Reciprocal Teaching in Special Education

Instructor: Linda Winfree

Linda has taught English at grades 6-12 and holds graduate degrees in curriculum and teacher leadership.

In this lesson, you'll learn how to implement reciprocal teaching, a reading comprehension skill set, with your special education students in both inclusion and resource settings.

Reciprocal Teaching

As a special education teacher, you'll often have students who have difficulty with reading comprehension. Or you may have students with specific learning disabilities in processing that interfere with retaining content knowledge. Reciprocal teaching, introduced by researchers Annemarie Sullivan Palinscar and Ann L. Brown in 1984, is an instructional method you can use with your students to help with both reading and acquiring content knowledge. Reciprocal teaching involves four steps: summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting; it allows students to assume the role of teacher.

Many of your students will be served in inclusion settings, in which they attend general education classes with you or a paraprofessional as support. You may also teach your students in a resource class to supplement their inclusion classes; even if you teach students in a resource-only setting, you can implement reciprocal teaching.

How to Introduce the Strategy

Reciprocal teaching is best used with the gradual release model, in which you model an activity for students, do the activity with students, then monitor students as they apply the activity with a partner and finally independently.

Choose a Passage

To model, select a reading passage at your students' instructional level, one for which they need support to comprehend. Passages can be fiction or nonfiction, depending on the specific reading skills or content area concepts your students need to master. Do plan to model both types of text, though, so your students will know how to use the strategy with both fiction and nonfiction texts.

Model the Passage

Distribute the passage and display a graphic organizer on chart paper or a PowerPoint with spaces to take notes for each step of the process. Read aloud a chunk of the text and stop to perform a think aloud, in which you verbalize your thinking as a reader.

Reciprocal Teaching Graphic Organizer
Reciprocal Teaching Organizer

Summarize what you just read. List questions generated by the text, such as:

  • Why do hurricanes only occur during certain times of the year?
  • Why did the landlady ask Billy to sign the book?

Show students how to clarify important points by stating which parts of the text may be confusing and rereading them to figure out what the text meant. For example, you might reread a section of confusing dialogue to determine a character's true intent.

Finally, make a prediction about what will happen next in a fiction passage or about what you will learn next in a nonfiction passage. Make sure you record your thinking on the graphic organizer and explain each step to students as you proceed.

Practice as a Group, in Pairs, and Independently

For the next chunk of text, ask students to work with you through the process. Again, read aloud a chunk of the text, then repeat the four steps of reciprocal teaching, involving students in the think aloud and recording group answers on the graphic organizer.

Now, ask students to practice the strategy in pairs, and monitor them to make sure they're completing each step correctly. As a group, debrief their paired work and add to the whole-class organizer.

Finally, ask students to practice the strategy independently. Once more, monitor their progress and debrief independent work as a whole.

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