Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief

The Shine Trust

Book Buddy Volunteers – bringing people and books together

Category: Creative Learners | Reading Promotion | 26 December, 2014 - 08:00



Since its inception in 2000, the Shine Centre has employed a volunteer-intensive model that allows individuals from the greater community to become a Learning Partner to a child in the Foundation Phase (see our previous learning briefs for more information). In recent years, Shine sought to find an alternative version that would be appropriate in areas where it is a challenge finding volunteers, and where the amount of children needing support is very high.

Subsequently, Shine introduced the concept of Book Buddies, which is a peer-to-peer learning experience. Rather than relying on community volunteers, we rely on fellow student volunteers. In this way a school is able to take advantage of the resources they already have (i.e. older and experienced learners) to help poorer, struggling readers.


Shine’s Book Buddies model takes learners from a grade in the Senior Primary Phase and pairs them with a child in the Foundation Phase. The school can make this book-buddy interaction part of the regular timetable. Ideally, the pairs meet two to three times a week for fifteen minutes and engage in Paired Reading – a concept used across all Shine Centres and reading programmes. The readers (books) and activities used in the programme can be in any language. Shine specifically chooses these materials and activities and suggests a straightforward process for the classroom teachers to follow. In this way Book Buddies can eventually become a school-led initiative.


Shine provides preliminary training for the teachers and the older learners (Reading Mentors) in the methodology and operational processes. Shine also provides the resources to get the project up and running. Opportunities are given for Reading Mentors to:

·      model good strategies for reducing anxiety in children when reading,

·      encourage good reading habits,

·      share key skills to improve reading,

·      praise children, and

·      promote confident reading.

Many of the older children need to revisit these skills and resources themselves, so this training and process is mutually beneficial.


In addition to promoting reading and improved capacity this peer-reading system has other unintended benefits. These children from different ages often build good friendships, which are positive; the older children have the opportunity to model good behaviour for the younger ones, which can boost their self-esteem; and children are less likely to take part in bullying when they learn to work collaboratively. In addition, the children learn reading and communication skills informally and formally from one another, which helps them grow their abilities. As such, it’s not just the younger or struggling children who benefit from such partnerships (Ward, 2013; Boud, 2002; Developmental Studies Center, 1996; Topping et al., 2011; Juyonen & Graham, 2001). 


In 2012, Shine began a Book Buddies pilot programme at Zenzeleni Primary (part of the Waldorf schooling system), based in Khayelitsha. A recent report from the School’s Pedagogical Mentor stated that, “it is clear that the children presently in class six who were in class four when the reading buddies programme began have made remarkable improvements in their reading levels. The report also mentioned some unintended benefits of Book Buddies: “reading was experienced as a cosy time particularly as one came to know one’s buddy – the older caring, the younger feeling this. Interest was piqued. Children were now seen reading at break time; some in groups others alone . . . enthusiasm, the life blood of learning for children has clearly been enkindled through this programme” (Fellion, 2014:2).


With the success of the Zenzeleni pilot the Shine Centre has started two more projects in KZN and Western Cape. We believe that the Book-Buddy model is a practical way to get children reading and to help them build their reading capacity. With the appropriate support and introduction, and very few resources, schools and teachers can adopt this reading model in their own settings.




Boud, D. 2002. Introduction: Making the move to peer learning. (In Boud, D., Cohen, R. & Sampson, J. (eds.), Peer Learning in Higher Education: Learning From & With Each Other. London, UK: Kogan Page Limited and Quicksilver Drive Sterling, Virginia, USA: Stylus Publishing Inc.

Developmental Studies Center. 1996. That’s my buddy! Friendship and learning across the grades. Oakland, CA: Developmental Studies Center.

Fellion, B. 2014. Zenzeleni Reading Programme.

Juyonen, J. & Graham, S. 2001. Peer Harassment in School: the Plight of the Vulnerable and Victimized. New York City, NY: Guilford Press.

Topping, K., Miller, D., Thurston, A., McGavock, K., & Conlin, N. 2011. Peer tutoring in reading in Scotland: thinking big. Literacy, 45(1): 3-9.

Ward, H. 2013. With a little help from their friends. [Online]. Available:

Unit 2 Devonshire Court, 20 Devonshire Road, Wynberg, Cape Town 

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In Short

In this learning brief the Shine Centre introduces its volunteer Book-Buddy model as a practical way to get children to read. With the appropriate support, and very few resources, schools and teachers will be able to easily adopt this reading model in their own settings and build youngsters reading capacity.

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