Skip to main content Skip to main content

Engaging with Literature: A Video Library, Grades 3-5

Book Buddies

Tim O'Keefe and his third graders meet with their Book Buddies, fifth graders in Julie Waugh's class, in this classroom visit. The two classes have chosen to talk together about Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco. Over two days, the Book Buddies read and discuss the assigned section of the book, then meet as a group to discuss their reading and their responses. Mr. O'Keefe and Ms. Waugh explain the process as it unfolds, and clearly demonstrate their roles in supporting the ongoing discussion.

“The whole purpose of Book Buddies is the interaction among the kids and for them to help each other learn to read better and learn to look more deeply into literature.”

Tim O’Keefe, 3rd-Grade Teacher
The Center for Inquiry
Columbia, South Carolina

Exciting things often happen when two teachers merge their classes for literature discussion. In this video, you will see how Tim O’Keefe and his third-graders meet with his colleague Julie Waugh and her fifth graders for Book Buddies — paired discussions about a book they have read together. The book they have chosen, Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco, is one that many of the students are already familiar with. The older students read a number of Polacco books when they were in third grade, and, as Mr. O’Keefe reminds his class, this is a book he read aloud to them earlier in the school year. The purpose of this encounter is to offer both groups of students an opportunity to experience rich, authentic literary discussions.

About This Video

Thoughtful logistical planning is central to the success of this shared activity. Mr. O’Keefe and Ms. Waugh were careful to choose a book that is accessible to students with a range of reading abilities. At the same time they looked for a book with interesting events and universal themes to stimulate rich discussion. Mr. O’Keefe notes that he and Ms. Waugh anticipated intense interactions about the book and so divided their reading over two days. Each day the Book Buddies read and discussed the assigned section of the book together and chose a response mode from a suggested list. Finally, both classes met together in one classroom to discuss their reading and their responses.

Providing students with multiple opportunities to experience envisionment building is a central aspect of effective literature classrooms. Book Buddy meetings offer students authentic occasions to do just that.

For resources that can help you use this clip for teacher professional development, preservice education, administrative and English/language arts content meetings, parent conferences, and back-to-school events, visit our Support Materials page. There you will find PDF files of our library guide, classroom lesson plan, student activity sheets, and other Teacher Tools.

Featured Text

Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco
Drawing on her childhood, Polacco tells the story of how she and her two best friends buy a special Easter hat that Stewart and Winston’s grandma Eula Mae Walker has admired in a shop window. They plan to approach the haberdasher, Mr. Kodinski, and offer to work to help pay for the hat. They arrive at his shop just as a group of neighborhood boys is running away. Seeing the three outside, Mr. Kodinski unjustly accuses them of splattering his shop with eggs. They return with a basket of Pysanky eggs to protest their innocence, and Mr. Kodinski invites them in for tea. When he learns of their wish to earn money, he suggests they sell their Pysanky eggs in his shop. At the end of the day, Mr. Kodinski refuses their money and gives them the hat for Miss Eula.

You can access additional resources related to this video clip’s text in the Additional Resources section.

Classroom Snapshot

School: The Center for Inquiry
Location: Columbia, South Carolina
No. of Students in School: 132
Teacher: Tim O’Keefe
No. of Years Teaching: 22
Grade: 3rd Grade
Subject: Language Arts
No. of Students in the Classroom: 22

The Center for Inquiry is a K-5 elementary magnet program established in 1996 as a partnership between Richland School District Two and the University of South Carolina. All faculty members share the same philosophical approach to teaching and learning that emphasizes hands-on learning experiences and high-interest studies through the use of an inquiry-based interdisciplinary curriculum.

Any child eligible to enroll in grades K-5 and residing in the suburban Columbia district is eligible to apply to the Center for Inquiry; selection is completed through a random process. The approximately 132 students who attend the school reflect the district population in terms of race (33% minority), gender (50% male and 50% female), and free and reduced-price lunch (10%). Thirty-five percent of the children are identified as gifted and talented but do not participate in a pull-out program. There is only one classroom per grade level and teachers loop with their students, staying with the same group of children for two years.

Classroom Lesson Plan

Book Buddies

Tim O’Keefe’s lesson plan is also available as a PDF file. See Materials Needed, below, for links to student activity sheets and Teacher Tools related to the lesson.

Teacher: Tim O’Keefe, The Center for Inquiry, Columbia, South Carolina
Grade Level: Third
Topic: Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco

Materials Needed:

Background Information:

The Book Buddies experience is one aspect of Mr. O’Keefe’s literature program which also includes regular read-alouds and literature circles. Third and fifth graders have met as Book Buddies throughout the year to read and respond to literature together. During these interactions, they have used reading and writing as tools for learning. They have also been learning to take hold of literature conversations for themselves. The teachers’ goal is to create classroom communities where students can orchestrate quality conversations about literature independently, and they find that Book Buddies benefit equally from the interaction in spite of differences in age. This particular Book Buddy engagement grew out of focus studies on African American history, tolerance, and race relations.

