Bedtime stories aren’t just a relaxing way to fall asleep—reading to children actually helps them with literary comprehension in the future. Now, if you bring that same interactive reading style into the classroom, the results are equally impressive. Peer tutoring, or paired reading, has shown to be a very helpful teaching activity in both elementary and upper-level classrooms.

During peer tutoring, the teacher matches students into pairs and lets them read independently, using each other as a tool to improve their own reading comprehension and ability. Paired Reading is a mutually beneficial process—whether students read at the same or different levels. For students on the same level, they are able to help each other and review what they have learned from the teacher. If one student reads at a higher level (a sixth grader and a second grader, for example) the more advanced student becomes the tutor. The younger student receives one-on-one help, while the older student reinforces what they already know—building confidence and tutoring experience.

Gillian Hepburn, a teacher at a small elementary school in Scotland, designed her own peer tutoring experiment, including pairing students within the same age group and with an older student. Hepburn got the idea for the study from a similar study at Durham University, also performed in Scotland, that took place in 129 schools across the country and proved that even one 20-minute tutoring session per week can benefit students as young as seven years old. Overall, the trial proved very successful in the classroom and many teachers, including Hepburn, continued the practice because the students enjoyed reading together. Additionally, students were able to more fully comprehend what they read by discussing it with their partners. Not only does peer tutoring enforce reading comprehension, it also teaches children how to work and study together.

Paired reading is very accessible and easy for teachers to set up. Once paired, students choose a book or passage to read from, sometimes switching back and forth or repeating after each other. While reading, the tutoring “buddy” follows along and helps with pronunciation or other feedback. Teachers also encourage students to talk about what they read in order to make sure both partners understand the material. The teacher can then follow up in a discussion with the entire class, especially when students are first adjusting to peer tutoring.

If you want to get more hi-tech, there are many digital options to assist readers, including Scholastic’s new ebook reading platform called Storia. Teachers can sign up for an account and then receive up to 40 virtual bookshelves, which they can assign to students. Once assigned, students’ progress is tracked while they annotate, take reading comprehension quizzes and further interact with the text. Storia works for a wide range of students and can be customized for different reading levels, even within one classroom. Students can also work together from separate or shared devices the same way they would with paired reading.

However, digital options like Storia and its accompanying books are much more expensive than classic paired readings, which require few resources. Teachers would have to purchase new books within the app, not to mention the fact that most classrooms lack the technology—computers and tablets—that apps need in order to function. School systems are already strapped financially, and adding on extra costs seems perilous, especially while there are so many other pressing issues that need to be funded.

Improving literacy across the country is proving to be a major issue, and encouraging students to read starting at a young age is one of the best ways to combat illiteracy. There are many factors that contribute to a student’s reading level, from parental involvement to income level, but the responsibility comes down to the school system to make sure that students are learning the necessary skills as they go—especially avoiding getting behind in high school. According to a 2008 study by the National Commission on Adult Literacy, one in three young adults drops out of high school, which then inhibits their ability to get a job and can affect the reading aptitude of any future children.

The statistics are alarming. Countless studies have shown that an overwhelming percentage of students across grade levels are performing below the basic level for their grade. More than ever, schools and teachers need to recognize those students who are falling behind and help stop the spiral of illiteracy. Paired reading and interactive exercises are just a few examples of tools teachers can use to create a love of reading.

Did You Know? Approximately 14 percent of the US population is illiterate, as studies from the US Department of Education (ED) and the National Institute for Literacy show. Not only that, there are strong correlations between literacy and crime. For example, 85 percent of juveniles who face trial within the juvenile court system are “functionally illiterate,” which means that they lack the necessary skills required to manage daily living or employment tasks that involve more than basic reading skills. Further still, two-thirds of students who reach fourth grade and still have not reached proficient reading levels will end up on welfare or in jail—more than 70 percent of inmates in the US cannot read beyond a fourth grade level. (DYK by Emeli Warren)