I joined sixth grade classes with second grade classes to hear and discuss a story together. I paired each older student with a younger student for "turn and talk" times at various points in the story. The story I chose was Prince Janos and His Extraordinary Companions from Csenge Zalka's Tales of Superhuman Powers (McFarland, 2013). In this tale, the Prince goes out into the world to "see what he can see and learn what he can learn," and meets five people along the way, each of whom has a special power, such as superhuman speed, speech, or hearing. He makes friends with each one and as the story progresses each friend comes forward to "save the day" with their particular special power.
Every time a challenging situation arose in the story I paused and asked the students to turn and talk with their buddies, then come up with suggestions about which one of the five extraordinary companions might be able to use a special power to help out. For example, when the King offers to let the Prince and his companions to take as much of his treasure as they can carry, which of the companions might step forward? The strong man named Carries Mountains, who can carry a mountain on his shoulder, is the story's solution, but the students made some different choices with excellent justifications.
Having buddies of different ages seemed to make my students especially well engaged with the discussions and the "turn and talk" activities. Moreover, this experience allowed me to "trick" my older students into listening to a folk tale!
For librarians who would like to try this, here are a few tips:
--Prepare name tags for each student. When students enter the space, have younger students sit on one side and older on the other. Hand out name tags and assign younger children to older children. You probably don't need to spend time trying to create "perfect pairs" because you won't know who is going to be in class or not in school that day.
--Tell each group of students what is going to happen and what to expect. Have a discussion with older students about their responsibilities as "mentors."
--I told the story but I think reading aloud could also work well. The benefit of telling a story is that no one is frustrated about not being able to see the pictures--we all see them equally well in our imaginations!
--A super-hero tale works well because it is appealing to such a wide range of ages and offers many opportunities for discussion. However, I am sure that anyone reading this blog post will have lots of ideas about ways to adapt a "Story Buddy" program for different kinds of stories.