Language and Literacy: Reciprocal Teaching

MariBeth Plankers, MS CCC‑SLP, ATP

Instructor <br>Bureau of Education & Research

During times when educators need to be economical in the intervention process, the first idea that comes to me is the use of reciprocal teaching. I find that it is a very effective, low-cost intervention consideration. When students participate in the reciprocal teaching process, they become the “teacher” and may take the lead with guiding a group discussion. This is a great opportunity for them to expand and build their self-confidence in a leadership role, a lifelong skill. In my practice, I use it from preschool through high school.  

Let me explain reciprocal teaching. It contains four categories or teaching tools: predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing.

To begin the process of reciprocal teaching, it’s important to have a topic, theme, or literacy selection as well as a tool to present to students, such as a photo, line drawing, cover of a book, title of the movie, music, or something about an individual’s weekend or an upcoming event.

Reciprocal teaching may be used with an individual or group of students. The expectation is for the student(s) to identify information under each of the four categories: predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing. Using reciprocal teaching allows one to readily break down the teaching and learning tasks.



In predicting, a student may take a look at a visual or hear a theme or title and guess what this might be about. You might also include identifying what they may already know (background knowledge) and/or identifying what they want to learn more about. Predicting requires risk-taking—a skill that all students will need throughout their lifetime.



This may include the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions. But I like when students have the opportunity to turn the tables and develop the questions that they want to ask pertaining to the photo, graphic, and/or topic of discussion. Generating a question requires higher-order thinking by the student.



This could include reading about, writing about, or verbally discussing a topic and/or photo and then clarifying what students may or may not know. When working collaboratively, they can learn from one another by sharing background knowledge and brainstorming how to clarify their thoughts via details. Two heads are always better than one!


The last area is a lifelong skill used from childhood to adulthood. When someone asks about our weekend, for example, we do not go into specific detail. Instead, we summarize what we did, where we went, or whom we may have been with at that time. Summarizing is critical for all learners. Providing a teaching model helps many students realize specifically what needs to be included in a summary, whether it be oral or written format.

When I look at the big picture of reciprocal teaching, I find it highly supports the three principles of universal design for learning (UDL): multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression. It’s exciting to see students become engaged, whether they’re making predictions, summarizing, or asking and answering questions. Reciprocal teaching also allows students to embed multiple means of representation in their work. This may include looking at and/or talking about a picture, listening to music, manipulating objects, and physically moving their bodies (kinesthetic). Most importantly, reciprocal teaching supports expression and action. It’s imperative that students be able to share their thoughts and ideas in a structured and supportive manner through this process.
About the Author

MariBeth Plankers is a Speech-Language Pathologist, Assistive Technology Professional. She is the former Director of the Regional Assistive Technology Center at Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM), a lending library for Assistive Technology. At MSUM Speech Language and Hearing Clinic MariBeth was a Clinical Supervisor of graduate student clinicians in the areas of augmentative alternative communication, autism spectrum disorder, reading and written language needs, and assistive technology.