille, Coauthor of Bringing History to Life (Grade 4) in the Units of Study for Teaching Writing Series.

Anna was a teacher and a literacy coach in New York City and in Sydney, Australia, and later became a Staff Developer and Writer at TCRWP. She served as an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and taught at several TCRWP institutes, including the Content Literacy Institute, where she helped participants bring strong literacy instruction into social studies classrooms. Anna also has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement (Heinemann 2012), and Navigating Nonfiction in the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Grades 3–5 series (Heinemann 2010). Most recently, Anna served as an editor for the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, K–5 series.

Topics: Units of Study, Lucy Calkins, Education, Literature, Reading, TCRWP, Teachers College, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Writing, Anna Gratz Cockerille, Elementary, Kindergarten, Language Arts, Literacy, Middle School, Nonfiction, Reading Units of Study, Summer, Units of Study for Teaching Reading

Date Published: 07/25/17

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