Palincsar, A.S. and Brown, A.L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1.2, 117-175.


Palincsar and Brown’s notion of reciprocal teaching is based upon Vygotsky’s expert scaffolding and proleptic teaching. Expert scaffolding involves a child working with an expert. In this process, the child begins as a spectator. But as the child gains more exposure to the instruction being modeled, he or she is able to assume responsibility. After this is established, the expert turns into a supportive figure (Palincsar and Brown, 1984, p. 123).

Palincsar and Brown meant for reciprocal teaching to be both comprehension-monitoring and comprehension-fostering. Comprehension-fostering simply means that the activities occurring should enhance student comprehension. On the other hand, comprehension-monitoring refers to the process of students being able to check their own level of understanding while being engaged in a text. As a result, Palincsar and Brown created the following four components of reciprocal teaching:

1. Summarizing

-This involves the student identifying the main ideas and occurrences in a text. At the start, students are asked to summarize sentences. As students improve, they can then summarize paragraphs, pages, and then whole texts. Summarization is key for the sheer fact that it shows that the student is gaining a general understanding for what is going on in a text.

2. Questioning

-This involves students creating questions about the text they are engaged in. While writing good questions can show understanding of a text, questions are important also because they enable students to test their own knowledge of what is happening in a text.

3. Clarifying

-This is a particularly key stage for students with severe comprehension problems. Clarifying involves having the students to be able to recognize what is causing their comprehension problems, such as not understanding difficult vocabulary or tough concepts that are foreign to them. As a result, students are encouraged to reread and ask for help with these difficulties in order to increase their understanding and comprehension.

4. Predicting

-This involves stopping at various points in a text and allowing the students to use their knowledge of what has occurred thus far in a text to predict what is going to happen next. This displays understanding and forces students to use valuable critical thinking skills.

Reciprocal teaching was tested three times; one on one by the authors, in small groups of 5 or less by a group of teachers, and in large groups of 8-18 by another group of teachers. Importantly, classroom teachers were able to have the same successful experience with reciprocal teaching as the authors, although the teachers only went through a brief training session. All three of these studies were successful and showed that most students improved their comprehension skills because of this system. In fact, most students scored drastically higher when this program was in use compared to when it was not. Participating teachers decided to keep using reciprocal teaching because of the many successes the system yielded. Equally as important, students responded by rating the program highly.

Key Questions:

  1. Can reciprocal teaching methods have successful implications beyond the elementary school classroom?
  2. What are the limitations (if any) of reciprocal teaching?
  3. How commonly is reciprocal teaching used in U.S. schools today?


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