Studies have documented the effectiveness of using cooperative learning to increase academic achievement for students with and without disabilities. Results of these studies show that students who regularly participate in meaningful and structured reading groups have higher reading comprehension and greater retention.

For students with disabilities, cooperative learning activities is often the key to successful inclusion and access to curriculum. Meaningful cooperative learning doesn't just build a positive social climate, but it also teaches students to be proactive learners and can increase comprehension and academic discourse around complex text.

Cooperative reading role cards

Each person in the group has a role to clarify his/her specific responsibility in the group, which ensures equal participation and student engagement. Create role cards or use sites like Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers to find free role cards templates for a variety of purposes.

Be sure to explicitly model and teach what each role would look like and sound like. Distribute cards to each group prior to the cooperative learning activity or text. Assign specific roles to students and reinforce student roles as the groups work. Differentiate the role cards by adding images and/or conversation starters on each card.

Here are some great roles to support students during a reading tasks:

  • Questioner — asks group if anyone can answer a teammate's question, only person is allowed to call teacher over for help/clarification
  • Illustrator — draws images to represent team's thinking
  • Wordsmith — ensures that all difficult words are understood and uses context clues or morphology strategies to unpack unknown words
  • Connector — connects the text to the world, another text or personal anecdotes
  • Summarizer — summarizes team's thinking to class/teacher in 10 words or less
  • Clarifier — clarifies what teammates say when questions arise from other teammates

Reciprocal teaching

Reciprocal teaching is an effective comprehension-building strategy that involves team effort and dialogue among teacher and students using four skills necessary to comprehend text: predicting, questioning, clarifying and summarizing. The purpose of reciprocal teaching is to bring meaning to the text by implementing reading strategies that successful readers should consistently use. Add supportive graphic organizers for students to compile each student's respective parts.

  • Summarizing — After reading a section of text, identify the most important concepts and the author’s main points. Write one or two sentences that capture the meaning of what you just read.
  • Questioning — As you read, listen to questions in your mind about this topic. What are you wondering about? What would you like to know more about? Stop and ask yourself questions after every couple of paragraphs; write down your questions.
  • Clarifying — When you encounter difficult parts of the text, stop and clarify them before continuing to read. Clarify what you have read by using a variety of strategies such as restating difficult passages in your own words or re-reading and using the context of the text to understand the meaning.
  • Predicting — Successful readers anticipate what they think will come next in the text. Create three predictions and as you read confirm or refine the predictions using textual evidence.

Check out the video above of reciprocal teaching in action.

Patterned partner reading

This reading approach differs from the traditional partner reading, because it involves structured patterns to help both students stay focused in the reading, whether they are reading or listening.

For more evidence-based practices on reading structures, join the International Literacy Association to access tons of literacy-based articles.

Using student-centered cooperative learning strategies allows teachers to successfully utilize differentiation to meet the needs of a variety of learners and increase reading comprehension of all students.