Lesson Objectives:

Students will:

  • Read and enjoy literature.
  • Pose and answer questions with their Book Buddies.
  • Share and discuss questions in small groups.
  • Make predictions and intertextual ties (personal connections, text-to-text connections, and text-to-world connections).
  • Uncover literary elements such as character, point of view, and mood.
  • Identify lessons learned and knowledge gained from the text and the discussions.
  • Share their responses during small- and whole-group discussions.

Expected Products From Lesson:

  • Two different written responses to the reading that are completed as partners (one each day) from a number of choices (see Book Buddy Response Invitations).
  • Sketch to stretch responses to the story.

Instructional Strategies Implemented:

  • Paired reading and discussion.
  • Small-group discussions.
  • Whole-class discussions.
  • Writing and reading as tools for learning.
  • Generating authentic questions about literature.
  • Experiencing multiple responses to literature.

Collaborative Structure of Class:

An inquiry classroom needs to be arranged to facilitate conversations. In Mr. O’Keefe’s class, students sit at desks clustered in groups of four or five. During their opening activities, read-alouds and other whole-class activities, they gather on the floor in the front of the classroom. During Book Buddy meetings, students meet where they can find a quiet space. Some remain in the classroom, but many take advantage of South Carolina’s mild climate and settle outside on benches, steps, or under trees. To accommodate discussion at the end of the experience when the two classes meet together, Mr. O’Keefe pushes the student desks against the walls so all can gather on the floor.

Lesson Procedures/Activities:

  • Both classes gather together for procedural instructions and housekeeping reminders.
  • Book Buddies take books and a copy of Book Buddy Response Invitations and find a quiet place to work.
  • Taking turns, Book Buddies read assigned section of book together.
  • Book Buddies select a response invitation and complete it collaboratively.
  • After reading and responding to the literature as partners, they join another pair to form a small group. Using their diverse response strategies as springboards for conversation, they continue to discuss their reading. Working together, each group writes a question to bring to the whole-class discussion.

Follow-Up or Culminating Activities:

  • Students create sketch to stretch responses.
  • Both classes meet together as a whole group to share insights, reflections, and questions.


Students may be assessed on a daily basis through:

  • Teacher observation
  • Anecdotal records
  • Check lists

The following activity might receive holistic or scaled evaluation (see Assessment and Evaluation: Some Useful Principles for a detailed explanation of holistic and scaled evaluation).

  • The sketch to stretch activity.

Professional Reflection

Take a step back from your classroom and examine the video clip in relation to your own instructional practices. Use the questions below to spark discussion about instructional practices in department meetings, team meetings, or as a writing prompt in your own professional journal.


  • What are the advantages of multi-age instructional activities? What are the difficulties?
  • Could Book Buddies work in your school? What would be the logistical difficulties? How might they be overcome?


Teacher Tools

Whether you are a classroom or preservice teacher, teacher educator, content leader, department chair, or administrator, the materials below can assist you in implementing the practices presented in the video clip.

Assessment and Evaluation: Some Useful Principles
The terms assessment and evaluation are often used as synonyms. Distinguishing between them can be helpful as you plan instruction. Assessment means looking at what students can do in order to determine what they need to learn to do next. That is, assessment, whether of individual students or an entire group, occurs as students are engaged in the act of learning in order to inform instruction. Typically assessment is holistic, often recorded simply as “credit” or “no credit.”

Evaluation occurs after a concept or skill has been taught and practiced and is typically scaled, indicating the level of achievement or degree of competence a student has attained.

Responding Visually to Literature
Many language arts teachers have come intuitively to use visual activities to support their literature instruction. Non-verbal activities provide an opportunity for students to develop and display their growing understanding and enjoyment of the literature in informal ways as they develop visual representations of their thinking.

In his preface to Phyllis Whitin’s Sketching Stories, Stretching Minds: Responding Visually to Literature (for the complete citation, see “Additional Resources” in the library guide), Jerome Harste reminds us that “literacy is much more than reading and writing” (x). He tells us that literacy is “the process by which we mediate the world” which “means to create sign systems-mathematics, art, music, dance, language”-which “act as lenses that permit us better to understand ourselves and our world” (x).

When we take what we know from one sign system and represent it in another-as when we take a written text and represent it graphically-we are using transmediation, a process that “is both natural and basic to literacy” (x). Such transmediation has enormous value in the classroom. As students resee, they rethink. Rethinking, they understand in fresh ways, and their pleasure grows with their developing insights.

