Reciprocal Teaching in English and Maths

Hi everyone!

I am Kylie and I live in Brisbane, Australia.  I am so honoured to be a part of this amazing collaborative literacy blog and to be networking with such a talented group of literacy specialists!  I am learning so much every day from their posts.

I have worked in adult literacy, numeracy and ESL, in primary teaching and as a Head of Curriculum.  I am currently a lecturer, working with pre-service teachers, which I just love!!!  I am studying my PhD which is around what constitutes intellectual demand in the teaching of reading across the curriculum - that was a mouthful!!!  In a nutshell, it's examining rigorous pedagogies for the teaching of reading.

Today, I am going to be talking about Reciprocal Teaching in both English and Mathematics.  I am really passionate about dialogic approaches that encourage classroom interaction, accountable talk, close reading and higher order thinking.

What is Reciprocal Teaching?

Reciprocal Teaching (Palinscar & Brown, 1984) is an evidence-based approach that improves reading comprehension through small group discussions.  It involves reciprocal dialogue between teachers and students.  Teachers can use the Gradual Release of Responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) and through explicit modeling of the strategies, can gradually increase leadership of the groups to the students, to the point where eventually students can lead the groups themselves. 

Reciprocal Teaching is also an excellent approach to use if you have para-professionals, teacher aides or parents helping with reading groups, as it scaffolds the process through prompts on each role card.  You can read a review of the Reciprocal Teaching research here.  Lori Oczkus has cited the following results from the research into Reciprocal Teaching:

In 15 days students are more confident. (Palinscar & Brown, 1986)
Low-performing students do well with reciprocal teaching. (Carter, 1997)
Struggling readers grow 1-2 years in 3-6 months(Cooper, Boschken, McWilliams, & Pistochini, 2000).
In 16 studies reciprocal teaching proved consistent and effective. (Rosenshine & Meister, 1994).
So how does it work?

Reciprocal Teaching traditionally uses four reading comprehension strategies - predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarizing (summarising for those of us in Australia).  The approach can be used in whole class lessons or during guided reading.

We usually have six students in our guided reading groups, so as a group, we predict what the text will be about before reading, using the title and images to assist.  If it is a book, we might look at the blurb or sometimes the contents page if it is a non-fiction text.  Students usually use a prompt like, "By looking at the cover and the title, I predict this text is going to be about..." Other students add to their predictions giving evidence from the text to justify their predictions.

Students then read a section of the text silently.  They pause at a pre-determined place and identify any words or concepts that need to be clarified.  This may also involve looking up words in the dictionary, using the glossary if the text has one, or searching an atlas for a location.  Students are encouraged to clarify for each other at this point.  The group leader (teacher/teacher aide/parent) may also help to clarify unknown words or concepts after the students have had a go.

Next, the students ask questions about their reading and attempt to answer each others' questions.  Student-generated questioning is an important part of higher order thinking and deep comprehension.  I sometimes mix this up and I may use an interrogative die (which is just a die with who, what, where, when, why and how on each face).  The students take turns to roll the die and ask a question beginning with the prompt.  This really encourages them to think deeply and laterally when formulating questions.  Other times, I might use a die that has "thick" or "thin" written on each face and the students take it in turn to ask a "thin" (literal, 'right here in the text') question or a "thick" (requiring deep engagement and thinking, beyond the text) question of their peers.  You can find a lesson on thick and thin questions from Read-Write-Think here and free posters here.  The students then summarize (summarise) what has been read so far and add to each others' summaries.

It's up to the teacher's instructional purpose, how much text is read in the reading session and whether the cycle begins again for the next section of text or if that is enough for one day - the important thing to note is that it is not a race to get through the text.  This does take time and the purpose is to generate thinking and deep comprehension, not to speed through the text at a surface level.

How does this apply to Mathematics?

I have had great success using the Reciprocal Teaching approach to support the comprehension of Mathematics word problems in small problem solving groups.  

I have extended the process from the original four strategies of predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarizing (summarising) to include: Predicting, Clarifying, Questioning, Visualizing, Connecting,  Calculating, Summarizingand Giving Feedback. This draws on my research around Reciprocal Teaching and also the high yield active comprehension strategies.  I think the "Giving Feedback" role is important as it allows students to monitor how the group is working and helps to support a positive culture in the classroom.

