Reciprocal Teaching

Here’s some resourceful information about reciprocal teaching.

I initally learned about the Reciprocal Teaching Strategy while completing one of my reading endorsement courses a few years ago. Reciprocal Teaching is a reading comprehension strategy meant to help students become more independent during reading. The strategy is first introduced by having the teacher model each step in the process and doing it along with the students until students are able to take ownership of the strategy and use it independently. The Reciprocal Teaching strategy has four parts which are: Predication, Clarify, Question, and Summarize. My school district added a fifth part to the process called Visualize or Make a Picture.

As a result of my reading endorsement class, I created a set of reciprocal teaching cards that are used by the students while implementing the strategy. Along with the cards, I created a reciprocal teaching worksheet which the students may use when using the strategy in a small group independently. This worksheet may also be used as an assessment tool.

You may find these documents here:

Reciprocal Teaching Cards
Reciprocal Teaching Worksheet

I used the reciprocal cards by printing about 5 or 6 sets on various color paper (enough so that each student could get one card). I laminated these so they would last a long time. During a reading lesson, whether it was a reading passage or a story from the basal, I would give each student one card. Before reading, I would call on a student with a prediction card to give a prediction. I would say, “Whoever has the yellow prediction card, make a prediction.” That student will then use one of the sentence frames on the card to help them make a prediction or they could make a prediction without using the sentence frames. The sentence frames on the card are there to help the students if they need it. After the student makes the prediction, we would continue reading. It’s up to the teacher how much students will read before stopping to continue with the process. Students could read a paragraph or two, or a page. Wherever the teacher chooses to stop, the process would continue with the following:

  1. The teacher would ask students to look through what they have read and find any words they don’t know or are not sure what they mean. The teacher would then say, “Would the student who has the yellow clarify card, share with the class a word you don’t know or are not sure of.” The teacher would then help the student go through the steps on the card to try and figure out what the word means as used in the story/passage.
  2. Continue by asking the student with the yellow summarize card to give a short summary of what the class has just read.
  3. Then ask the student with the yellow make a picture card to share what they pictured in their mind as they read that portion of the text.
  4. Afterwards, the teacher would ask another student with a prediction card (for example you can call the student with the blue prediction card) to make a prediction about what will happen next in the story.
  5. The process would continue until all students have had a chance to participate.

Another way teachers could use the cards is in small groups of 6 students. One of the students could be the “Teacher” using the Teacher/Leader card to help guide the group in the reading discussion. This is the activity where the Reciprocal Teaching Worksheet would be used as an accountability tool for the students and as an assessment tool if the teachers desires to use it that way.

For the past two years, I’ve used reciprocal teaching in a different way. I hardly used the cards. I instead had students fold a piece of white paper in half (vertical – hot dog style) and then in thirds so that when they opened it they had 6 boxes. I then instructed them to label it the following way:

Top Row from Left to Right: Background Knowledge, Prediction, Clarify

Bottom Row from Left to Right: Visualize, Question, Summary

In the Background Knowledge box I had students write anything they knew about the topic we were going to read about. In the Prediction box they wrote down their predictions based on the cover of the story and/or title. I sometimes used the Prediction Card to help students with starting their predictions. In the Clarify box I sometimes had students write a few words they didn’t know and then had them figure out what the words meant using the steps on the Clarify card. Other times, I would just give students 2 or 3 words I really wanted them to know and we would use the steps on the Clarify card to figure out the meaning of the words. I always left the Visualize box for the end because students spent too much time in drawing their pictures. I just had them go to the Question box and either let them write a teacher-like question that they needed to answer or I gave them a question to answer in that box. They would then go to the Summary box and write a one-sentence summary about what they read. Once they had all the other boxes completed, I would then let them complete the Visualize box by simply drawing a specific part of the story they pictured in their minds or I would guide them in what part of the story I wanted them to visualize.

Below I have listed some additional resources I found online about Reciprocal Teaching:


Word Walls 411

Here’s some information on Word Walls to refresh my mind and keep in my arsenal of references and resources. 

