A Positive Start to Virtual Reading Buddies


“Show me how excited you are about Reading Buddies!” asked Kindergarten and Class 1 Head Teacher Jes Thies on a recent Friday morning. From their spots on the Zoom screen, the 34 students variously clicked the thumbs-up icon, waved their arms in the air and smiled from ear to ear.

If their enthusiasm was any indication, this cross-grade endeavor promised to be a fun and informative activity that helped build literacy skills and confidence. It was also a vibrant example of a lesson in the Lower School’s virtual track, designed for students who have opted to continue learning from home.

Ms. Thies and Class 2 and 3 Head Teacher Miranda Orbach teach these remote sections, offering expert instruction for this group of scholars. Throughout any given week, these students also join their in-person classmates on Zoom for co-curriculars like Art, Music and Physical Education.

To prepare for remote learning, the teachers created well-stocked “virtual libraries” through Epic, an easy-to-navigate digital reading platform that allows students to browse titles like they would in a physical library or a classroom book bin.

Because this particular morning was the first meeting of virtual Reading Buddies, some reminders were in order. “We’re going to put you all in breakout rooms,” said Ms. Thies. “Who can tell me what it looks like to be responsible in a breakout room?”

“I say my name and share what I’m supposed to share,” answered one member of Class 3.

Indicating her approval, Ms. Thies went on to explain that the older students (in Class 2 or 3) would be responsible for reading to their younger buddies (in Kindergarten or Class 1) using the Epic digital platform. Then Ms. Thies made an important announcement: “We’re going to read ‘Splat the Cat,’ one of my favorites!”

After Ms. Orbach shared her screen, a list of reading buddy “partnerships” – three or four names from different grades – popped up. Ms. Thies set up the breakout rooms, and these eager readers were off and running.

In breakout room 1, this writer observed a trio of cheerful and collaborative students who dove right into the assignment. “Let’s take turns reading the pages,” one Class 3 student suggested to the other as their Class 1 buddy looked on in anticipation. After a screen share, the cover from “Splat the Cat” by Rob Scotton appeared, the black-furred protagonist clutching a bunch of colorful pencils in his paw.

For the next few minutes, the two older students alternated reading this uplifting book about Splat’s first day at Cat School. Clicking the screen to turn the pages, they enunciated the words with precision and moved the action forward with their expressive voices.

Grinning and laughing, their younger friend clearly enjoyed listening to this story and looking at the whimsical drawings. When a brief internet interruption occurred, the students demonstrated remarkable poise, quickly restarting a tablet and picking up where they had left off. They even had time to begin reading a second book, “The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde,” which the Class 1 student selected.

For the final moments, the partners returned to the main Zoom room to talk about their experiences. “My breakout room went really well,” one shared. “I was in the same room as my sister,” remarked another.

Before waving goodbye, the students gave themselves a well-deserved round of applause. Without a doubt, these book lovers are already looking forward to the next meeting of virtual Reading Buddies!