Reciprocal teaching is a strategy employed by many teachers in their classrooms when working with small groups of 4-5 children during their literacy sessions. The purpose of reciprocal teaching is to assist children’s comprehension by helping them bring deeper meaning to a text that is being read. It involves a conversation among members of the group with group members each taking a turn at leading this conversation.
A text is read one portion at a time eg two paragraphs at a time, and the conversation ensures each child has understood that section of the text before moving on to the next section.
It can be utilised by parents in a one-to-one situation with a child at home and eventually lead to the child using it as a reading strategy independently.
Reciprocal teaching involves five steps, each of which is used in turn as each section of text is read. The following piece of text will be used to help explain these five steps
“Foxes Around the World
Foxes are small animals belonging to the canid family. They have pointed muzzles on their thin skulls, sharp teeth, acute hearing, strong sense of smell, large triangular ears and long, bushy tails. They are equipped for swift and easy running with a light build, long legs with four toes on each foot and claws that are non-retractile. These physical attributes mean it is well adapted to a predatory lifestyle.
Around the world there are about 23 species of foxes. These include13 vulpine foxes found in the northern hemisphere, eight zorros from South America, bat-eared foxes, Artic foxes found in the north polar region and foxes introduced to Australia.”
Before the first section of a text is read the child is asked to predict what he/she thinks the text will be about. Clues might be in the heading, or a subheading, or in graphics such as pictures or diagrams, or come from any background knowledge that the child might have about the topic.
The child might say, “I think the text is going to be about foxes.”
Then, before each ensuing section of text is read, the child is asked to predict what he/she thinks the author will talk about in the next section.
The child might say, “In the next section of text the author might tell us about each type of fox, or other physical features of foxes, or habits that foxes have.”
Both the child and parent read each section of text to themselves eg two paragraphs at a time. After each section is read the parent and child work together to employ the following three strategies: clarifying, question generating and summarising, to ensure that section is understood before moving on to the next section of text.
This is a very important step because simply being able to ‘read’ (say) the words when reading does not mean that the child has understood them all. There are a number of aspects of a text that need to be clarified if they present a barrier to the child’s understanding eg vocabulary (the meaning of particular words), names of people, places or things, new or difficult concepts and subject matter, sentence structure and how parts of the text are linked together.
A child might need to: clarify the meaning of some words eg canid, muzzle, non-retractile, attributes, predatory, vulpine, zorros; on a world globe (or map) identify the northern hemisphere, where South America is, what is meant by the north polar region and where Australia is.
During this step in the process it is helpful for the child to have access to reference resources that will assist in clarifying what the text is saying eg a dictionary or thesaurus to look up new or unusual words, an atlas to locate place names, an encyclopaedia (physical or online) to assist in the understanding concepts or subject matter found in each section of text.
Good readers ask themselves questions about what they have just read, firstly, to ensure they have understood what they have actually read. Good questions are based on the information in a text and a questioning strategy that assists in understanding is 5W and H (who, what, where, when, why, how).
To what animal family does the fox belong?
What are some of the physical features of a fox?
How many species of foxes are there in the world?
Where do we find foxes in the world?
What different types of foxes are there?
Why is a fox a good predator?
Secondly, question generating helps to identify the most important things to remember from what has been read. This will assist in making a summary later.
A summary consists of the main points or the most important information contained in a text. It does not include information or details that are not important.
If a child is reading a longer text it is useful to pause at the end of each section and make a summary of what has been read. An initial summary can be recorded in point form.
- Foxes are canids
- Physical features – small, thin head, pointed muzzles, sharp teeth, acute hearing, strong sense of smell, large triangular ears, long, bushy tail, light build, long legs, four toes on each foot , non-retractile claws
- Location – northern hemisphere, South American, northern polar region
- Types of foxes – vulpine, zorro, bat-eared, Arctic
- Effective predator
Once the child has learnt how to use these five steps in the process he/she can begin using reciprocal teaching as a strategy independently. You may even make a prompt card to assist in memorising the steps.