Book Discussions in a Reading Partnership
Reading partners meet to discuss and evaluate their book together.
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
Reading partners will independently begin the book that they have both chosen to read. They will meet throughout their reading of the book to discuss the text and ask their reading partner "thick" questions that they will compose as they read the story.
- Plan and organize reading meetings with a partner in the class
- Review story elements by retelling the stories they are reading
- Make text-to-self and text-to-text connections as they read
- Compose "thick" questions about a text that encourage higher-level thinking
- Discuss and evaluate literature with a partner
- Make predictions about what they are reading based on evidence from the text
While I do not want the books discussion in which the reading partners engage to be scripted, I do feel the need to provide my students with some structure. They are expected to use the Reading Partnership Planning Sheet (PDF) as a guide to help them conduct a book discussion with their partner. The directions below take you through the five steps of the first and second reading partnership book discussions, as laid out in the Reading Partnership Planning Sheet. The directions for each book discussion meeting are as follows:
- What is happening in the book so far? (Retell the story together)
- What connections have you made while reading?
- Share "thick" questions and discuss your answers.
- Make predictions about what will happen next in the story.
- Set-up next meeting: We will meet again when we both get to page _____.
Part 1: Retelling the Story
The first thing students are asked to do is retell what is happening in the story. This helps students remember what they have read, especially if one student finished the reading early and has read a different book while waiting for his or her partner to catch up.
- By the time my students are involved in reading partnerships, I have already taught lessons on retelling a story. However, I spend time reviewing the elements of a story so that students are more comfortable doing this when they meet with their reading partner. (My students keep a handout in their reading binder that lists the elements of a story-setting characters, problem, main events, etc. Some students use this as a guide when retelling the story with their reading partner.)
- I choose a student to help me retell a shorter story that I have previously read aloud to the class. That student and I act like we are reading partners and model for the class how two people work together to retell the story.
- After my model student and I retell the story in front of the class, I lead a discussion. I point out that retelling is a good way to start a book discussion because it helps the partners remember what they read. It also helps clear up confusion if one of the partners is confused about something the story. One partner may even remember details that the other partner forgot.
- Explain to students that this will be the first step in their upcoming book discussions with their reading partners.
Part 2: Making Connections to the Text
Making connections is an important part of reading comprehension. We are aware that students are better able to comprehend a text when they are able to relate to the characters, the setting, the events, or the topic of the story. In this part of the meeting, students are asked to discuss the connections they made while reading.
- Prior to starting Reading Partnerships in my classroom, I have already taught lessons on Making Connections. I encourage my students to make personal connections to the text (text-to-self) and connections to other texts (text-to-text).
- To help students see how sharing text connections should be part of a reading partnership book discussion, I choose a student to share a connection that he or she made to a shorter story that I have previously read aloud to the class. I ask the chosen student ahead of time to come up a text-to-self connection or a text-to-text connection to share with me in front of the class for the purpose of modeling this skill to the class. I also share a connection of my own.
- I follow up the modeling of making connections with a class discussion to make sure that students know how to do this when they conduct book discussion on their own with their own reading partner. (I make a point to remind students that this should be a short part of their book discussion. Some readers will tend to get off-topic with their connections, and the book discussion will be more about themselves than the story itself.)
Part 3: Asking "Thick" Questions
This is the main part of the book discussion and is the part that I find most essential to the success of a reading partnership. This part encourages students to really engage in a meaningful, unscripted discussion that leads to a deeper level of understanding and inquiry.
- Explain to students to the difference between "thin" questions and "thick" questions. (Thin Questions are ones that I call "Right There" questions. They can be easily answered in the text and often begin with Who, Where, When, How many, etc. Thick Questions are ones that I call "Think and Search" questions. They are questions that lead to discussion and often begin with Why do you think...?, What if?, How would you feel if..?, What might....?)
- Explain to students that "thick" questions are the ones that lead to discussion and will be the type of question that they will compose and bring with them to their reading partnership book discussions.
