How to Make Partner Work Work for ALL

Do you love having your students work with a partner? It's a great way to get your kids collaborating. Check out this post to learn how you can get the most out of partnerships.

Children naturally love partner work, and the majority love to get up and move too!  In fact, working in pairs provides our students with the opportunity to collaborate, and in today’s workplace, collaboration is key. In this post, I want to share with you activity ideas you might try for partner work in your classroom.

Considerations for Partner Work

With children, we need to keep in mind the personalities of the teammates. Sometimes, we’ll find one or two lead in a group. Sometimes, one or two will take over and do the work. We don’t want this. Because of these concerns, accountability is essential. Having students work in pairs means high productivity and high accountability since there are just two people. This is especially important if the teacher is working with small groups. Larger groups can become distracting and distracted.

why use partner plays as part of your partner work

The first option that has become my favorite for both primary and upper elementary students is partner plays. I love using them as a way to work in content information and to work on close reading strategies. Last year, I began making partner plays for my fourth and fifth grade groups. The idea came about as I used a reader’s theater with my guided reading group.

During one of my small group session, I had one of my students with very few lines This seemed counterproductive when my goal was to work on fluency. I started looked for two part scripts thinking that would increase the real reading time for my kids. I found a few for young readers and a few for older students. However, I wanted to make sure that the focus was kept on comprehension skills and strategies too. It led me to the decision to write my first set.

My plan was to combine the philosophy of reader’s theater with the strategies of close reading. After all, the idea with reader’s theater is that you practice to improve the performance, but with close reading, you reread to deepen comprehension. That was the birth of my partner play variation.

Introducing My Partner Plays…

I began using them with upper elementary since that is the grade level I was teaching at the time, and in the process of creating them, I also was tasked with a request to review some of the content area concepts too. Ah…another idea…weave in content information and vocabulary into them  too.

In the end, I came up with a mix of seasonal themes and content themes. Here is an example of one that combines science concepts with fiction. It is about the rock cycle, and it includes many of the terms my students needed to know in their unit. The discussion questions helped them express their thinking and allowed us a chance to review. I also included supplementary materials aimed at concept building and vocabulary.

Seasonal Sets You Might Like for Now:

Save Money with Bundles

In order to save a little money, I’ve bundled them all into one set. The upper elementary bundle includes fourteen plays with before, during, and after reading activities. This bundle is best for students in grades 3-5. Topics included in them are:

  • Apple Picking
  • Halloween
  • Fall
  • Thanksgiving
  • Veteran’s Day
  • Oceanography
  • Gift Giving
  • Reindeer
  • Penguins
  • Mittens
  • Snowmen
  • Friendship/Grandparent’s Day
  • Rocks
  • Cooking

As you can see, there’s a wide range of topics. Some are great for any time of the year. Some are seasonal, and some are tied to content areas. This set is best for grades 2-5, and are great for small group or stations.

Partner work for Young Readers

Do you love having your students work with a partner? It's a great way to get your kids collaborating. Check out this post to learn how you can get the most out of partnerships.

So does this idea work as primary partner work? Absolutely! This summer, I worked with a little guy who was finishing first grade reading at a preprimer level. Have you worked with kids at that level? It is tough to find materials that have controlled vocabulary and yet have content to work with.

I decided to write what my little guy needed. He loved dogs (and don’t most kids?), and Biscuit books were his favorite, so I came up with the first in my Sam and Max series called Sam and His Dog Max.  This is a great one to try out with your students to see if they can work in pairs, if the reading level works for their needs, and if the script holds their interest. It is a forever freebie in my store, so grab it whenever you have a few days in your schedule. It is a timeless story, so it can be used any time of year too.

using partner plays as partner work for primary

The sets work well for a high-low pair. I set it up this way to expose my child to rich vocabulary and fluent reading without the pressure of reading material at a frustration level.

Schema Building and Vocabulary

To begin with, you’ll want to prepare for the reading by building schema for the topic to build interest and to fill in any misconceptions (although with a dog theme, you’re unlikely to have an issue with misconceptions). Once the students are feeling excited about the reading and are prepared for challenging words, you will pair them up.

Do you love having your students work with a partner? It's a great way to get your kids collaborating. Check out this post to learn how you can get the most out of partnerships.

