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What Is the Reciprocal Teaching Strategy?

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 2/14/2012

One strategy that has been found helpful for fluent readers who struggle with comprehension is reciprocal teaching. This strategy focuses on four major reading skills: questioning, predicting, summarizing and clarifying. Read on to learn how to use the reciprocal reading strategy in your classroom.

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    What Is Reciprocal Teaching?

    The Reciprocal Teaching Strategy is a technique that students can use to increase their comprehension of difficult texts. This strategy focuses on four main skills -- summarizing, predicting, clarifying and questioning -- based on the fact that strong readers use these four skills in order to deal with comprehension breakdown. (Other skills, such as making inferences and visualizing may be introduced as well.) Students who struggle with comprehension may need to be taught these skills directly and allowed to practice them over and over again in order to adequately understand texts.

    During the use of this strategy, students check their own understanding of the material by generating questions and summarizing the text. They then clarify unclear words or phrases and predict what the next part of the text will be about. Reciprocal teaching encourages students to self-monitor and master a passage on their own. This strategy may also be done in groups of four, in which each member of the group takes over one of the skills and shares the products with the rest of the group.

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    Does Reciprocal Teaching Work?

    Research about reciprocal teaching suggests that it does help students who can decode well but have problems with comprehension. During the strategy's inception in the early 1980s, Palincsar and Brown conducted several studies to determine whether reciprocal teaching truly helped students' comprehension levels. In one study, students worked with a tutor on 20 consecutive school days to apply the skills to a single passage. All of these students had extremely low comprehension levels at the start of the study, but by the end of the study, all but one of the students answered at least a 70 percent of the comprehension questions on the assessment correctly. In the control group in the study, who had not been exposed to reciprocal teaching, not one student reached this level of accuracy. In addition, the percentile rankings of the experimental students jumped 30 points or more in their mainstreamed social studies and science classes.

    Additional studies seemed to show the same thing. Using reciprocal teaching in groups of between eight and 18 students led over 70 percent of the students to succeed in a comprehension assessment, as opposed to only 19 percent of control students. Not only that, but these studies suggested that reciprocal teaching decreased the number of behavior problems in the classrooms as well.

    More recent studies seem to confirm these findings. In 2000, a paper publicized at the National Reading Conference in Chicago showed that students' reading levels increased after being exposed to this strategy. A 1994 review of 16 studies also concluded that reciprocal teaching improves reading comprehension.

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    Here are several tips you can use when instituting the reciprocal reading strategy in your classroom:

    • Teach each skill first before using it during reciprocal teaching. If students don't know how to create a summary or what a prediction is, they will be unable to follow this strategy.
    • Model the strategy first, and let students "correct" your use of the skills. Although the strategy will eventually become your students' responsibilities, they will learn the most, at first, by watching how you use the skills yourself.
    • Practice with slightly below-level texts at first. This will ensure that your students will be able to comprehend the texts enough to use the strategies. As they become more proficient with the strategies, you can raise the reading levels of the texts.
    • Make a student into the teacher. After all, usually the teachers are the ones who ask questions about a text, try to clarify part of a text, and summarize what the text has said.
    • Use graphic organizers or manipulatives for more visual or kinesthetic students. For example, you might make a four column chart, divide a paper into four boxes, or fold a sentence strip into four sections for students to write on.
    • Use games whenever possible while teaching this strategy. For example, you might have them put their predictions into a large time capsule and look at them when you finish the story to see if they were correct.
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    Language Arts Cadre 95. "Reciprocal Teaching: A Reading Strategy."

    North Central Regional Educational Library. "Reciprocal Teaching."

    Intervention Central. "Reciprocal Teaching: A Reading Comprehension Package." "Reciprocal Teaching Strategies at Work."

    Cognition and Instruction. "Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension-Fostering and Comprehension-Monitoring Activities."

Reading Strategy Activities and Lesson Plans

Reading strategies such as identifying cause and effect, noticing the main idea and details, or comparing and contrasting, can help students read more effectively. This series of articles discusses activities and lesson plans you can use to teach your students these skills.
  1. Interactive Activities on Finding the Main Idea
  2. Reading Structures Lesson Plan: Cause and Effect
  3. What Is the Reciprocal Teaching Strategy?