Reciprocal teaching

Reciprocal teaching is a reading practice based on the foundational skills introduced through guided reading in addition to the use of scaffolded talk between a teacher and group members or group members with each other to develop and support comprehension.

Students who participate in this practice are encouraged to read, talk and think their way through the text.

Scaffolded talk about a text is guided by four comprehension strategies: predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarising (Palincsar and Brown, 1985; Palinscar, 2003). Meaning of the text is jointly constructed through discussion between all group members. An appointed group leader prompts discussion for each of the strategies, so that all students are given the opportunity to apply and refine their skills when predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarising.

Using reciprocal teaching

Reciprocal Teaching may be used with fluent readers to develop their comprehension skills during a small group reading session. Teachers may choose to use components of reciprocal teaching as a variation of a guided reading session. This practice requires students to read more independently than in a structured guided reading session, as it involves a lower level of teacher involvement and a higher level of student independence.

Reciprocal teaching is a supportive teaching practice because it:

  • supports students to develop comprehension strategies in a supportive context
  • makes explicit what readers do – predict, clarify, question and summarise
  • develops students’ content knowledge and topic vocabulary
  • fosters meaningful dialogue among students including extended talk about texts
  • helps students to develop skills in locating, recording, and organising information in preparation for writing.

See: Reciprocal Teaching Sample lesson-Level 3 and 4

Modelling the roles within reciprocal teaching

Teachers as leaders

Initially, the teacher will model the procedure for Reciprocal Teaching sessions. The teacher acts as the leader of the discussion—modeling, discussing and explaining the use of the four strategies.

The four roles/strategies are dealt with separately for learning purposes, including:

  • Predictor-predicting from what is already known, from the text structure or from the text features
  • Clarifier-clarifying "unfamiliar vocabulary, challenging concepts, awkward structure, unclear referent words, idiomatic expressions" (Palinscar, 2003, p.370).
  • Questioner- asking questions about the text that cover the three levels; literal, inferential and evaluative.
  • Summariser-summing up the main ideas or gist of the text   Efficient readers synthesise these strategies when reading. However, to make them explicit to students, it is desirable that each one is modelled and scaffolded separately until they can be competently integrated.


The teacher (leader) introduces the text by predicting the content from the title. All available knowledge is used, with the teacher briefly outlining the reasoning behind the predictions, including clues from the text and prior knowledge.

Students may be invited to make their own predictions. The teacher indicates a section of text to be read. Predictions are checked against the text, with thoughts and opinions being confirmed or modified at the end of the independent reading time.


The teacher (leader) seeks to clarify any unfamiliar vocabulary or concepts in that section of text and makes links to sections of text previously read. Ways of clarifying the meaning of words or phrases through the use of content, known words, and references such as dictionaries and atlases and discussion are demonstrated.

Other group members are encouraged to seek clarification of words, phrases or concepts in the text which are unclear. This occurs at any time during the session to provide the opportunity for all students to maintain understanding of the text.


The teacher (leader) formulates a thought-provoking question regarding an aspect of the text. By modeling the strategy of asking and answering one's own questions, the teacher stimulates a discussion, engaging the group with the text on a deeper level, bringing a critical eye to the text and stimulating critical thought. Other group members are encouraged to ask questions for the group to answer.


The teacher (leader) summarises the passage, highlighting the main idea(s), purpose and intended audience of the text. Other group members are encouraged to add to the leader's summary or to review what they have read by sharing their own summaries.

As students become familiar with the four strategies and are competent in their use, they are ready to take on the role of leader. Initially this may be by leading one of the four parts of the discussion.

Efficient readers synthesise these strategies when reading. However, to make them explicit to students, it is desirable that each one is modelled and scaffolded separately until they can be competently integrated.

Students as leaders

As students become adept at using the strategies and verbalising their thought processes, the teacher will gradually transfer responsibility to the students for leading the discussion. Role cards can act as a successful prompt for students as they begin to work independently on a strategy.

