Creating a Successful Buddy Program
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
About ten years ago, I wanted my 2nd grade students to get some extra practice with some concepts by teaching it to other, younger students. I paired up with a wonderful kindergarten teacher, and our classes have been meeting every year, once a week, since then. Read on to find out more about setting up a successful Little Buddy/Big Buddy Program in your school.
Image courtesy of PBS Parents.
The first meeting of the buddies is probably the most important. It determines if they will get along and be willing to work together, and shows whether or not there is the possibility of a personal connection between them.
I assign a 2nd grader to a kindergartner based on their personalities and recommendations from the kindergarten teacher. The Big Buddies, or 2nd graders, benefit from teaching their Little Buddies reading skills, writing, math, art, and even PE. The Little Buddies benefit from having someone special help them with what they need to learn. Both groups also get to practice social skills and really enjoy the time together.
Even my academically lowest student can assist a kindergartner with his or her letter sounds and basic addition and subtraction. It allows the 2nd grader to develop confidence and reinforces skills learned. Even though the 2nd grader might be behind academically compared to their peers, they have learned and grown significantly since they were in kindergarten two short years ago.
Image above courtesy of Falling Into Change.
Here are some tips to help you get started with a Big Buddy/Little Buddy Program of your own:
1. Find a partner teacher that teaches a grade two to three years above or below you, that is like-minded, and committed to meeting regularly. Our school is kindergarten through 2nd grade, and I teach 2nd, so I chose kinder. If you have a K–6 school, lucky you! You can go up or down, or both!
2. Pair up the students. I will usually pair girls with girls and boys with boys, and as I said above, I pair them up in part based on personalities and recommendations. Some little buddies might have two big buddies and some big buddies might have two little buddies. I match my most responsible students with two little ones or a single one with a behavior problem. English language learners get paired with other English language learners if they need primary language support. Otherwise, ELLs benefit from the extra oral language exchanges.
3. Do team-building and get-to-know-you activities. The first few meetings, we get to know our buddies by writing and drawing with them as well as by playing games. Think about the first few days of school and recycle those ice breakers with your buddies. Before their first meeting, I talk to the 2nd graders about treating their Little Buddies like younger brothers or sisters. We talk about using gentle reminders, helping versus doing it for them, and how to keep their Little Buddies on task.
4. Hold academic tutoring sessions. Oftentimes, the 2nd graders are excited that they can help their Kinder Buddies with their Power Words or remind them about what they're missing from their sentence. The Ks are excited to read their little stories and show off new skills to their buddies. But the best thing is that the 2nd graders are skilled and knowledgeable about how to help their Little Buddies. They remember what it was like to be a kindergartner and are very sympathetic to kids who are struggling.
5. Plan social gatherings. It's important to have some social time with your buddies. We love getting together for our Thanksgiving celebration, also called our "Buddy Friendship Feast," and delivering holiday gifts and valentines, and our very special End of the Year Park Party is always a huge success. The kids love pairing up with their buddies for fun and games, and it builds even stronger relationships between them.
6. Plan with your partner teacher. The lower grade level should choose timely target skills in their curriculum that the Big Buddies can help with. For example, my 2nd graders are pros at knowing opposites. We play a simple board game that helps the Little Buddies learn opposites, too. Big buddies practice the game in class first and practice giving hints. Then when we meet, they are ready to play! My partner and I get together once a month to plan the activities for that month. We divide the responsibilities for preparation of the materials at that time as well.
7. Commit to meeting once a week. I know that schedules get crazy with rainy days, field trips, and assemblies, not to mention the pressure of staying with the pacing plan, but meeting weekly makes a difference. The most successful buddy teams at our school really value the time as academic and important. Meeting regularly also helps the kids build strong relationships.
8. Make academics fun with learning games connected to your curriculum. Change up a game like Candyland or checkers by adding letter sounds, sight words, addition facts, or numbers (for practicing number recognition). Most of the 2nd graders are able to teach the games to their little buddies and still enjoy playing the games themselves.
9. Get the parents involved. Get parents to prepare materials, bring in food or supplies, or even be on hand for the meetings. They can see the benefits for themselves, and the kids who need an adult immediately present get one!
10. Jump in with both feet. Just go for it. You get out of the program whatever effort you put into it. At our school, we love our Little Buddies and can't wait to see them every week.