Here's How I Implemented a Reciprocal Teaching Strategy in My Classroom


Reciprocal teaching gives students a chance to switch roles with the teacher, educating their peers through a student-led dialogue that helps to reinforce reading abilities, develop critical thinking skills, and embolden students.

Can Reciprocal Teaching Make Learning Fun?

Like most of us, my students learn best when they're actively involved in the subject matter. When we use reciprocal teaching to make that happen, students not only get the chance to reinforce their learning but also delve deeper into their reading and learn to openly express - and receive - varying opinions. This method allows them to appreciate new perspectives and leads to a better understanding of the topic at hand.

What is Reciprocal Teaching?

Reciprocal teaching is a model based on psychologist Lev Vygotsky's theory of the fundamental role that dialogue and social interaction play in learning and retaining information. He believed that students learn best somewhere between their ability to perform a task under adult supervision and their ability to solve a problem independently. He referred to this space as the ''Zone of Proximal Development.'' This theory promotes the idea that students - when allowed to collaborate with teachers and peers - gained more from instruction time and mastered materials faster.

How Did It Work in My Classroom?

In my early learning classroom, we were seldom faced with the need to analyze complex texts for understanding. Instead, we focused on reading readiness and basic concepts to prepare students for a competitive class environment. So how did reciprocal teaching work for us?

Surprisingly well, as we'll discuss next.


We Let Students Take Charge

Pre-elementary classrooms are no longer just places where children nap, play, and paint all day. Students must now recognize letters, shapes, numbers, and colors, as well as read at a basic level even before they enter kindergarten. This focus on academics can be very stressful for small ones who are still struggling to master these complex concepts. Through the use of a reciprocal teaching model, combined with our more play-based learning style, we were able to give each student the chance to take charge during our reading lessons, giving them a sense of control over what could sometimes be an overwhelming and stressful classroom period.

Giving students an opportunity to take charge allowed them to receive the lesson from teaching staff and then share it with the rest of the class. Open discussion was encouraged, and all questions were appreciated and accepted. We found that not only did the exercise increase students' excitement for reading, but also reinforced what they had learned. In a few short weeks, our pre-K class went from zero literacy to reading simple texts independently and enjoying it.

As an added benefit, we also learned that many of our students were excited to share their reciprocal teaching experiences with parents and siblings, further reinforcing concepts along the way.

Does the Strategy Work with Older Students?

In our early learning classroom, reciprocal teaching was basic and straightforward. We taught the lesson, broke the class up into smaller groups, and gave students turns at 'teaching' the materials to their peers, providing a little guidance along the way.

For upper-level students, the Adolescent Literacy Group recommends organizing them into small, mixed ability groups and designating one student in each group as the leader. It is the leader's job to keep the rest of the group on task. Next, the teacher should deliver the lesson by breaking up the material into small blocks and following a 4-step process to analyze the text:

  • Predict - Students should try to predict what the reading section is about.
  • Analyze - Students should develop questions about plot, character motivation, and purpose of the writing.
  • Define - Students should make a note of anything within the text that requires extra clarification. Items such as definitions, pronunciations, and meanings should be clarified.
  • Condense - At the end of the session, students should summarize what they have learned, focusing on important points to solidify understanding.


Using this method for each section of the text can help students to internalize learning and retain more of the lesson. It should also enable them to think critically about future lessons.

What Are Some of the Benefits?

As Elizabeth Foster and Beck Rotolini, educators from the Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia explain, the foundation for reciprocal teaching is simple: Teachers present students with information, provide them with the tools to break that information down, and separate them into smaller groups where they can analyze and discuss the lesson. By allowing students to openly question the subject matter, ask questions, and dissect themes, they internalized the information faster, retaining more than they did through a traditional lecture model.


Additionally, when students are thinking about their own responses to reading materials and examining their own thought processes, they can potentially appreciate the impact of individual writing styles. Open discussion in small groups, particularly when each child leads the group in turn, also makes it easier for students who might otherwise remain silent during the class to speak out, ask questions, and share ideas without fear of ridicule.

Instructional Benefits

Just as importantly, reciprocal teaching also allows teachers to circulate around the room freely, coaching students and gaining a better understanding of where each one falls in terms of comprehension. This added information makes it possible for teachers to offer more support to those students who need it.

Could the Strategy Benefit Your Classroom?

I've found very few classrooms where students didn't gain some immediate benefit from reciprocal teaching. Providing students with the opportunity to discuss information not only helps them to better grasp the material but also allows them to interact with their peers in a positive way. It also encourages students to consider other perspectives. And wouldn't we all be better off if we took the time to appreciate the views of others?

By Patricia Willis
May 2017
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