Reciprocal teaching

Reciprocal Teaching is a remedial reading instructional technique which applies a problem-solving heuristic to the process of reading comprehension, thereby promoting thinking while reading (Alfassi, 2004). It provides students with four discrete and specific reading strategies that are actively and consciously used as texts are processed. These reading strategies are Clarifying, Predicting, Questioning, and Summarizing. All of this takes place within the context of small-group collaborative investigation, which is maintained, monitored, and scaffolded by the teacher or reading tutor.

Conceptual Underpinnings

The concept of reciprocal teaching was originally developed by Palincsar in 1982. Later, it was refined and operationalized by Palincsar and Brown in 1984. As previously mentioned, reciprocal teaching was developed as a technique to help teachers bridge the gap for students who demonstrated a discrepancy between decoding skills and comprehension skills (Palincsar, Ransom, & Derber, 1989). That is, the process is aimed at aiding students who possess grade-level skills in letter-sound correspondence ("sounding out" words and "chunking"), but are unable to construct meaning from the texts they decode.

The Role of Reading Strategies

Reciprocal teaching is an amalgamation of reading strategies that effective readers have been shown to use. Proficient readers have well-practiced decoding and comprehension skills which allow them to proceed through texts somewhat automatically until some sort of triggering event alerts them to a comprehension failure (Palincsar & Brown, 1984).

This trigger can be anything from an unacceptable accumulation of unknown concepts to an expectation that has not been fulfilled by the text. Whatever the trigger, proficient readers react to a comprehension breakdown by using a number of strategies in a planned, deliberate manner. These "fix-up" strategies range from simply slowing down the rate of reading or decoding, to re-reading, to consciously summarizing the material. Once the strategy (or strategies) has helped to restore meaning in the text, the successful reader can proceed again without conscious use of the strategy (Palincsar & Brown).

It is important to note that all readers--no matter how skilled--occasionally reach cognitive failure when reading texts that are challenging, unfamiliar, or "inconsiderate"--i.e. structured or written in an unusual manner (Garner, 1992; Wade, 2001).

Poor readers, on the other hand, do not demonstrate the same reaction when comprehension failure occurs. Some simply do not recognize the triggers that signal comprehension breakdown. Others are conscious that they do not understand the text, but do not have or are unable to employ strategies that help. Some use maladaptive strategies (such as avoidance) that do not aid in comprehension (Garner 1992).

Reciprocal Teaching Strategies

Approaching the problem from the perspective of Cognitive Strategy Instruction (Slater & Horstman, 2002), reciprocal teaching attempts to train students in specific and discrete strategies to prevent cognitive failure during reading. Palincsar and Brown (1984) identified four basic strategies that help students recognize and react to signs of comprehension breakdown: Clarifying, Predicting, Questioning, and Summarizing. These strategies serve dual purposes of being both comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring; that is, they enhance comprehension while at the same time affording students the opportunity to check whether it is occurring.


The clarification strategy focuses on training students in specific steps to help with decoding (letter-sound correspondence, "chunking," spelling, etc.), as well as fix-up strategies to deal with difficult vocabulary and lapses in concentration.


The prediction phase involves readers in actively combining their own background knowledge with what they have gathered from the text. With a narrative text students imagine what might happen next. With an informational text, students predict what they might learn or read about in subsequent passages.


When using the questioning strategy, readers monitor and assess their own understanding of the text by asking themselves questions. This self-awareness of one's own internal thought process is termed "metacognition."


Summarization requires the reader to perform the task of discriminating between important and less-important information in the text. It must then be organized into a coherent whole (Palincsar & Brown, 1984).

Different reading strategies have been incorporated into the reciprocal teaching format by other practitioners. Some other reading strategies include visualizing, making connections, inferencing, and questioning the author.

Instructional Format

Reciprocal teaching follows a dialogic/dialectic process. Palincsar, Ransom, and Derber (1989) wrote that there were two reasons for choosing dialogue as the medium. First, it is a language format with which children are familiar (as opposed to writing, which may be too difficult for some struggling readers). Second, dialogue provides a useful vehicle for alternating control between teacher and students in a systematic and purposeful manner.

Reciprocal teaching also follows a very scaffolded curve, beginning with high levels of teacher instruction, modeling, and input, which is gradually withdrawn to the point that students are able to use the strategies independently. Reciprocal teaching begins with the students and teacher reading a short piece of text together. The teacher then specifically and explicitly models his or her thinking processes out loud, using each of the four reading strategies. Students follow the teacher's model with their own strategies, also verbalizing their thought processes for the other students to hear.

Over time, the teacher models less and less frequently as students become more adept and confident with the strategies. Eventually, responsibility for leading the small-group discussions of the text and the strategies is handed over to the students. This gives the teacher or reading tutor the opportunity to diagnose strengths, weaknesses, misconceptions, and to provide follow-up as needed.

Current Uses

The reciprocal teaching model has been adopted by a number of school districts and reading intervention programs across the United States and Canada. It has also been used as the model for a number of commercially produced reading programs such as Soar to Success.

External Links

[ NCREL: Researh Base Summary ]

[ Palincsar & Brown: Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension-Fostering and Comprehension-Monitoring Activities ]

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