Initially each student may lead one of the four parts of the discussion. Once the students are familiar with the procedure of Reciprocal teaching and are competent at using the four strategies, they are ready to take over the role of group leader. Group leaders take on the responsibility for leading discussion, modeling the strategies and calling on others for contributions.  

At this point in the process the teacher takes on a secondary role, providing encouragement, feedback and support as required. Teachers have the opportunity to observe their students using the strategies as they jointly construct meaning.

During observations, the teacher annotates the level of student participation and their strategy competence. These annotated observations form the basis of future planning and teaching. It is envisaged that when students can competently use the strategies developed during  Reciprocal Teaching they will be integrated, internalised and transferred to their independent reading, see Reciprocal Teaching Level 3 and 4 sample lesson

Roles of group members


  • hypothesising what the author will discuss next in the text
  • linking new ideas to prior knowledge
  • confirming or modifying thoughts and opinions
  • using text structure
  • monitoring own understandings


  • Stop at different points in the text.
  • Provide predictions of what will happen next, or how the author will discuss X.
  • Use headings, sub-headings.
  • Confirm or reject predictions.
  • focusing on the meaning of a text
  • being alert to unfamiliar vocabulary, phrases and complicated concepts
  • restoring meaning through the use of context, known words, references, rereading and asking for help


  • Look for unfamiliar vocabulary.
  • Examine the layout of the text.
  • Identify complex concepts.
  • Use the grammar of the text.
  • Use a dictionary or thesaurus.
  • Re-read.
  • formulating and answering questions
  • demonstrating deeper engagement with the text
  • developing skills to think critically


  • Ask questions before, during and after reading.
  • Use literal, inferential and evaluative questions.
  • Provide question-type support charts, for example:
    • Did the author say it?
    • Did the author mean it?
    • Would the author agree?
  • organising and integrating the information from the text
  • showing understanding of the main idea, information and purpose of the text
  • reviewing what has been read


  • Locate key words in the text and use in the summary.
  • Summarise the main idea of a paragraph.
  • Summarise key points relating to headings and sub-headings.
  • Synthesise the main ideas into a concise paragraph

Text selection

The teacher selects a text at an appropriate level of difficulty for the students. The teacher identifies the supports and challenges in the text and selects teaching foci based on the students' learning needs. Each student works with an individual copy of the text. It will usually be a text that students have not read before.

As Reciprocal Teaching emphasises research-based dialogue, short non-fiction text types are particularly suitable. However, a text may be read over several sessions if it contains chapters or challenging vocabulary or concepts.

Theory to practice

Research by Palinscar and Brown (1984) identified a discrepancy between student decoding levels and comprehension levels. They identified the importance of dialogue in promoting  comprehension, using the word 'reciprocal' to mean 'backwards and forwards' through discussion. Dialogue is an important element of socially mediated instruction, as it is the vehicle through which the more 'knowing other' (i.e. teacher) scaffolds the learning of the novice (i.e. student) (Bruner, 1986; Palinscar, 2003, Vygotsky, 1978). 

First modelled and led by the teacher, over time students are gradually scaffolded to talk, think and share their way independently through more complex texts (Palinscar & Brown, 1984; Palinscar, 2003). 

In line with Vygotsky’s (1978) Zone of Proximal Development and Bruner’s (1986) notion of scaffolding, the strategies within this teaching practice allow students to develop confidence in their comprehension at the word, sentence, and text level.

This practice also provides opportunities for students to apply these strategies in an authentic literacy experience (students support each other to predict, question, clarify, and summarise texts). Teacher support during these sessions can be adjusted according to the needs of groups or individual students. 

In practice examples

For in practice examples, see: Reciprocal teaching level 3 and 4


Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Palinscar, A.S. (2013). Reciprocal Teaching. In J. Hattie and E.M. Anderson (Eds.), International Guide to Student Achievement. (pp. 369-371). Taylor and Francis. 

Palinscar, A.S. and Brown, A.L. (Spring, 1984). Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension-Fostering and Comprehension-Monitoring Activities. Cognition and Instruction. Vol. 1, No. 2. pp. 117-175.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.