Reciprocal Reading in History

As Head of History I often find that when presented with text heavy sources our students are unwilling to spend the time reading them. This then impacts on their understanding and results in answers that lack detail.  For me to read aloud to the class meant that far too many students just sat back and switched off, having individual students read aloud resulted in much of the same.  I began to look for ways to encourage them to read while gain a deeper understanding of complex text. I also wanted them to take ownership of their own learning. It was for this reason that I decided to implement the reciprocal reading strategy. What is reciprocal reading?

  • Reciprocal teaching refers to an instructional activity in which students become the teacher in small group reading sessions.
  • Teachers model, then help students learn to guide group discussions using four strategies: summarising, question generating, clarifying, and predicting.

Once students have learned the strategies, they take turns assuming the role of teacher in leading a dialogue about what has been read.

Why use reciprocal reading?

  • It encourages students to think about their own thought process during reading.
  • It helps students learn to be actively involved and monitor their comprehension as they read.
  • It teaches students to ask questions during reading and helps make the text more comprehensible.

Roles of Students

Students are placed into groups of four or five and allocated roles. The roles are:

A predictor. Predicting involves previewing the text to anticipate what may happen next. Readers can use the information from the text and their prior knowledge to make logical predictions before and during reading. Prediction can also be linked to text type.

A clarifier. Although students can be taught to identify difficult words and work through them, it is much more difficult for some to recognise unclear sentences, passages, chapters or ideas. Clarifying helps students to monitor their own understanding and identify any problems in comprehending portions of text.

A questioner. Good readers ask questions throughout the reading process but formulating questions is a difficult and complex task. In reciprocal reading students learn to generate questions about a text’s main ideas, important details and about textual inferences.

A summariser. To summarise effectively students must recall and arrange in order only the important events in a text. Summarising helps readers to construct an overall understanding of a text, story, chapter or paragraph.

There can also be a group leader if required. The group leader will be responsible for ensuring that everyone participates and that the text is fully understood. Each member of the group is given a laminated role card. The cards contain prompts for the students to think about during their reading of the text.

reciprocal reading roles Use of reciprocal reading in History.

Students are presented with information relating to the reign of Mary I. Taking it in turns each student reads aloud one paragraph at a time. At the end of every paragraph, everyone completes their role. Included in this information are the two sources that students will be expected to make inferences from in an assessed piece of writing. The sources are:

Source 2 - The execution of Latimer and Ridley, two Protestant bishops who refused to become Catholics.

Source 2 – The execution of Latimer and Ridley, two Protestant bishops who refused to become Catholics.


Source 3 – From John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs”, about the burning of Latimer and Ridley.

“So they came to the stake. Dr Ridley, entering the place first, looked towards Heaven. Then, seeing Mr Latimer, with a cheerful look he ran and embraced him, saying, “Be of good heart, brother, for God will either ease the fury of the flame, or else strengthen us to endure it”.He then went to the stake and, kneeling down, prayed with great fervour, while Mr Latimer following, kneeled down and prayed also. Dr Ridley gave presents of small things to men standing near, many of whom were weeping strongly. Happy was he who could get the smallest rag to remember this good man by. Then the blacksmith took a chain of iron and placed it about both their waists and then knocked in the staple.Dr Ridley’s brother brought him a bag of gunpowder and tied it about his neck. His brother did the same to Mr Latimer.They then brought a lighted faggot and laid it at Dr Ridley’s feet. Upon which Mr Latimer said “Be of good comfort, Mr Ridley, we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out”.


Student Activity

  • Summarise the main points of Source 3 in no more than 100 words.
  •  Do you think that Source 2 shows the same event as that described in Source 3? Explain your answer in detail.
  •  Answer this question using inferences:

 What can you infer from the sources about Queen Mary’s attitude towards the Catholic religion? 

Benefits of reciprocal reading

Learners can gain an improved understanding of complex text in content areas. This leads to:

  •  Greater knowledge of the topic.
  •  Improved skills.
  •  More positive attitudes when extracting, organising, and recording information.
  •  More self-confidence and motivation to read.
  •  Improved leadership skills.
  •  Increased co-operation and greater initiative.

My lessons have shown that when Reciprocal Reading is implemented, learners make substantial gains in understanding what they read. This then impacts on the progress that they make.

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