Reciprocal Reading – How to Support Your Child with Reading

Reciprocal ReadingReading with children is important and this is something parents are encouraged to do quite often to support the children at school. In the early years, it’s just about learning to read and understanding the reading code. As the children advance into upper primary, they start moving into something called Reciprocal Reading.

What is Reciprocal Reading?

It is essentially a skill-based approach to reading comprehension involving:

  • Questioning – ask questions about the key ideas and details of the story.
  • Predicting – what do you think will happen next? It could also be thoughts about a sequel to the book.
  • Clarifying – what words don’t you understand?
  • Summarising – what did you just read?

Reciprocal ReadingReciprocal Reading
Reciprocal ReadingReciprocal Reading

During reciprocal reading sessions:

  • Skills are demonstrated either during group discussion or in separate, skill-based activities
  • The teacher functions as a supervisor
  • Student lead the discussion
  • Students decide on the book that they will be reading, taking into consideration their abilities and interests

Why Reciprocal Reading?

During reading sessions at school, I have noticed that the children have become quite adept at decoding complex words even though they do not necessarily grasp the full meaning of the story. For instance, there may be ideas that an author introduces into the story that require the reader to make inferences by piecing together the descriptive clues. The child has to learn to “read between the lines”.

Here’s an example from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:

‘Don’t be stupid,’ Hermione snapped, starting to pound up her beetles again. ‘No, it’s just … how did she know Viktor asked me to visit him over the summer?’

Hermione blushed scarlet as she said this, and determinedly avoided Ron’s eyes.

‘What?’ said Ron, dropping his pestle with a loud clunk.

‘He asked me right after he’d pulled me out of the lake,’ Hermione muttered. ‘After he’d got rid of his shark’s head. Madam Pomfrey gave us both blankets and then he sort of pulled me away from the judges so they wouldn’t hear, and he said, if I wasn’t doing anything over the summer, would I like to –’

‘And what did you say?’ said Ron, who had picked up his pestle and was grinding it on the desk, a good six inches from his bowl, because he was looking at Hermione.

‘And he did say he’d never felt the same way about anyone else,’ Hermione went on, going so red now that Harry could almost feel the heat coming from her, ‘but how could Rita Skeeter have heard him? She wasn’t there … or was she? Maybe she has got an Invisibility Cloak, maybe she sneaked into the grounds to watch the second task …’

‘And what did you say?’ Ron repeated, pounding his pestle down so hard that it dented the desk.

JK Rowlings never actually tells us how Ron and Hermione feel about each other but we can “read between the lines” through their actions and behaviours and make that inference ourselves. While this might seem obvious to us, making these inferences are a lot harder for the younger children who are still working on their reading comprehension.

How Can Parents Help at Home?

  • Read to and with your child everyday for at least 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Discuss what you have read, make predictions, and ask questions. This can be a great bonding opportunity, too.
  • Focus on and introduce your child to some challenging words.
  • Choose books together. Show them that you are interested in what they are reading!

Why is it so Important to Read to and with Your Child?

Reading aloud to a child at least 15 minutes a day helps brain development, vocabulary, and future success in school and life.

  • It increases the number of words a child knows from age 1 to 2 (with appropriate interactions and stimuli) by as much as four times!
  • 90% of brain growth occurs by age 5, so make the most of these early years.
  • By age 4, children from families on welfare have a 500 word vocabulary compared to 1100 in children from affluent families.
  • There is a 30 million gap in the number of words heard by low income children compared to affluent peers by age 4. We can close this gap through reading.

What Happens When You Don’t Read with Your Child

Image Source: Slideshare

How to Choose a “Just Right” Book?

reciprocal reading - choosing a "Just Right" Book

Too Easy:

  • Have you read it lots of times before?
  • Do you understand the story very well?
  • Do you know almost every word?
  • Can you read it smoothly?

Just Right:

  • Is the book new to you?
  • Do you understand a lot of the book?
  • Are there just a few words on a page you don’t know?
  • When you read, are some places smooth and some choppy?

Too Hard:

  • Are there more than five words on a page you don’t know?
  • Are you confused about what is happening in most of this book?
  • When you read, does it sound choppy?
  • Is everyone else busy and unable to help you?

Visual Literacy – Comprehension in the Digital Age

Asking good questions to understand the key ideas and details within a story helps ensure we understand what we read.


  • Summary
  • Identifying the literal


  • Inference
  • Deduction
  • “Reading with the mind”


  • Perspective
  • Cultural/social influences

Questions to Ask…

…Before Reading

At beginning of new book:

  • Predicting:
    • What do you think this book will be about? Why do you think that?
    • What characters do you think might be in this story?
  • Connecting:
    • What do you know about the topic of this book? (Have you ever been camping/seen a ghost/been to a farm, etc)
    • Does the topic of this book remind you of anything you know or have done?
  • Questioning:
    • What questions would you like to ask the author before you read this book?
    • What are you wondering about as you look at the cover and back of your book?

When continuing a book your child has been reading:

  • Summarising:
    • What has happened so far in this story?
  • Predicting:
    • What do you think will happen next? Why?
  • Questioning:
    • What questions would you like to ask the author about this book?
    • Do you have any questions about what has happened so far?

During Reading

  • Predicting
    • What do you think will happen next? Why?
    • How do you think the character will handle this situation?
  • Inferring
    • Why do you think the character did __________________? How do you know?
    • What must have happened here that the author didn’t tell us?
    • What emotions is the character feeling? How do you know?
  • Connecting
    • What would you have done if you were the character?
    • Has anything like this ever happened to you? Does it remind you of something?
    • How would you have felt if that happened to you?
    • Do you know someone like this character?
    • How are you like/different than this character?
  • Visualising
    • As you’ve been reading, what pictures have been in your mind?
    • If you were in the story, what would you hear, taste, smell or feel?
    • What does the character/setting look like in your mind?
    • Tell me what you were imagining in your mind as you read that page/paragraph.
  • Questioning
    • Is there anything you’re wondering about right now?
  • Summarising
    • Can you put what you’ve just read in your own words?
    • What’s happened to this character so far?
    • Tell me the most important things you read today in order of how they happened.
  • Monitoring Comprehension
    • Is this making sense to you?
    • Wait, what’s going on here?
    • Would it help you to understand if you slowed down?
    • Do you need to reread that part?
    • What does this word mean?
    • Where did you stop understanding? How can we fix it?
  • Determining Importance
    • Do you think it will be important to remember this? Why?
    • What parts of what you read help you predict what will happen next?
    • Are there some parts of this story that are more important than others? Which ones? Why are they most important?
    • What’s the big idea in what you’ve read today?

After Reading

At the end of a book

  • Predicting
    • If this story had a sequel, what do you think it would be about?
  • Inferring
    • What is the main message of this book? What does the author want you to think about? What was the big idea?
  • Questioning
    • What questions would you like to ask the author right now?
  • Summarising
    • Tell me the story in your own words.
    • Retell the most important events in the story from beginning, middle and end.
  • Determining Importance
    • What were the most important events in this story?

Continuing a book your child has been reading

  • Summarising
    • Summarize what you have read today? Retell the most important events in order.
    • What’s happened to this character so far?
  • Predicting
    • What do you think will happen next? Why?
  • Questioning
    • What questions would you like to ask the author about this book?
    • Do you have any questions about what has happened so far?
  • Determining Importance
    • What will be most important for us to remember in what we read today?

More questions you can ask


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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