Reciprocal Teaching or Literature Circles?

Which is better Reciprocal Teaching or Literature Circles

These two strategies have some similarities. They both focus on developing independent thinkers through “group work” and challenging students to have robust conversations over a text. How they go about doing this is where the differences start.

Wait though. There’s some confusion out there. Literature Circles or Literacy Centres. Reciprocal Teaching or Jigsaw?? Before we delve into comparing Reciprocal Teaching and Literature Circles, there needs to be some clarification. Literacy Centres consist of a variety of “stations” in a room where students are split into smaller groups and complete literacy activities at each station. They can either work together or individually. The “Jigsaw” method is where each student, or groups, become experts on a particular topic and then teach their knowledge to the other groups. So what is Reciprocal Teaching and Literature Circles? Well, you’ll have to read on!

Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal teaching is a reading practice based on the skills introduced through guided reading and a scaffolded talk to develop and support comprehension. Students become the teacher in small group reading sessions to lead a dialogue about what has been read. They are encouraged to read, talk, and think their way through a text. There are four strategies, or roles, used in reciprocal teaching:

  • Summarise

  • Question

  • Clarify

  • Predict

Meaning of the text is jointly constructed through discussion between all group members. An appointed group leader prompts discussion for each of the strategies so that all students are given the opportunity to apply and refine their skills when predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarising.

Why Use Reciprocal Teaching?

The first thing to cover is, what are the benefits? Why use this strategy when teaching students?

Reciprocal teaching helps students to develop the life long skill of being actively involved in their learning and monitor their own comprehension as they read. It encourages students to think about their own thought processes and ask questions during reading. Students’ develop content knowledge, topic vocabulary, and jargon. Reciprocal teaching helps students develop the skills to locate, record, and organise information in preparation for writing.

This strategy may be used with fluent readers to develop their comprehension skills during a small group reading session. The practice requires students to read more independently than in a structured guided reading session, as it involves a lower level of teacher involvement and a higher level of student independence.

How to use Reciprocal Teaching

Initially, reciprocal teaching has to be modelled and well scaffolded before students are able to use this technique effectively. We have already mentioned the four strategies or roles, but let's delve into those a little more.

  • The Predictor predicts from what is already known, using the text structure or the text features.

  • The Clarifier clarifies any challenging concepts, unclear words or expressions, and unfamiliar vocabulary that may arise from the Questioner.

  • The Questioner asks questions about puzzling information, unclear parts, as well as questions that cover the three levels of literal, inferential, and evaluative.

  • The Summariser (you guessed it) sums up the main ideas of the text.

Obviously, each role needs to be modelled and scaffolded separately by the teacher until students understand the concepts.

Reciprocal teaching can be completed at the end of a text where students come together in groups of four in their roles and discuss what they have read. Alternatively, the roles can change one person to the right in their groups as they small sections of a text. This is beneficial when reading longer novels or with senior students.

Throughout the process, the teacher’s role is to guide and nurture the students. This is not a time to go for a coffee or grab a quick bite, however, as students develop their skills, the teacher’s role will lessen (and maybe you can get some marking done! No. Not really).

Obviously, text selection is important as it must be at the right level of difficulty for the students. Each student must have a copy of the same text and not be one they have read previously.

Reciprocal teaching can be used from Year 2 into the senior years.

Need the four roles or strategies clarified?


  • hypotheses what the author will discuss next

  • links new ideas to prior knowledge

  • confirms or modifies thoughts and opinions

  • uses text structure

  • monitors own understandings

They predict by stopping at different points in the text, using headings and subheadings, and then confirms or rejects predictions


  • focuses on the meaning of a text

  • is alert to unfamiliar vocabulary, phrases and complicated concepts

  • restores meaning through the use of context, known words, references, rereading and asking for help

They clarify by identifying complex concepts, re-reading, and looking for unfamiliar vocabulary. They can use a dictionary or thesaurus if necessary.


  • formulates and answers questions.

  • demonstrates deeper engagement with the text

  • develops skills to think critically

They achieve this by asking questions before, during, and after reading that are literal, inferential and evaluative. Other questions include, “did the author say it?”, “did the author mean it?”, and “would the author agree?”


  • organises and integrates the information from the text

  • shows understanding of the main idea, information and purpose of the text

  • reviews what has been read

They achieve this by synthesising the main ideas into a small paragraph. This can be based on the keywords, main ideas, or key points relating to the headings and subheadings.


Literature Circles

To the layman, literature circles seem like an Oprah Winfrey book club where everyone brings in a book, sits in a circle and talks about it (without the wine and cheese) for hours on end. Although this would certainly make classes more interesting, there is more structure than initially appears. One can not expect students to have the skills to sustain a lengthy conversation around a text they have all read. As a result, students take on different roles to increase the richness of the conversation. Of course, these roles would have to be modelled and explicitly demonstrated before students could work independently.

Why Literature Circles?

With guided reading, groups are formed around student strengths and needs with a focus on reading strategies like comprehension and decoding. The text is teacher selected and they play a central role in guiding the lessons and conversation. Alternatively, literature circle groups can be formed around student interests and focus on higher level thinking skills, such as the author's intent, writing style, characterisation, concepts etc. The text can either be teacher or student selected. The main focus is to have the teacher as a facilitator, rather than the focal point.

How to use Literature Circles

There are a variety of techniques and roles suggested for running a literature circle.

Firstly, there are up to eight different roles, which means each literature group can be up to eight students. Their role descriptions are:

  • Discussion Director: to develop a list of questions that will start and maintain group conversations.

  • Literary Luminary: to locate sections of the text the group would like to hear read aloud.

  • Illustrator: to draw some kind of pictures related to the reading.

  • Connector: to find connections or links between the book and something outside the text. These connections can be “text to self”, “text to text”, or “text to the world”.

  • Summariser: to prepare a brief summary of the reading.

  • Vocabulary enricher: to locate important or unusual words that appear in the text.

  • Travel Tracer: to track the action that takes place in a story and record as a diagram or map.

  • Investigator: to find out some background information about the book.

These names are not necessary and can be altered to suit your cohort, however, the roles must remain the same.

Questions the Discussion Director could ask are:

  • What did you notice?

  • What did you wonder?

  • What did you appreciate?

  • What did you feel?

  • How did you connect?

  • What did you learn?

  • What surprised you?

A variation to the above model is where students all share three things - something they liked (or were enthusiastic about), something that puzzled them (or they didn’t understand), and how they connected with the text. This strategy can make for a quick and easy discussion around a text, yet it can also have deep insight. It may also be used as a starter before students assume their roles.

How to Assess Either Strategy

Due to both models being focused on the robust, deep conversation where students are engaged, teachers need to be close observers of the interactions that take place.

Qualitative and Quantitative assessment can take place. Teachers can record who spoke and how often, or they can observe the type of comments made and if student thinking goes beyond literal levels. There may be some work samples that can be collected if there are worksheets or pieces of paper where students’ have written down their findings. Peer and self-reviews are also useful tools, when used appropriately, to provide valuable insights into how the students feel about their reading and how they view their contributions and interactions.

The Winner is…..

You and the students!! That’s not a cop-out. Seriously. If you are using either, or both of these strategies, then well done as you are helping students to become independent thinkers who strive for deeper understanding.

Just remember though, too much of a good thing is bad. Don’t use Literature Circles or Reciprocal Teaching for every text as students will lose the love for reading.

Want your students to be better at reading and writing?

Don't forget our 9 literacy strategies for writing  and our 9 literacy strategies for reading comprehension.