The students predict what the problem is going to be about (based on the Maths in the problem, not whether it is about bees or butterflies etc. LOL).  The students clarify any tricky parts in the problem or maths symbols/language.  They ask each other any questions about the problem; they visualize (visualise) what the problem is asking, perhaps drawing diagrams or tables to assist; they make connections to other similar problems they may have encountered. Next they do the calculations and check the reasonableness of their answers by going back and re-reading the problem and checking they have actually done what the question asked.  
After this, they summarize (summarise) what the problem was asking, how they solved the problem and justify the reasonableness of their solution based on the problem solving strategies used. Finally, they give feedback on the group's problem solving session, focusing on the positives and giving feedback on improvements for the future.  

You can read more about the Reciprocal Teaching resources I use in reading groups and Mathematics problem solving groups, in my blog post here

Resources to support Reciprocal Teaching

Adrian Bruce has some free role/strategy cards that can be used for Reciprocal Teaching on his website. You can find them here.  The Ontario Literacy Secretariat (love their work) provides a summary of Diane Snowball's approach to Reciprocal Teaching here and webcasts on Reciprocal Teaching, Accountable Talk and the Gradual Release of Responsibility model can be found here.

Lori Oczkus has done a lot of work with Reciprocal Teaching and has four puppets ("The Fabulous Four") that she uses to introduce each of the four reading strategies. Click on the image above to find out more.  Her puppets include:  Paula the Predictor, Clara Clarifier, Quincy the Game show host, and cowboy Sammy Summarizer. 

You can view a video of Lori demonstrating this approach here. This is a link to her free video guide where you can download some great resources, including bookmarks to support the Reciprocal Teaching approach.  You can view some vimeos of her approach here.  She uses hand signals as well in her approach.  There is a free professional development study guide that can be downloaded here, and a free chapter from her book is available here to help teachers get started with Reciprocal Teaching.  Ideas for lesson planning and a rubric can be found here, and there are guidelines or advice for classroom organisation, text selection, and planning using the approach here.   

Other terrific suggestions can be found on the Utah Council of the International Reading Association site here and hereThere are also some excellent videos from the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood here.

If you are interested in my approach for extending Reciprocal Teaching to include the high yield active comprehension strategies, you can read my published research here. 

I would be really keen to hear from anyone who has used the Reciprocal Teaching approach in either reading groups or for supporting the comprehension of Maths word problems.  Please comment below, as I know there have been many different versions of the approach over the years.

Many thanks to my graphic artist Iva from etsy (nahhan73) for the custom clip art used in my post. I love her work!  Click on the link in brackets to find out more.


  1. This is absolutely excellent, Kylie. The graphics are really cute too. Thanks for I want to put it into action!

    1. Thanks Carla - I just love Reciprocal Teaching and it really does improve comprehension big time. I had a friend from the U.S. introduce this with her class this week - the kids' feedback and some photos are on my blog post. I just love hearing back from teachers who use this approach or those in my other blog post and leave me feedback :) I would love to hear your successes when you put it into action :) Kylie

  2. When I was in the classroom, this was one of my favorite ways to teach. It made the students "do the work" and learn so much more! And the struggling readers really did well with it too! Such a wonderful post!! Thanks so much!

    Reading Toward the Stars

    1. I agree Andrea - this is just one of my all time favourite instructional approaches and I agree that it supports not only more able students, but those beginning readers as well. I really think it empowers students to take leadership and it supports all students to participate at their level (not reading level, but more success level). I am so pleased you have experienced success with this approach too :)


  3. Thanks for this great post, Kylie. I always appreciate teaching methods where students are not just allowed, but encouraged to take an active role in their learning. You have cited some excellent resources supporting Reciprocal Teaching. The interrogative die you discussed lends itself well to the Depth of Knowledge (aka known as DOK) aspect of learning that is now embraced by many schools. Your research and teachings are aligned with the current methods many schools are encouraging their teachers to utilize.