For less able readers, the very act of focusing on a brief passage or scene and doing what more skilled readers seem to do invisibly helps them develop the visualization powers to process texts effectively. Not only are they developing their understanding of a specific text, they are expanding their skill as readers.

Sketch to Stretch
Based on ideas developed by Phyllis Whitin and presented in her book Sketching Stories, Stretching Minds: Responding Visually to Literature, the basic premise behind Sketch to Stretch is that creating a visual based on a literary work stretches student thinking, helping them to see the text in new ways.

Written Conversations
Each student begins a conversation about the book by writing a question and giving it to his or her Book Buddy who then writes an answer. The papers are passed back and forth as students explore their understandings of, and responses to, the selection. The process continues until one of the partners terminates the conversation.

Text Pairings
As you plan literature experiences for your students, consider offering text pairings. Some teachers like to introduce students to a number of books by the same author. Others try to find books with similarities in theme or content. Books that have received awards and appear to be developing into contemporary classics are also favored choices. No list of suggestions can be complete or can address every criterion. However, the following list of some of Patricia Polacco’s works may help you choose titles to complement Chicken Sunday.

Babushka’s Doll
Boat Ride With Lillian Two Blossom
The Butterfly
Christmas Tapestry
El Pollo De Los Domingos
Just Plain Fancy
The Keeping Quilt
Mr. Lincoln’s Way
My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
Pink and Say
Rechenka’s Eggs
Some Birthday!
Thank You, Mr. Falker
Thunder Cake
When Lightening Comes in a Jar

Additional Resources

Online resources related to the text used in Tim O’Keefe’s classroom:

Patricia Polacco

Pysanky Eggs

Additional resources related to the tenets of this series:

Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site
This site provides lists of children’s books and ideas of ways to use them in the classroom as well as activities and topics of professional interest.

Children’s Book Council
The Children’s Book Council is a non-profit trade organization dedicated to encouraging literacy and the use and enjoyment of children’s books.

Children’s Literature
This site provides a wealth of reviews designed to help teachers, librarians, childcare providers, and parents make appropriate literary choices for children.

Children’s Literature Web Guide
This Web site categorizes the growing number of Internet resources related to books for children and young adults. Much of the information found on this Web site is provided by schools, libraries, teachers, parents, and book professionals (such as authors, editors, and booksellers). It includes quick references to lists of award-winning and bestseller children’s books, teaching resources, links to parent resources, and journal and book reviews.

deGrummond’s Children’s Literature Collection
From the University of Southern Mississippi Libraries, the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection is one of North America’s leading research centers in the field of children’s literature. Although the Collection has many strengths, the main focus is on American and British children’s literature, historical and contemporary. Their What’s New section details upcoming exhibits, many of which are available online.

The Institute for Learning
A liaison between its parent institution, the Learning Research and Development Center of the University of Pittsburgh, and working educators in school systems nationwide, The Institute for Learning brings to educators the best current knowledge and research about learning processes and principles of instruction. Its mission is to provide educators with the resources and training they need to enhance learning opportunities for all students. The Institute serves as a think tank, a design center for innovative professional development systems in the schools, and an educator of core groups of school professionals.

KidSpace @ The Internet Public Library
The Reading Zone at KidSpace provides a number of online texts for children, including works in French and Spanish. A number of the links provide activities connected to the literature as well.

Reading Online
This Web site is an online journal of K-12 practice and research published by the International Reading Association. It includes helpful links to book reviews, peer-reviewed articles, discussions about literacy, and ideas and information about applying technology in literacy instruction.

SCORE [the Schools of California Online Resources for Educators (SCORE) Project]
This Web site provides teachers with online resources connected to a number of literary titles commonly used in language arts classrooms as well as CyberGuides, supplementary lesson plans centered on core works of literature. Each CyberGuide contains a student and teacher edition, standards, a task and a process by which it may be completed, teacher-selected Web sites, and a rubric (based on California Language Arts Content Standards).

Articles related to effective literature instruction from the National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement:

“Classroom Discussion: Teachers’ Perspectives on Obstacles and Strategies” by Samantha Caughlan

“Engaging Students in Meaningful Conversation Leads to Higher Achievement” by Arthur Applebee

“How Classroom Conversation Can Support Student Achievement”

“Supporting the Process of Literary Understanding: Analysis of a Classroom Discussion” by Doralyn R. Roberts and Judith A. Langer

“Taking Risks, Negotiating Relationships: One Teacher’s Transition Towards a Dialogic Classroom” by Julie Nelson Christoph and Martin Nystrand

“What Do We Know About Effective Fourth-Grade Teachers and Their Classrooms?” by Richard L. Allington and Peter H. Johnson

Professional Organizations:

American Educational Research Association
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
International Reading Association
National Council of Teachers of English
National Writing Project