Reciprocal Teaching: Definition, Benefits and Strategies

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 12, 2022 | Published June 29, 2021

Updated July 12, 2022

Published June 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Reciprocal teaching can help teachers provide students with the skills they need in order to assess and ask questions about provided materials. Since teaching a lesson using the reciprocal technique differs from traditional classroom instruction, understanding the different roles this method requires can help you teach a topic successfully.

In this article, we discuss what reciprocal teaching is, explain the benefits of using it, show how to oversee a reciprocal teaching lesson and offer tips to help you get started.

What is reciprocal teaching?

Reciprocal teaching is a method in which a teacher gives students increased responsibility in the teaching process. A teacher first explains the key elements of assessing a piece of reading material and then shows how to use them. Once students are comfortable, the teacher allows the students to each assume control over an element and lead discussions for that phase. This allows the students to learn by doing.

Related: What Is a Teaching Philosophy? Definition and Examples

Benefits of reciprocal teaching

Reciprocal teaching can be a highly effective method of instructing students and developing their reading comprehension skills. Some of the key benefits of reciprocal teaching include:

It raises engagement

Using reciprocal teaching in the classroom makes students active participants in the lesson. This can help make students more likely to pay attention to the lesson and help them comprehend the material.

Active engagement throughout the reciprocal teaching lesson can also be an effective way to keep the students focused on the lesson being taught and minimize the possibility of distractions.

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It uses critical thinking

Because students in a reciprocal teaching position assume a role similar to teaching during the lesson, it enables them to engage with the material in a new way. When trying to explain their section in a manner that other students understand, a student uses their critical thinking skills to assess the topic and put it into words that their peers can follow.

By encouraging students to think about the material covered more intensely, you can help them build their analytical and critical thinking abilities.

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Students learn to ask questions

Learning how to ask probing questions is an important skill for students to develop. During a reciprocal teaching lesson, the students not only learn how to ask challenging questions, but how to think about them in order to come up with a meaningful answer. These are useful skills applicable across many subjects and facets of their life.

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It helps develop communication skills

By allowing students to lead discussions within the group, reciprocal teaching helps them to develop their communication abilities. In addition to growing more comfortable with public speaking, the students learn how to choose their words carefully to ensure that others can understand them. This provides valuable first-hand experience to help them refine their communication abilities and set them up for success.

Related: The Best Methods for Teaching Excellent Communication Skills

How to teach reciprocally

Reciprocal teaching lessons can be a valuable addition to a curriculum. In order to integrate reciprocal teaching into your lesson plans effectively, follow these steps:

1. Demonstrate the techniques

It's important for students to understand what you expect from them in a reciprocal teaching lesson. The best way to explain how to lead a reciprocal teaching discussion is to serve as an example. When gathering a group for a reading lesson, teach the first section of the writing yourself.

As you progress through the different phases of the reciprocal teaching process, explain what section you are covering, what it entails and why you're showing it to them. This provides an example for your students to follow for later sections of the reading materials.

When it's a student's turn to lead a section, they can refer to your example if they're unsure of how to proceed, allowing them to better complete their task. This can also provide improved results both for the student leading and the other members of the group.

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2. Divide students into groups

Because reciprocal teaching focuses on direct engagement and transferring responsibilities to the students, it works best in smaller groups so that there are fewer students at a time who are not actively leading.

For example, dividing a class of 24 into groups of four can allow every student to have a role throughout the lesson. There's no definitive way to divide students into groups, as there may be times when groups may have an uneven distribution because of classroom size.

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3. Assign roles

During the reciprocal teaching process, there are four phases: summary, questioning, clarification and prediction. During a reciprocal teaching lesson, one student leads each of these phases.

A simple way to track who handles each phase is to hand out an index card with the name of the phase to the student responsible for it. The students can then pass these cards as the phases change during later steps so that everybody knows their responsibility.

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4. Read a section of the material

During a reciprocal reading lesson, consider separating larger pieces of reading into smaller sections. This allows the students to discuss the material as they read it and ensures that they all understand as they progress through the larger piece. Try reading or having a student read out loud the agreed-on sections, or have the students read to themselves and stop when they complete the section.

The length of the section you read can vary based on the complexity of the work. While an easier piece of writing may allow you to read a page or two at a time, more challenging reading may be more comprehensible by taking a break after one or two paragraphs instead to ensure the students are following.

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5. Engage with roles

Upon completing a section of reading, allow the students responsible for each element of the process to take their turn leading discussions. The four roles are:

  • Summary: During the summary phase, a student summarizes the section the group just read. This student identifies the important topics and what they feel the students can gain from the section.

  • Questions: The next student provides questions posed by the section they read. This includes anything they didn't understand and questions they feel the section posed.

  • Clarification: In clarification, a student answers the questions about the section. This provides additional clarity to students who struggled with the section and allows students to develop their critical thinking by responding to the questions.

  • Prediction: After answering questions the students have about the previous action, the student responsible for the last rule makes a prediction on what they think the reading will cover next. This is an informed guess based on the previous reading and the topics it covered.

6. Pass the roles

Each role within the reciprocal teaching process has a different function. In order to maximize the benefit of reciprocal teaching, instruct students to pass their roles to the student next to them after each section. This allows each student in the group an opportunity to lead each section of the discussion. Passing the roles can help all students in the group to receive the maximum benefit from the teaching exercise.

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Tips for reciprocal teaching

Reciprocal teaching can be an effective component of an educational curriculum. If you're using reciprocal teaching in the classroom, these tips may help you maximize the benefit it provides for students:

Open the roles

Assigning roles is an important part of the reciprocal teaching process. It ensures that all students receive an opportunity to work on the unique skills that reciprocal teaching helps build. If you notice students are struggling with the role assigned to them, allow other students to offer help, as this can also benefit the entire group.

For the student whose turn it is, getting help after they find themselves stuck can avoid frustration or embarrassment because of their inability to find the right words. For other students in the class, this increases engagement and allows them to practice their skills in addition to when it's their turn for a specific role.

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Offer help throughout

Another option for students who are struggling is for you to offer help throughout. This can be beneficial because it allows you to offer a guide or a hint toward the right direction without completely finishing the student's role. This allows them to see what you identified so that they can come to the correct answer, and can then apply those same concepts the next time it's their responsibility.

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Choose approachable but challenging material

Choosing applicable writing samples for a reciprocal teaching assignment is one of the most important factors for it to be successful. It's important to choose materials that are within your students' capabilities while still requiring them to engage fully in order to come to the right conclusions. This balance allows the students to test themselves and develop their skills while avoiding becoming overwhelmed with material out of their understanding.

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Use side activities and small groups

Since reciprocal teaching works best in small groups, consider having many groups working on a project at the same time. Once your students are more familiar with reciprocal teaching, each group can work independently on the assignment, while you move around the room and offer help and answer questions as needed.

When first introducing the class to reciprocal teaching, however, it's beneficial to have a second assignment prepared that the students can complete individually or in groups without help. This allows you to work directly with each group one at a time, while the other students remain occupied with their own work.

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