Reciprocal teaching

iStock_000016678101XSmallReciprocal teaching is a technique aimed at improving students’ learning by increasing their metacognitive knowledge (self-questioning and monitoring of one’s understanding). In a recent study, Marie Kelly, Dennis W. Moore and Bryan F. Tuck, University of Auckland, New Zealand, studied the feasibility of using reciprocal teaching techniques in regular elementary classrooms. They wanted to determine if regular classroom teachers could use reciprocal teaching effectively without additional support or resources.

Previous research

Research has confirmed that children with good reading comprehension use metacognitive strategies as they read. But young or poor readers tend not to use such effective strategies to facilitate their comprehension. Nevertheless, experimental studies have shown that these strategies can be learned and that significant gains in the comprehension of young or poor readers can be brought about through reciprocal teaching.

Reciprocal teaching was developed to instruct small groups of students in four strategies that enhance reading comprehension: questioning, summarizing, clarifying and predicting. Generally, reciprocal teaching groups meet about 20 times for 30-minute sessions. A cooperative procedure, it is designed to provide modeling, role playing practice and feedback as well as direct instruction. Studies have shown this technique to be effective with students at all grade levels. Mixed-ability grouping appears to be particularly beneficial, because it provides less-able students with effective peer models in addition to the teacher. However, according to Kelly et al., there have been few studies in which reciprocal teaching was implemented in regular classrooms without additional help. For this reason, they designed their study to measure the effectiveness of reciprocal teaching when used by classroom teachers during regular reading lessons with no additional staff. These researchers also tried to determine whether students applied newly learned metacognitive skills to other reading assignments.

Regular class experiment

For this study, 12 fifth-grade pupils who showed delays in reading achievement were combined with six average-achieving students in three mixed-ability groups in two classrooms. Two of the three groups participated in reciprocal teaching and one did not (although the third group took the short comprehension checks with the two experimental groups each day). Before students read the non-fiction passage for the day, the teacher led the group in a discussion about the possibilities suggested by the title. Then the passage was read silently and each child was asked to think of a summary of what they had read and a prediction about what might occur next.

Students took turns acting as discussion leaders for different portions of the text. During the first sessions, the teachers continually modeled the target skills of questioning, summarizing, clarifying and predicting, discussed their importance, encouraged students to participate, and praised their efforts. Students participated by answering questions and discussing the reading.

Teachers praised any student attempting to apply one of the four strategies. With practice, students became more adept at using the strategies and teachers were able to reduce their intrusive instructional role and become more like coaches in providing corrective feedback and praise. Teachers emphasized the general usefulness of the procedure, and students were explicitly encouraged to use these strategies with all kinds of reading. Sessions were monitored to ensure that teachers faithfully followed reciprocal teaching procedures. Teachers’ comments were evaluated to make certain that they reduced their leadership role during the second half of the lessons so that students could practice initiating the strategies independently. Each group session was followed by a quiz on a 250-to-300-word passage. Comprehension was measured by 10 questions which asked for both explicit and implicit information. While working with a group, teachers monitored the rest of the class as they worked at their desks.

Reading comprehension tests were given to all students before and after the experiment. In addition, the effects of reciprocal teaching were measured one week after lessons were completed and again seven weeks later. Assessment checks were carried out on fiction material, as well, to determine whether students’ newly acquired skills were being used with other kinds of material.


Both experimental groups improved their comprehension scores on daily quizzes, but the comparison group showed no improvement. Experimental-group students also demonstrated comprehension gains with other kinds of reading material and on the standardized reading-comprehension test. These higher scores were maintained on tests eight weeks later. The average increase in reading comprehension was more than one year for experimental-group students during the five months between the pre- and posttest. No increase in reading comprehension was made by students in the comparison group.


Kelly et al. conclude that these comprehension gains are the result of the instruction and training students received during the reciprocal teaching sessions. The effectiveness of the procedure is demonstrated by the fact that these gains were maintained over time and were generalized to other kinds of reading material.

That these very positive results were obtained within the constraints of regular classrooms is very encouraging. Reciprocal teaching used by classroom teachers appears to be effective in helping poor readers gain more proficiency in organizing and integrating the material they read.

“Reciprocal Teaching in a Regular Primary School Classroom”, Journal of Educational Research, Volume 88, Number 10, October 1994, pp.53-60.

Published in ERN January/February 1995, Volume 8 Number 1

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