A Teachers Guide to Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal teaching is a teaching strategy targeted at building reading comprehension skills by empowering the learners to take on the role of the educator. Reciprocal teaching makes learners active participants in the assignment. It also helps learners move from guided to independent readers and cements strategies for comprehending the meaning of a text.

Definition of Reciprocal Teaching

In reciprocal teaching, the educator models four comprehension strategies (summarizing, questioning, predicting, and clarifying) through guided group discussions. After the learners are comfortable with the strategies, they take turns leading comparable discussions in small groups.

The reciprocal teaching strategy was constructed in the 1980s by two University of Illinois educators (Annemarie Sullivan Palinkas and Ann L. Brown). Using reciprocal teaching, improvements have been documented in student reading comprehension in three months and retained for up to one year.

The Four Strategies

The techniques used in reciprocal teaching are summarizing, questioning, predicting, and clarifying. The techniques collaborate to increase comprehension.


Summarizing is a vital, though difficult, skill for readers of all ages. It requires that learners use a summarizing tactic to pick out the central idea and vital points of the content. The learners must put that info together to concisely explain the meaning and material of the passage in their own words.

Start with these summarizing prompts:

  • What is the most essential part of this text?
  • What is it about?
  • What happened initially?
  • What happened next?
  • How was the conflict resolved?


Questioning the content helps learners develop critical thinking skills. Model this skill by asking questions that motivate learners to analyze rather than summarize. For instance, prompt the learners to consider why the author made certain decisions.

Start with these prompts to encourage learners to question the text:

  • Why do you believe?
  • What do you believe?
  • When [specific incident] happened, what did you do?


Predicting is the process of making an educated guess. Learners can develop this skill by searching for clues to identify what will happen next in the story or what the story’s central message will be.

When studying a nonfiction text, learners should preview the text’s title, subheadings, bold print, and visuals like maps, tables, and diagrams. When studying a work of fiction, learners should look at the book’s cover, title, and illustrations. In both instances, the learners should look for clues that help them predict the author’s purpose and the topic of the content.

Help learners practice this skill by giving open-ended prompts that involve phrases like “I believe” and “because”:

  • I believe the book is about, because…
  • I predict I should learn, because…
  • I believe the author is trying to (entertain, persuade, inform), because…


Clarifying means using strategies to comprehend new words or complex content and self-monitoring to ensure reading comprehension. Comprehension issues might occur due to challenging words in the content, but they can also result from learners being unable to find the central idea or vital points of the passage or story.

Demonstrate clarifying techniques like rereading, using the glossary or a dictionary to define challenging words, or inferring meaning from context. Moreover, show learners how to find  problems with phrases like:

  • I didn’t understand the part____________.
  • This is challenging  because_________.
  • I am experiencing  difficulties __________.

Examples of Reciprocal Teaching in Action

To understand how reciprocal teaching works in the classroom, read this example, which focuses on “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.

First, show learners the book cover. Read the title and author’s name. Ask, “What do you believe this book is about? Do you believe the author’s purpose is to inform, entertain, or persuade?

Then, read the first page. Ask, “What kind of egg do you believe is on the leaf? What do you believe will emerge from the egg?”

When the caterpillar devours all of the food, pause to decide if the learners need any additional information. Ask, “Has anyone eaten a pear? What about a plum? Have you ever tried salami?”

Later in the story, pause to identify  if the learners know the word “cocoon.” If not, help the learners make inferences of the word’s meaning from the content and images. Ask them to predict what will happen.

Lastly, after completing the story, guide the learners through the summarizing process. Help them find the main idea and vital points with the following questions.

  • Who is the story about? (Answer: a caterpillar.)
  • What did they do? (Answer: He ate additional food every day. On the last day, he ate so much food he developed a stomach ache.)
  • Then what happened? (Answer: He made a cocoon.)
  • Lastly, what happened at the end? (Answer: He came out of the cocoon in the form of a beautiful butterfly.)

Help learners develop their answers into a focused summary, like, “One day, a caterpillar started eating. He ate more and more each day until he developed a stomach ache. He constructed  a cocoon around himself, and, two weeks later, he came out of the cocoon as a beautiful butterfly.”

As learners become comfortable with these tactics, ask them to take turns facilitating the discussion. Ensure that every learner has a turn leading the discussion. Older learners who are reading in peer groups can start taking turns leading their group.

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