  4. I need to learn more about DOK Tami, so thanks for sharing. I buy my interrogative die commercially through Genie Educational Supplies online, but you could easily just make your own with a blank die. Thanks so much for your feedback - it's made my day :) Kylie

  5. WOW!!!! So many fabulous resources to bring literacy and math alive to our munchkins. Thank you so much Kylie. Will certainly be using this in the future :)

    1. Thanks so much for leaving feedback Tess...I hope you can use some of these ideas in your work :) Kylie

  6. I've always thought of reciprocal teaching as an effective teaching practice in the area of reading. Now I am rethinking this as a great strategy for math problem solving as well. A strategy that encourages peer interaction, accountable talk, close reading, and higher order thinking (as this one does) truly raises the rigor! Awesome post. :)

  7. Thank you so much for taking the time to read the post and leave feedback Wendy. It means the world to me :) Kylie

  8. Kylie-
    As someone who has used-and CONTINUE to use!-your Reciorocal Teaching resources for both Math and Reading, I can attest to the powerful discourse that takes place among my students. I teach 5th grade, 31 gifted/high ability students. They have commented that the Readin they love the "role" cards is that everyone has an equal "voice" in the group! Students also enjoy lively debate as they add their own input! THANK YOU for these invaluable resources!
    Joy, Las Vegas, NV

  9. Joy, you are such a sweety, I hope one day we can meet. You have been such a strong advocate and supporter of my work and I appreciate that so very much. I was thrilled that I was able to share the pictures of your students using my resources over on my personal blog post...that was so thoughtful and kind of you to send them to me :) Many thanks Kylie

  10. Kylie, I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you. I am a second year teacher and I teach 5th grade. We have a saying in my classroom- "The person who is doing the teaching is doing the learning". It is so true! I have been using reciprocal teaching/cooperative learning in my classroom for the last two years. I first heard about it for reading in college. I wanted to use the same concepts I'd been using in language arts in math. At the beginning of this school year, I looked for RT resources designed for math and couldn't find anything I liked. In fact, there was hardly anything out there at all. I even asked my school's math coach to help me locate resources and she couldn't find anything either. I almost thought I was going to have to come up with something on my own. EEK! Then you posted your RT Math resource to your TPT store and I thought I was in heaven! I LOVE this resource!!! I recently acquired your updated version and fell in love with it all over again. The role cards help define and guide each student's role in their groups, and the graphic organizers you've added made an already incredible product even better. I love that I can collect the graphic organizers and use them as exit slips to see how the students did with their problem solving that day. I especially love that they get to give feedback to the group. It also helps me gain a better understanding of how well they are working together. My principal, vice principal, and math coach have all observed my students and remarked on how well my groups work. They love that the students know their roles and know what is expected of them. They can see that genuine teaching and learning is taking place. They have even suggested that other teachers could benefit from observing in my classroom. That is certainly something that feel honored about (since I'm only a second year teacher)! I really could go on and on, but really I just wanted to say thank you for creating such an amazing, useful, and life-saving product! It has certainly helped make our classroom a better place.
    Brandy, Utah

    1. Brandy, I wish I could just bottle your enthusiasm and passion for teaching! Your students are so lucky to have someone like you as their teacher. I am so pleased that you took this approach on board so keenly and have had such success with it. I would be really keen to learn if you witness improvements in their reading comprehension and maths problem solving down the track. Your Principal, Vice Principal and Math Coach clearly acknowledge the great work you are doing and I personally am sooooo proud of doesn't matter if you have taught for 2 years or 20...or know when something works and I appreciate you leaving feedback so very much :)

  11. I am a second year teacher also in Brisbane, QLD, Australia. I am beginning to use the reciprocal teaching method for the first time with my grade 5 students in both maths and english. I love the idea that this method really empowers students to take an active part in their learning. I work in a low socio-economic school and I know that there are many students who may for the first time experience success in maths and literacy as a result of this teaching method.

    Thanks for your amazing resources Kylie! I love them

    Grade 5 Teacher
    Brisbane, QLD, Australia

  12. Thanks for your feedback Victoria. We haven't met, but I am so pleased to hear that you are having success with this approach. Well done! Kylie

  13. Kylie I really appreciate your blog post. I learnt so much it will really help me in my work. Wonderful stuff

  14. Thank you so much for leaving feedback. I hope you have success with this approach.