Journey to Excellence

Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal Teaching is an instructional activity that takes place as a dialogue between teachers and students regarding segments of the text. In this activity, the teacher and the students take turns assuming the role of teacher in leading the dialogue. This technique can be used in all subject areas for content reading and was originally designed to teach poor readers to use reading strategies employed by good readers to enhance reading comprehension. Students interact with the text to construct meaning. Readers utilize prior knowledge and experiences, information presented in the text, and their stance taken in relation to the text to derive their interpretations. Reciprocal Teaching helps poor readers develop these skills through the use of predicting, clarifying, questioning, and summarizing.

Predicting: an educated guess about what is going to happen next, a bridge from the known to the unknown. This strategy requires the reader to hypothesize about what the author might discuss next in the text. This provides a purpose for reading --- to confirm or disprove hypotheses. Predicting also creates an opportunity for students to link the new knowledge they will acquire in the text with the knowledge they already possess. Predicting also facilitates the use of text structures as students learn that headings, subheadings, and questions imbedded in the text are useful means of anticipating what might occur next.

Clarifying: defining significant words, explaining key ideas, referencing something you don't know or understand. Teaching students to clarify focuses their attention on the many reasons why text can be difficult to understand; for example, new vocabulary, unclear referent words, and unfamiliar or difficult concepts. Recognizing these blocks to understanding signals the reader to reread, read ahead, or ask for help.

Questioning: asking questions which can be answered by the text. When students generate questions, they first identify the kind of information that is significant enough that it could provide the substance of a question. Then they pose this information in question form and self-test to be sure they can answer their own questions.

Summarizing: putting information into the student's own words. This strategy provides the opportunity to identify, paraphrase, and integrate important information in the text.

Using the Strategy

  • During the initial phase of instruction, the teacher assumes the primary responsibility for leading dialogues and implementing the strategies.
  • Through modeling, the teacher demonstrates how to use the strategies while reading the text.
  • During guided practice, the teacher supports students by adjusting the demands of the task based on the students' level of proficiency.
  • Eventually, the students learn to conduct the dialogues with little or no teacher assistance.
  • The teacher assumes the role of a coach/facilitator by providing students with evaluative information on their performance and prompting them to higher levels of participation.
  • The four steps can be done in any order, but the summarizing step could be done by an individual student on his/her own after the group has completed its discussion.
  • The steps, especially clarifying, should be done during the reading rather than reading the text material first and completing the steps at the end.

Criteria for Selecting Materials

  • Select materials based on the students' reading and comprehension level, but use materials that are sufficiently challenging.
  • Incorporate text that is representative of the kinds of materials students are expected to read in your class.
  • Generally, Reciprocal Teaching works best with expository or informational text, but the story structure in narrative text can work as well. Students can use the four steps incorporating the elements of story grammar (setting, characters, plot, conflict, and solution).

Grouping Students

  • When students are well-trained in the Reciprocal Teaching strategy, they can work in small heterogeneous groups of three or four to ensure that each student has the opportunity to practice using the strategies while receiving feedback from other group members.
  • Frequent guided practice is essential in helping students to become proficient in their use of the strategy.

Other Possibilities

  • For very dense informational text, student groups can be assigned a paragraph each rather than an entire chapter and then use the Jigsaw technique for information sharing.
  • In language arts classes, the strategy can be used for reading an author's biography as a pre-reading activity.
  • As the groups work, the teacher can walk around the room listening in and writing down good questions, words, or problems to clarify and then lead a whole-class debriefing.






Casanave, Christine Pearson. "Comprehension Monitoring in ESL Reading: A Neglected Essential." TESOL Quarterly June, 1988.

Educational Research Service. "Reading at the Middle and High School Levels." Information for School Leaders. 1997.

Palincsar, A. S., and A. L. Brown. "Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension-Fostering and, Comprehension-Monitoring Activities." Cognition and Instruction 1984 (vol. 2): 117-175.

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