The following is based on information about Word Walls that I acquired after attending an incredible Reading Institute for teachers at the University of Miami back in 2006.

Word Walls are an essential part of the literate classroom environment. Word Walls foster and support the development of written language. Word Walls should also be interactive by allowing students to complete Word Wall related activities on a daily basis.

Word Walls may be organized in various formats. A common organization for word walls is placing words in alphabetical order. In the upper grades, however, word walls may be organized based on parts of speech for example. Regardless of the organization of the word wall, teachers should include words that are meaningful to the learning content of the classroom. Some suggested word listings include:

  • High-frequency words (especially for lower grades and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students)
  • Vivid Verbs
  • Conjunctions or Magic Words as I call them (e.g. when, unless, while, although, if, because)
  • Transitional Words/Phrases
  • Specific Vocabulary (e.g., other words for “said”, “good”, “pretty”)
  • Examples of descriptive language (e.g., similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, sensory words)
  • Vocabulary related to lesson
  • Tier-2 vocabulary words (e.g., as mentioned in Bringing Words to Life by Beck & McKeown)
  • Important, irregular, confusing words
  • Words needed to develop automaticity

In my district, word walls are a non-negotiable part of instruction. All elementary teachers are required to have a word wall and have students use it on a daily basis, making it interactive. Teachers are also instructed to be very stingy with their word walls and to only add no more than 5 words a week. These five words need to be instroduced to the students every week and they need to be engaged in activities related to these five words and to other words on the word wall. As the year progresses, teachers may take down words that students have “mastered” in order to allow room for new words.

As far as how to introduce word walls in the beginning of the year, you should start by including words related to “Back to School” that will be meaningful for the students to know. If you are teaching a Kindergarten or First grade class, you can also include the student’s names on the word wall. One thing is for sure, you should NEVER start out the year with a Word Wall FULL of words. Words should be added progressively throughout the year. Again, a maximum of 5 words per week. It’s ok if during the first week of school you decide to include your student’s names and have more than 5 words on your word wall, but make sure that each week after that you only add a maximum of 5 essential words.

Word Wall words will come from the lessons you are teaching that week. They do not all have to be spelling words and you should not include all spelling words in your word wall. Only include those high-frequency, Tier-2, “important” words your students need to know in order to increase automaticity.

Additionally, being a fourth grade teacher I do have and use a word wall in my classroom. I organize my word wall using the parts of speech which help my students with their writing. There are various types of activities that can be done on a daily basis with a word wall. The following are some links which provide some activities that can be done using the words in your word wall:…all062599.html

Classroom Library Organization

Here are some ideas on how I plan to organize my classroom library.
A few years ago I went on a hunt for cheap baskets I could use to organize my library. I visited Family Dollar, Big Lots, Dollar Tree, Dollar General, and 99 Cent Stuff in search for various size and colorful baskets. Once I gathered my baskets, I began to brainstorm how I would use the various colors to organize my books by genre. I then came up with this idea to start with:
  • White Baskets = Math Books
  • Silver Baskets = Favorite Authors
  • Black Baskets = Fiction – Picture Books
  • Orange Baskets = Fiction – Chapter Books in Series
  • Yellow Baskets = Fiction – Chapter Books not in Series
  • Aqua Baskets = Non-Fiction
  • Green Baskets = Poetry

Again, this is just preliminary while I begin to organize my books. At least this is a start. I’m also going to level each book with a colored dot. I’m going to use the color labeling system that Beth Newingham uses in her class because it makes sense to me.

I began by using a modified version of the Excel spreadsheet Mrs. Newingham uses in her class. I just downloaded her spreadsheet, cleared off the information, made a few tweaks, and began cataloguing my books.

I’m also cataloguing my books online using Library Thing which is an online tool you can use. Library Thing allows you to catalogue up to 200 books free. But if you are like me and have more than 200 books to catalog, you may want to upgrade with just $25 one-time fee for lifetime access. Check out my library catalog on Library Thing:

You can choose to view the books by Cover or by List. If you choose the “List View” you will see that I have added comments to each book which include the Genre, GRL, Lexile, Reading Level, AR Level, and Class Level. I’m really happy with how this is turning out.

