What is Reciprocal Reading?

What is Reciprocal Reading 1

What is Reciprocal Reading?

Have you heard about reciprocal reading (also known as reciprocal teaching)?  I love the way this strategy enables independent readers to work together in a self-managing team to discuss a difficult text. They teach each other and take turns leading. Let me tell you more about it!

The four comprehension strategies students learn and practice are:

  1. predicting what might follow and why.
  2. clarifying tricky words or ideas,
  3. formulating questions to stimulate thoughtful discussion,
  4. summarising main ideas.

These strategies go into the learner’s personal reading and writing kete or toolkit and you can then remind and teach them to use these skills across the curriculum.

Is Reciprocal reading supported by New Zealand research?

The Best Evidence Synthesis recommends reciprocal teaching and goal setting in writing as having the two biggest impacts on literacy learning across the curriculum. Comprehension significantly improves and strategies are transferred to reading and writing in other contexts. They found the group-discussion problem-solving approach culturally appropriate and appealing for both Māori and Pasifika students.

Who created reciprocal teaching?

This pedagogy was first developed by Professor Annemarie Palincsar, University of Michigan, who is now researching the use of collaborative reading strategies in the cyber home -learning environment to complete a group science inquiry.

How does it fit into your planning?

According to The NZ English Curriculum, students at all levels should practice using skills for making meaning of increasingly challenging texts and at increasingly in-depth levels. The English Reading AOs at all levels support reciprocal teaching, and they can be included in topic/investigation cross-curricular planning as well.

How does reciprocal reading fit into a reading programme?

Reciprocal reading is an independent group activity where students take turns to practice the reading comprehension strategies of predicting, clarifying, asking questions, and summarising. There is no hard and fast rule for how reciprocal reading MUST be done, and it isn’t my philosophy to tell you as a professional how you MUST do something. Here is how I ran this in my classes:

  • Place five students in a group and hand out the five reciprocal reading prompt cards (leader, questioner, clarifier, summariser, and predictor). Looking for a free set of reciprocal reading prompt cards? Keep reading!
    • Make sure every student has a copy of the text.
  • Rather than swapping roles throughout the session, I prefer to have students keep their same role for the entire session. This way it saves any fighting over roles and gives students a chance to really practice the skill over multiple pages. Note down their roles so in the next session they are moved to a different role.
  • Before your students read the section of the text, have the predictor make their predictions. Students then read the section of the text and work through the other reciprocal reading roles. The leader directs this.
    • A dictionary or iPad online dictionary is a handy tool for those who are clarifying.
  • The leader can also take on the role of the recorder, noting down each response. This provides evidence of their discussion for you, and also means they can revisit their predictions. Looking for a handy free recording sheet? Keep reading.

How do you introduce reciprocal reading?

Each strategy is specifically taught, modelled, and practiced. The key here is that you need to model this process so the students really get to grips with what they will be doing. If you are wanting learners to take part in real, authentic reciprocal reading groups, they need to have experience seeing and practicing each of the skills first. I recommend the gradual release of responsibility framework (I do, we do, you do). Try this quick activity for the beginning of the year.

  1. A group of four students sits in a circle with the same text, and the rest of the class observes so that the whole class is learning. The text is on the screen, in individual books, or on paper. One or two students might enjoy the privilege of videoing the session on an iPad.
  2. The teacher leads the students through a practice session. Make one prompt card for each strategy (summarise, question, clarify and predict). Give a different card to each student and sit in the group as the leader. Our free reciprocal reading cards (keep reading to get yours) would be perfect for this.
  3. Read the text together.
  4. Discussion: go round the circle taking turns. Each student leads a part of the discussion from their prompt card e.g. the question card, the summarise card. Use all four cards.
  5. Everyone passes their card to the left.
  6. Direct the students to read the next section of text together.
  7. Repeat until each member has practiced each skill.

Give it a go!

Reciprocal reading can make your life easier in the classroom as you pass agency onto your students. If taught and scaffolded well in term one, the whole class can manage it eventually, freeing you up to teach a different group. I have done reciprocal reading successfully with 7-year-olds reading a text just slightly harder than they can manage on their own. They love following the script and ‘playing the teacher’! Older students really enjoy collectively ‘attacking’ a difficult text and the Ministry of Education highly recommends it for secondary schools. The skills taught when exploring non-fiction texts through reciprocal reading transfer to other curriculum areas. Exploring fiction texts can support writing fiction.

Did you say freebie?

Reciprocal Reading Freebie

I’ve put together a free set of reciprocal reading prompt cards. You can find these in our freebie library here.

Top Teaching Tasks Reading Members, you can download these cards here.

Happy Reciprocal Reading!

Our reading resources

We have a great range of reading comprehension resources that would fit nicely into your reading programme:


  • (BES) Exemplar 4: Reciprocal Teaching, April 2012. Copyright © Ministry of Education. 
  • Quality Teaching for Diverse (All) Learners in Schooling/He Ako Reikura, He Ākonga Rerekura (Te Katoa): Hei Kete Raukura, (BES)Exemplar 4: Reciprocal Teaching, April 2012. Copyright © Ministry of Education.
  • Oczuks, L. (2003). Reciprocal teaching at work: Strategies for improving reading comprehension. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
  • Palincsar, A. S. & Brown, A. (1984). Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension-Fostering and Comprehension Monitoring Activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1(2), pp. 117-175

Kia kaha! Happy Reciprocal Reading!

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