Cultivate Peer Coaching in Reading

By Jane Smith Communicator December 2013, Volume 37, Issue 4

By Jane Smith
December 2013, Volume 37, Issue 4

How do great athletes get to be so good at what they do? Lots of talent and passion for the game are not enough to make an athlete become a superstar. What really counts are the coaching support and practice that enables players to continually improve his or her performance capacity.

The lyrics, “We all need someone to lean on,” hold true for most of us to be successful. Peer coaching gives students a peer to “lean on,” and can be an integral source of literacy support. Teachers know that peer coaching is fun, involves students in their learning, solves problems, and can even be done with the youngest students. Best of all, it’s free!

The premise of literacy coaching is that kindergarten, grade-one, and grade-two students need lots of support to become fluent readers, a critical component of early literacy instruction. At my school, Woodland Elementary, we have been able to put a new twist on the coaching. A former Reading Recovery intervention teacher volunteered to teach fourth, fifth, and sixth graders how to coach younger students in reading. First and second graders read to the older students during our language arts block, using books at their reading level from an individual book box. Older and younger students would be randomly paired each week.

Implementing Peer Coaching

First, the teacher practiced the following expectations with the older students. Copies of these guidelines and strategies were put in a folder for reference for each older student:

Reading Coaches,

Thank you for agreeing to help the younger students in your school. Your help and encouragement could make a difference in their reading success. The following guidelines should help make your time more successful. (Readers are the younger students. Older students are coaches.)

* Sit side-by-side so both partners can see the book.
* The reader holds the book.
* Stay in one spot during the time you have together.
* Use quiet voices.
* Help your partner problem-solve tricky words.
* Use only the books your partner has.

If you finish early, you can:
* Reread the books.
* Do word work.
* Do letter work.
* Write a story.
* List rhyming words.
* Practice hard words.

How to problem-solve tricky words: If the reader gets “stuck” on a word, you can use some of the following strategies to help:
* Wait. Sometimes readers need time to think about the hard word.
* Suggest your partner look at the pictures for clues about the word.
* Ask what word would make sense.
* Have your partner look for sounds or letters they know in the word.

When they get the word, have them reread the sentence and ask if it makes sense. If they don’t get the word after a few tries, tell them the word. (We don’t want our readers to get frustrated!)

Give your partner lots of praise if they are doing well. You might say:
* “I like the way you read that.”
* “Good job for getting the first sound.”
* “Wow! You figured that out yourself.”

If your partner gets distracted, you might try:
* Talking about the story.
* Ask your reader to make a prediction.
* Ask if the story reminds them of something they did.
* Write a story together about something your reader knows

After the peer coaching was completed, the older students wrote a reflection that was kept of the folder, as well.

NAME: ______________________ DATE: __________________

My partner was: _______________________________

The best thing about our reading time today was:

The biggest challenge about our reading time today was:

If 1 is “not great,” 2 is “OK” and 3 is “WOW”

How would you rate yourself as a coach? (Circle One)

1 2 3

How would you rate your reader’s behavior?
1 2 3

What do you think might improve your reading time?

At first, teachers may have been a bit skeptical about implementing the coaching idea. But, once students got into the routine, it did not take long for both the older and younger students to get the hang of the expectations during the peer coaching time.

What were the results? When given the opportunity to read stories, especially to peers, students began to take ownership of the practice. All the students gained confidence in their ability and became excited about reading. The students enjoy working with a peer and are proud of their reading fluency growth. Self-confidence is evident in the older students’ in their ability to be coaches to the younger ones. Teachers have also stated that it is apparent that students are more willing to read aloud and are eager to improve so they can move on to be coaches.

Leadership Lessons

The key elements to sustain the cultivation of peer coaching in this manner are the following:

  • Have the older students understand participation is by invitation, not a requirement.
  • Explain and practice peer coaching to the older students.
  • Review the important strategies of what to do when confronted with a difficult word.
  • Create opportunities for the older students to reflect on the process.
  • Provide time for peer coaching.
  • Keep all the materials to the older students in a folder for easy access.
  • Be enthusiastic. If it doesn’t seem to go well the first time, give the program time and be supportive of teachers and students as they work through it.

The literacy coaching is still going on here at Woodland Elementary School and we are all loving it! We definitely are reaping the rewards from this initiative.

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Jane Smith is principal of Woodland Elementary School in Baileyville, Maine.

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