I purchased colored dots (red, yellow, blue, and green) and address labels to write the genre of the book and where to find it in the library.

By the way, here is the list of websites I have been using to level my books:

Scholastic Reading Counts! e-Catalog
Renaissance Learning – AR Quiz Store
The Lexile Framework for Reading

I do, of course, get the occasional book that doesn’t show up in these sites, so what I do is I look into the contents of the book and determine the approximate level based on the text. If I can at least come up with a general grade level, I can then come up with the corresponding GRL, Lexile, and AR Level using the chart found on this website:

Leveling Books for Guided Reading

I look forward to continuing to organize my classroom library.

Learning Centers

Learning Centers is a topic that comes up from time to time. So, here’s some information about centers.

I’m actually going to try my best to explain how we do centers in our district. Being that I was the Intermediate Reading Coach a few years back, I can offer a bit of what we have shared with our teachers.

For one, centers should be a part of your differentiated instruction time within your reading block. We have a total of 90 minutes of reading instruction in our district. Of those 90 minutes, 50 minutes are for direct instruction or whole group instruction and the remaining 40 minutes are for your centers or differentiated instruction time.

You start planning for your centers by first placing your students into groups according to their reading needs. We sometimes tell teachers to have 3 or 4 groups depending on the amount of students in the classroom. Each group should have no more than 7 students, 5-6 students preferably.

After you have your student groups, you can start planning out what type of center activities to provide for the students. Now, the centers should not be places the students go to just to go to them. You actually have to give students accountability for going to each center by providing:

  1. Rules and Expectations for attending the center
  2. An activity for the students to complete that is meaningful and differentiated according to their abilities
  3. An organized system where students know where to get the activities and where to turn them in

The key to implementing centers is ORGANIZATION. You really need to think about every little detail. In addition, because these learning centers are occuring during Reading time, all centers should be geared towards reading instruction and should reflect one of the Big 5 components of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). You can also have centers during other subjects such as math, but be sure that the learning centers focus around the subject that you are teaching at that time.

Some ideas for centers during Reading instruction include:

  • Computer/Technology Center: If you have enough computers in your classroom and a differentiated reading program like Reading Plus!, Achieve 3000, or other, you can assign students to attend this center. Since the program is already differentiated, you don’t need to do anything else other than assign the student groups to the center.
  • Classroom Library Center: In order for this center to truly work you need to have your classroom library leveled and labeled. You need to inform the students which books they should read while they visit the center. You should also display a chart that informs the students how the books are leveled (whether it’s by colored dots and what each dot represents). This center should work like this: (1) students come to the center and choose a book on their independent level, (2) students read the book for 10 minutes (for example), (3) students complete an activity for the remaining 10 minutes related to what they read in the story that day, (4) students turn in their activity to their learning center folder or to another area chosen by the teacher so the teacher may review how students are working in the centers.
  • Listening Center: Pretty much works the same as the classroom library with the exception that the students are listening to books on cassette, CD’s, or through Leap Pads.
  • Skills Center: The teacher may choose to have students work on a particular reading skill for the week. The teacher will first teach the activity to the class as a whole, have them practice the activity, and then place it in the skills center for each student group to practice.
  • Teacher-Led Center: This is the center where the teacher works with each individual group while the other students work independently at the other centers. When students visit the teacher-led center, the teacher works with students by helping them with good reader strategies, fluency, as well as various reading skills.

These are just a few center ideas. The most important thing to do before having students use centers is to introduce one center at a time to students. You can start this in the beginning of school. The first week you introduce one center, go over the rules and expectations, the activities to be completed, model the center to the students, and then have them practice using the center. The next week you introduce another center, and so on. It’s important to note that you should not place a new center or a new activity at a center before introducing it and teaching it to the entire class first.

