By Susan Riddell
With one hand behind his back, Crossroads Elementary School (Campbell County) 3rd-grader Jason McDonald served 2nd-grader Henry King a glass of lemonade.
King, who browsed over the menu in front of him, soon made his main selection, placing an order for “Dr. Seuss.”
Playing the part of a waiter, McDonald headed over to a table filled with stacks of books. He sifted through them until he came upon If I Ran a Zoo by Dr. Seuss. He grabbed the book and returned to King’s table.
McDonald opened it and began reading to King, pointing at each word as he told the story.
McDonald and King were two of the many students at the school who recently participated in a literacy café. While younger students nibbled on vanilla wafers and sipped lemonade (or hot chocolate during the fall), students in grades 3-5 read them books ranging from Dr. Seuss selections to Arthur and Berenstain Bears books.
This was a big hit with all the students who participated.
“We did this for a week and a half in the fall during our literacy block, and everyone loved it so much we decided to have another one (in the spring),” Principal Kim Visse said. “We had great support from the parents, who did the leg work and made things run smoothly, and the children really bought in to the café idea.”
Older students created menus for the younger ones. Most menus contained three or four authors from which the students could choose. Each student wrote a description of the characters in books and drew pictures of them on the menus.
Fifth-grade teacher Nicki Vineyard said her students were so into the project they practiced reading through the books on the reading list prior to the café opening.
“They enjoyed having the responsibility and really wanted to do a good job,” Vineyard said. “As a teacher, I got to see how far they have come along as readers, so that was a bonus.”
Visse, the volunteer parents and teachers all said they loved seeing the interaction between the older and younger students.
“Watching them interact was great,” Vineyard said. “The younger students were picking up vocabulary words. The older kids were using teaching practices on them and probably didn’t even realize this.”
Kentucky Department of Education reading consultant Linda Holbrook said buddy reading engages a student who knows how to read well with a student who may be an emerging reader.
“It is a ‘win-win’ activity,” Holbrook said. “The older student models reading with fluency or reading with prosody (expression) while the younger student interacts with the text and the older reader, while learning a number of skills such as vocabulary development and promoting reading for enjoyment. Two other variations of this activity are partner reading or paired reading. These have suggested protocols to follow for the reader and the listener.”
Students mentoring other students at Crossroads Elementary is a common practice, Visse said.
“Older students get to be role models, and that’s exciting to them, especially at that age,” she said. “With the younger kids, you see they are excited about reading and picking up those skills, but they also are looking up to the readers at the same time.”
Younger students, who each got to color placemats in front of them, also were quizzed about why they liked to read, who their favorite author is and what their favorite book is.
“We are creating conversations with the children and hoping it just makes them love to read even more,” Visse said. “With 21st-century skills, the underlying message involves kids making choices about what they want to read and how can we make it exciting for them. That’s our intent with this.”
Kim Visse, email@example.com, (859) 441-9174