Reciprocal Teaching

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What is reciprocal teaching?  This is a reading instruction strategy that teaches the students to monitor their understanding of a text and develop meta-cognition.

The idea of using a reciprocal method of instruction has been floating around for at least 30 years, but the term has really come into mainstream education in the past decade.

Teachers model comprehension strategies in a variety of ways, but they focus on 4 key steps:

  • Predicting
  • Questioning
  • Clarifying
  • Summarizing
what is reciprocal teaching in an elementary classroom

These steps encourage children to develop thoughtful reading techniques where they become actively involved with the text.

They also learn how to identify where their understanding is breaking down and what to do about it.

It is actually a very effective strategy in any subject area, although it is mainly used in language arts.  With Common Core Standards being implemented, this effective strategy will likely find its way into other subject areas at all grade levels.

It also is an essential part of reading interventions for students who are behind.  Students who are at-risk lack the strategies effective readers use to comprehend a text, and this will give them the tools they need for success.

Tip:  It is highly recommended that teachers provide direct instruction for each of these strategies before pulling them all together. 

Strategies for Teaching Reciprocal Reading

The purpose of reciprocal teaching is to structure the dialogue amongst teacher and students in a meaningful way that contributes to literacy development.

It is also simply a lot of fun to be talking with the students and letting them discuss the story with you and each other!

Predictions happen when the students hypothesize about the story. This can occur many times during the story, not just at the beginning. By making predictions about the text before and during reading, you are helping them provide a purpose for reading.

As well, they now have the opportunity to scaffold any previous knowledge they might have to the text to help it make sense to them. 

I always do a picture walk before reading a story, as well as looking through the book at the chapters, reading the "hook" on the back, and my class predicts what will happen in the text based on those activities. This is the key to good hypothesizing and predicting: always use clues from the text and/or illustrations for support.

All teachers who have students struggling with comprehension: here is your intervention! Many students who have difficulty comprehending text do not understand that the purpose of reading is to make meaning - they think it is to read words correctly.

By asking students to clarify (or make clear) words or passages in a text, you are bringing it front-and-center that they are not getting it. You are forcing them to make meaning. 

Clarifying can be for a word, a phrase, an entire passage...anything the student is struggling to understand. After doing this many times, you will see the children start to clarify naturally with each other and themselves!

The purpose of this is two-fold: when the students ask questions about the text, they are first using information that is significant to their comprehension and then they are answering their own questions using meaningful information.

This is the art of:

  • inferring an author's meaning (why did he write that?)
  • using supporting details (what were the reasons why...?)
  • applying information in novel ways (what if the character did this?)
  • relating the text to self (what do I already know about this type of setting or situation?)

Students need to use their own words to tell the main idea of the text. This can happen anywhere in the story, and it should happen often for those students who are at-risk. It can happen first at sentence level, then paragraphs, then to whole text.

This takes time, so do not rush it. Use my summary chart to assist you with teaching summarizing of a fictional story.

Sources Cited

  • Oczuks, L. (2003). Reciprocal teaching at work: Strategies for improving reading comprehension. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
  • Palincsar, A. S. & Brown, A. (1984). Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension-Fostering and Comprehension Monitoring Activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1(2), pp. 117-175.

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