So, once you do all this, how do centers work? You create a schedule which informs the students and visitors when each group is visiting which center. You should see your lowest group every day. Your medium group should be seen three times a week and your highest group is seen twice a week. So, you could have your teacher-led center see two groups a day (if you are doing 20 minute sessions) or three groups a day (if you are doing 12-13 minute session, which in my opinion is not a lot of time).

While the teacher is working with an individual group, the other groups are working independently in the other centers. Again, in order for this to run smoothly students should be taught each center separately and told what to do if they have a question. For example, students may be told to “Ask 3, Before Me” where students will ask three members of their group the question before they ask the teacher. The teacher-led center should also be placed in a part of the room that allows the teacher to view all students working independently while she is working with the individual groups in the teacher-led center.

Where do you ge the center activities from? Is there a resource book I can use? Or do I need to create them from scratch?

Well, let me start by saying that all centers don’t need to be created from scratch. If you have a classroom library center, there’s not much you need to create here other than the rules, what students are expected to accomplish while they are visiting this center, making sure all the books are leveled and labeled, and an organizational method for collecting the work. The activity you have your students complete can be a simple handout, log, or activity that you provide for them. It could be something simple like a reading response log, drawing your favorite part and writing about it, making predictions, answering some general comprehension questions, etc. Two other centers you don’t have to create yourself are the Listening Center and the Computer Center. In the listening center you will need to make sure you supply students with books on tape or CD that are again, leveled and labeled. If using a Leap Pad make sure the books are also leveled and labeled. In the computer center, you just have to make sure students are using a meaningful software program usually provided by your school.

How about other centers? Well, don’t forget that the Teacher-Led Center is also a center. When you meet with your students you will choose skills your students are lacking and then choose activities that will help your students practice those skills. Whether it’s making words, working with vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, etc. Some of these activities you can come up with yourself. Some you can search for on the Internet or by looking through your own teacher resource books. This is the same for the Skills Center. You decide which activity to use with your students so they may practice a particular skill. A place I go to find some more ideas and activities for Student Activity Centers is the Florida Center for Reading Research. Their site has two sections one for K-1 and one for 2-3. Even though they don’t include 4th grade, you can search through their activities and modify them to suit your students. The activities are also divided among the Big 5 components of reading. Here are the links to both of these pages:…Activities.htm…tivities23.htm

Make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the different sections of these student activities. Don’t forget to also check out the Teacher Resource Guide at the bottom which is filled with ideas on how you can start centers, organize them, and ideas for setting them up.

Another resource I use for centers to help my students with phonics and vocabulary are the books by Patricia Cunningham which include: Making Words, Making More Words, and Making More Big Words. If I remember any other resource I will let you know. I know that Evan Moor has a variety of Take to Your Seat Centers. I purchased some of their books but I haven’t used them yet.

How do you manage and keep track of who goes where and when?

Well, at the beginning of the year the school usually tests students using DIBELS. That usually gives you an idea of how students are doing based on their Oral Reading Fluency (ORF). But since DIBELS only tests ORF in fourth grade, I’m going to do something a little different next school year. I am going to test students using an Informal Reading Inventory to see how they are overall. Since I will also be implementing centers during my math time, I will also give my students a Math Inventory to see where they are. Once I know where my students are academically, I place them in different learning groups. I give each group a name, whether it’s a color, a letter, or another name, and then I create a rotation chart. I usually make about 3 or 4 groups based on the number of students. I try to have more learning centers available than I have groups just in case a particular group finishes early and they need to go to another center. Along with my center rotation chart I also develop a weekly schedule which shows which groups are going to what centers on each day of the week as well as what skills they will work on when they attend the Teacher-Led Center. One thing to think about is that your student groups are not going to remain the same throughout the year. As students move up in their learning abilities (which you do want them to move up) you will need to rearrange them in various groups.

As far as what type of system I set up, last year I used a wheel rotation with velcro spots for my groups. After each 20 minute interval, I rang a bell, rotated the wheel, and the students moved to their next center. I also posted my weekly schedule so students knew in advance which centers they would visit daily. I have posted some pictures showing ways teachers have set up their center rotations.