In the teacher notes, you’ll see one part is more challenging than the other. For the most part, I’ve stuck with Sam as the character with the easier part. I recommend establishing the norms for partner work (where they can be/not be, voice level, materials they can/can not have, etc.). If your students work well in pairs, you could proceed. If you have some that require additional guidance (or supervision), you could pull them to your reading table for more directed reading. I would suggest pulling some partners to monitor regardless just to get a feel for how your students are handling the text.

 Guiding Questions for partner work

Do you love having your students work with a partner? It's a great way to get your kids collaborating. Check out this post to learn how you can get the most out of partnerships.

One of the components that comes with each partner play is a set of thinking questions that require a written response. I choose a written response to address sentence construction and putting thoughts to paper. The questions require the student to provide text evidence which is definitely a requirement on state assessments. I allow collaboration and discussion for the questions as I think it helps the students return to the text and forces them to justify their answers if they disagree with their peer.

Repeated Reading and Writing Extension

Finally, the last step (which could be used during reading as well) is a writing page. You can use these for extension of the theme, story retellings, or a specific prompt you ask for. Students can mount them on construction paper and embellish them for hanging (maybe a dog peek over??), write a simple response, glue it in a journal, or by-pass the stationary all together.

Over time, I’ve added more to the series, and there are now fourteen of them. They do get a little more complicated, so keep in mind that the scripts will have a range. You can organize them in any order you choose, and you’ll see I tried to include some seasonal options too.

For the full bundle, check out the thumbnail below. The bundle includes a copy of fourteen partner plays. You can try the one below for free with your email subscription.  I’ve done 14 in all, and the bundle is priced at $20.00 ($1.25 each).

Using Poetry Reading for Partner Work

Another option I love for partners are poetry notebooks (I blogged about them on Classroom Tested Resources not long ago [here]). In that post, I explained how we work with the poems I’ve created throughout the week and how we build our poetry notebooks as the year unfolds.

For students in second grade, introducing a new poem each week (as a minimum) provides them with a great variety to read and reread. With each poem, students develop rhythm and phrasing, improve automaticity of sightword reading, practice decoding, and even comprehension. My Poem of the Week Yearly Bundle has enough poems to use each week as well as materials to work with them.

Pairing students and having them alternate lines, work together on the activities that go with the poems, and reread old favorites are just a few options your students can do with them. Poetry always works well when shared.

This freebie is one you can enjoy any time of year and would give you a preview of this set. In addition to the yearly bundle, I’ve also created two other sets. The Poetry on the Menu set includes all food themed poems, and the Poetry for Sports Fans includes a poem for each sport.

Kids LOVE candy and sweet treats, so why not take advantage of that enthusiasm in our teaching. This post includes a plethora of teaching ideas with a candy theme. You'll LOVE all of the freebies included.
Do you love having your students work with a partner? It's a great way to get your kids collaborating. Check out this post to learn how you can get the most out of partnerships.

Book Buddies

The final suggestion is a no-frills suggestion. Simply find two copies of a book that your students will be dying to read and pair two compatible kids. As students begin with chapter books, pairing up is a great way to keep them engaged for the duration of the book, allow conversations about the story events, and build in reading fluency.

Worried about keeping the kids accountable? You might provide response journals that the pair can work on together, give them graphic organizers to respond to, or have them provide a brief book talk with the class. I highly recommend book talks as a practice because getting students to talk about what they are reading helps students make plans for future reading.  We know this leads to greater motivation.

Another option I can share for written work to go with your book buddy time is my Book Clubs resource below. You can subscribe to my email list for it using the link below:

Until next time, happy reading!


Carla is a licensed reading specialist with 27 years of experience in the regular classroom (grades 1, 4, and 5), in Title 1 reading, as a tech specialists, and a literacy coach. She has a passion for literacy instruction and meeting the needs of the individual learner.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Carla,

    These partner scripts are such a great idea! Wow! I truly just love this idea! Students always love doing readers theater and this takes it a step further. What a great way to build fluency and comprehension!
    Thanks for sharing this!
    -Stacia πŸ™‚
    Collaboration Cuties

  2. Thanks a bunch, Stacia. I'm so glad you like them. I needed a way to really work on fluency with my kiddos AND comprehension. These helped them practice going back to the text for evidence. Anyway, I truly appreciate your comment. Makes my day!

  3. Carla,

    LOVE these partner work ideas! I always loved having my kids work with partners, often a great part of the day. Wish I would have had these genius ideas long ago for even more ways. Thanks for sharing!


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