Reciprocal Teaching: A Classroom Strategy that Promotes Interactive Learning

Reciprocal teaching is firmly established as an innovative and powerful classroom strategy that engages students and promotes enhanced comprehension and interactive learning. As class sizes continue to grow and teachers have to adapt to meet the educational needs of more and more students, we ask: why is this teaching method so important and what is its value for students today?

What is reciprocal teaching?

Reciprocal teaching was first developed by two renowned researchers in educational and cognitive psychology, Ann Brown and Annemarie Palincsar. They describe reciprocal teaching as “a dialogue between teachers and students for the purpose of jointly constructing the meaning of text.”

Reciprocal teaching is designed to enhance comprehension in the classroom by enabling students to take on a more active role in discussing their texts, usually in small group reading sessions. Reciprocal teaching is most often used at secondary school or university level and is seen as a highly successful technique for improving both comprehension and in-class interaction. Our range of videos for teacher training provide a great interactive resource for use in group discussions.

Reciprocal Teaching

How does reciprocal teaching work?

Firstly, teachers help students understand how to enhance comprehension and lead group discussions by guiding them through four key principles. These key principles are: summarising, generating questions, clarifying and predicting. Once students feel confident in these core strategies, they are ready to take on more active roles and become discussion leaders. The teacher then steps back and takes on more of a coaching role. The students lead discussions about the text they have read by asking questions, voicing their thoughts and opinions and sharing the responsibility for understanding the text as a group.

What’s the value of reciprocal teaching?

It’s well known that traditional and passive teaching methods do not suit the learning styles of many students who need a more interactive approach. This can cause frustration and low confidence levels in students and makes the teaching process more challenging for teachers.

Reciprocal teaching, however, shows faith and confidence in the students’ abilities by enabling them to own the topics under discussion. By asking the students to assume the role of leader, the students must work together to understand the text. In doing so, students’ own comprehension and knowledge retention is significantly improved.

Reciprocal teaching also gives students the chance to build longer-term skills and experience. Students gain confidence from assuming the role of teacher and learning the four key strategies which lead to comprehension. Pupils also learn leadership, teamwork, negotiation, listening and collaborative skills; all of which are essential for a successful career later in life. With reciprocal teaching, even the quietest pupils can become active learners and feel a valued part of their class. Students can also use their new-found skills to overcome future learning challenges too.

In his renowned book “Visible Learning”, John Hattie recognised the strong correlation between knowledge retention and reciprocal teaching. Hattie ranked reciprocal teaching as number three in the top 49 most effective teaching strategies. As a leading voice in global educational development, this is a strong endorsement for the power of reciprocal teaching.

How to successfully use reciprocal teaching in the classroom

The beauty of reciprocal teaching is that it is a versatile teaching strategy that can be used across many different subjects. This method is designed to give students deeper thinking skills that they can apply across all of their learning.

To successfully use this strategy, teachers should aim to work with students in smaller groups, ensuring that every class member is actively involved and willing to participate. This is particularly important for quieter students who may find it hard to speak in front of the whole class. Students need time to learn and practice the key strategies behind reciprocal teaching; giving them clear roles as summarisers, clarifiers, predictors or questioners will help them to stay engaged. When they read a set text or discuss a particular challenge, they can adopt their roles in breaking down the problems and gaining a collective understanding.

How this classroom strategy benefits teachers

Reciprocal teaching creates a strong platform for students to collaborate openly with teachers and discuss the best ways to understand the group text. Teachers who are open to new ideas and enjoy using educational videos or case studies to aid comprehension, will find reciprocal teaching a hugely beneficial and rewarding approach. Reciprocal teaching is an exciting process where teachers can see their pupils overcoming challenges themselves and growing in confidence at every stage. The quote below, taken from Brown and Palincsar’s comprehensive report on reciprocal teaching, shows how important this approach is so that teachers can identify students’ level of understanding:

“The reciprocal teaching routines force the students to respond, even if the level of which they are capable is not yet that of an expert. But because the students do respond, the teacher has an opportunity to gauge their competence and provide appropriate feedback. In this way, the procedure provides an opportunity for the students to make overt their level of competence, a level that in many procedures is masked by students' tendency not to respond until they approach full competence."

Reciprocal teaching has greatly enhanced literacy comprehension, reading skills and higher thinking skills for students worldwide. It is a forward-thinking classroom strategy that places trust and confidence in our youngest generations and, in doing so, helps them to reach their full potential.

BBC Active Video for Learning provides a high quality range of educational videos that are perfect for interactive learning in the classroom. There are licences available for each title and all programmes are available in DVD format