RT is designed to aid students' overall reading comprehension by focusing on four key strategies:
- Summarizing for self review- Students are required to identify the most important information contained in the text. Summaries can be based on selected passages, a group of sentences, across paragraphs, or over an entire reading.
- Generating questions- Asking questions helps the reader reach a deeper level of comprehension because generating questions requires students to identify the most significant information in the text. This is closely related to summarizing, and supports comprehension by seeking answers.
- Clarifying confusing information- This strategy requires metacognition, or understanding, to evaluate when a text is confusing. At times, students may continue reading without realizing that their lack of understanding is affecting their comprehension. By stopping to recognize and clarify their confusion, comprehension is reinforced. Since there are multiple reasons for confusion (e.g. lack of schema, or frame of reference for their understanding; difficult vocabulary; unfamiliar writing style or voice), dialogue with the teacher can help a student identify the cause of a misunderstanding.
- Predicting upcoming events- Students use what has already been read along with background knowledge, to generate a hypothesis about what the author will discuss next. This provides a purpose for further reading, in order to confirm or disprove the hypothesis.
The steps to reciprocal teaching below may seem simple, but using them with a piece of well structured text will provide deep understanding for students. A Houghton-Mifflin Intervention Program that used reciprocal teaching throughout included some of the following titles: Fourth Grade: "The Wonder of Wolves;" or "Martin Luther King, Jr.," by Wil Mara, Children's Press 2002. Fifth Grade: "How do Birds Find Their Way;" "Jackie Robinson," by Herb Dunn and Meryl Henderson, Simon & Schuster 1999; or "Whales." Teachers should gradually encourage independence by spending time modeling, explaining, and introducing the process of reciprocal teaching. This ensures that students completely understand the process before being responsible for their part of the reciprocal teaching session.
Facilitate an RT Reading Session in Six Steps!
- Choose a piece of informative non-fiction writing. The piece should have strong organization and be engaging to students. Each student will receive a copy of the entire piece.
- Revisit the four core strategies: summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting. Use the first paragraph of the text to model the comprehension strategies.
- Divide the class into small groups and within each group assign each student one of the remaining paragraphs.
- Give students time to read and analyze their assigned paragraphs independently, taking notes as necessary.
- Monitor as students "teach" the rest of the small group the four reading strategies relating to their assigned paragraph.
- Encourage discussion within the groups before, during, and after each student's presentation. Students should see connections between each other's presentations that will support their overall comprehension.
The benefits of reciprocal teaching are numerous. The focus on comprehension strategies requires students to practice how to learn, not just the content being learned. Also, since the comprehension practice occurs within an authentic task, and not in isolation, the strategies are deeply embedded within the reader. Because the practice occurs cooperatively with other students, the individual reader is supported by interactions with others in the group.
The biggest complaint from teachers about RT is keeping students talking about the matter at hand, and not drifting off into socializing. Do not be intimidated by this method, since it takes a couple of tries to really master it. Be patient, and keep it light—the rewards will begin to reveal themselves, even among the most challenged readers in your classroom.
For more proven ways to boost comprehension in your classroom, download our FREE K-6 Comprehension Best Practices Guide today!
Palinscar, A. & Brown, A. (1984). "Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension monitoring activities." Cognition and Instruction, I (2), p. 117-175.