What is Reciprocal Teaching?

Used to help with reading comprehension, Reciprocal Teaching is a useful method of instruction that involves in-depth discussions between teachers and students. As a learning approach, it has the main aim of increasing the pupil's understanding of the text and the main messages that are carefully interwoven within it. It is comprised of four key stages, all of which demand cognitive and metacognitive skills and strategies.

In a typical Reciprocal Teaching session, students and teachers will take turns in volunteering to open discussions based upon issues that arise from the text. Using these as starting points, new ideas, questions and theories will begin to emerge - giving yet more points for discussion.

This teaching method is arguably most effective when used on small segments of text at a time. It can be a real surprise just how many hidden concepts and messages are embedded within one or two paragraphs, so it's advisable to operate over small extracts at a time to avoid unnecessary confusion and get a full grasp of what is being said.

The first stage in Reciprocal Teaching is questioning. Here, whilst avoiding any interruptions, pupils will have the chance to ask questions about the text, based around 'why?' and 'how' things happened. They should direct their questions not only at the plot of the text, but also at the characters within it and their behavior.

After progressing from this initial step, students must look for clarification on the more complex matters raised by asking questions. This is a particularly useful tactic when a motive or message in the text is particularly difficult to comprehend, and it needs revisiting on more than one occasion to be fully understood. Teachers must use their knowledge to address these issues and clear them up, so that pupils can gain an acute awareness of where and how they slot into the story as a whole.

When all of the troublesome matters of the extract have been put into perspective, the class must work as a collective group to summarize what the short segment of text meant. By this point, students should have a deep understanding and appreciation for what has just been said, so that they can begin thinking about the impact the events may have on later stages of the book/extract.

With the first three stages dealt with, the class should almost be ready to move onto the next paragraph or section of the story. Before doing this, though, it's always a good idea to make a prediction about what is going to happen next. In order to do this, pupils must have a solid base knowledge of previous events. Remember: thinking about these and the effect they may have on subsequent moments is a high level skill, so some pupils may struggle here.

If your class is able to tackle the four main processes of Reciprocal Teaching, they should be well on their way to gaining a thorough understanding of the story they're reading. Obviously, this has a beneficial effect on their comprehension skills, but it also allows them to begin enjoying literature like never before. It's so much easier to extract pleasure from a book if you appreciate how the plot slots together and what it means!