Volume 31 Number 1
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RECIPROCAL TEACHING AND THE USE OF SENTENCE WALLS IN THE ESOL CLASSROOM
Mitch Bobrick

Within a balanced literacy model, teachers work with their students in small groups and guide them through the reading process by helping them to develop comprehension routines. These routines are integrated practices that students can use with multiple texts. Comprehension routines also are designed to assist students in gaining a more thorough understanding of what they are reading while providing them with strategies to use as they read independently.

Reciprocal teaching, also known as reciprocal reading, is one such comprehension routine. It has been around since the 1980s when it was developed by reading researchers Ann Brown and Ann-Marie Palincscar. It consists of four strategies―predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing―that students use as they work through a text. I have used this routine in my ESOL classroom for a number of years and was originally interested in what it offered my ESOL students because of its strong emphasis on all four language domains. Because reciprocal teaching has students use the four strategies repeatedly as they work their way through a text, I have made use of an area in the classroom called a “sentence wall” on which I print a variety of sentence starters to help students focus on the language of reciprocal teaching. For example, after students skim a text and read through a variety of text and graphic features for nonfiction or a plot’s exposition for fictional text, they create predictions about what they will read and later return to their predictions to confirm or adjust them. For the English language learner, a sentence wall with the phrases “I predict the text is about _____” and “I confirm/adjust my prediction because _____” helps the student focus on the content of the prediction rather than on the language of making predictions. As students listen to one another make predictions prior to reading the text in a supportive group setting, they hear the repetition of the prediction phrase and rely less on the sentence wall.

Once the students read through the text with partners or through echo or choral reading, the teacher or discussion director designates specific points at which to stop and use the remaining strategies to help the group understand what they are reading. Like the prediction phrases available on a sentence wall, students can also use the phrase “Can you clarifywhat _____ means?” as well as summary phrases such as “This part is about … incorporating the 5Ws for factual text or somebody wanted to ______ so ______ for fictional text to arrive at the gist of what was previously read.

With the current emphasis on state assessments in reading, reciprocal teaching also provides students with the opportunity to create questions about the text they are reading as if they were “test developers.” For example, students can use the sentence wall to ask “How are the characters of _____ and _____ alike?” or “What is the effect of _____ on the _____?” to practice asking and answering each others’ questions about what is being read.

Like other comprehension routines introduced to students, reciprocal teaching provides for a gradual release of responsibility from teacher modeling and leading the groups to the teacher observing the groups as students take turns becoming the discussion directors for the text selected. Once students are at ease in their use of the four strategies, this comprehension routine makes a wonderful literacy rotation for students to work at independently within a balanced rotation instructional model. While students listen, speak, and read about the text, there are also a variety of ways to have them record their reciprocal teaching thoughts as evidence of their learning.



Mitch Bobrick, bobrickm@palmbeach.k12.fl.us, is a member of the EEIS Steering Board. He teaches English Language Learners in Palm Beach County, Florida. He will present a session on “Enhancing Literacy Engagement Through Guided Comprehension Routines and Responses” at our upcoming TESOL convention in New Orleans.

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