Students ask each other
“thick” questions that they
have written about their book
during a book discussion.
- To help students differentiate between thick and thin questions, choose a picture book to read aloud that lends itself to both types of questions. I use A Day's Work by Eve Bunting, but really any book will work. Before reading the book to the class, create both thick and thin questions about the book on index cards.
- After reading the book, pass out the thick and thin question cards to students in the class. Ask each student with a question card to read it aloud to the class. Have the class work together to sort the question cards into two categories: Thick and Thin. Follow up the sorting activity with a discussion about what makes a question "thick."
- Extend the activity by inviting students to write their own thick question about the story you read aloud. Explain to students that after they reach the page number at which both partners have agreed to stop reading, they will compose two thick questions about the story on the questioning form. They will then bring the questions to the next book discussion meeting where they will share the thick questions with their reading partner and discuss their answers. (My students keep these questions in their reading binder, along with their Reading Partnership Planning Sheet.)
- To help students compose their questions, I also give them a Thick Questioning Prompts handout that I have created to assist them in writing their own thick questions.
Part 4: Making Predictions
- After students discuss their thick questions, they will make predictions about what will happen next in the story.
- I model this for my students while reading a chapter book aloud to my class. Everyday, when I finish the chapter I have chosen to read to my students, I ask 3 students to make a prediction about what they think will happen next in the story.
- I encourage students to use evidence from the story when making their predictions. Because of _______, I think _________ will happen.
- Explain to students that they will always end their reading partnership book discussions in the same way we do our class read-aloud, by making predictions about what will happen next.
Part 5: Setting a Reading Goal
- The final thing partners will do before ending the meeting will be to set a new page number to which they will read. Both partners should record the agreed upon page number on their Reading Partnership Planning Sheet.
- Once the book discussion meeting is over, students will continue reading their book independently.
- Please see Lesson 3: Reading Partnership Book Projects to learn more about the final book discussion and how students will culminate their reading partnership.
Supporting All Learners
Some students may need extra help composing "thick" questions. When this is the case, I will conference with them independently during their independent reading and use a Thick Question Prompts handout to help them write quality questions. I also know that it will be hard for some partnerships to engage in a meaningful book discussion with no teacher support. When necessary, I jump in on a book discussion if I think the partners can use some help extending the discussion or thinking more deeply about the text.
- To help my students practice writing good thick questions, I also include them in my daily read-aloud.
- Each day after I read a chapter aloud from a class novel, I invite my students to write a thick question on an index card and add it to a card holder on our "Thick Questions" bulletin board.
- I pick one thick question to ask the class before I begin reading from the novel the following day. This helps students become familiar with what a thick question sounds like, and it also shows them how thick questions can lead to good discussions.
I always send home an informational note about Reading Partnerships to the parents. It explains how they work, and it lets parents know that their child will often be reading parts of the book at home. I encourage parents to spend time talking with their children about what they are reading. To support parents in this endeavor, I also send home a list of suggested prompts for parents to use when discussing books with their children.
- All reading partners are expected to complete the Reading Partnership Planning Sheet (PDF).
- The students' main assignments are to read the book and be active participants in the book discussions with their reading partners.
- Are reading partners participating in meaningful discussions?
- What are the common "roadblocks" students come across in their book discussions?
- What lessons can I teach to help my students improve their book discussions?
- Are there some partnerships that need extra teacher support during their book discussions?
While students are involved in their Reading Partnership Book Discussions, I act as a "fly on the wall." I take notes on their participation in the discussions, their ability to engage in a meaningful discussion about the text, and the extent to which they are able to stay on task. I use the notes I take while observing the book discussions to guide my future mini-lessons during reading workshop. I will often point things out that I notice and suggest tips for what to do when certain "roadblocks to discussion" may occur.
I also collect all students' Reading Partnership Questioning Forms (PDF) when they are done with the book. I assess their ability to write quality "thick" questions and will work with students who need extra support in this area.