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Effective group work strategies in secondary English

Written By: Alyssia Frankland
4 min read

This case study was written by Beth Stewart, a secondary school English teacher.

As you read this case study, reflect on how the teacher has carefully considered grouping in their classes. Take some time to think about what the teacher does, how they do it, what they might do differently and how this might influence your own practice.


As pupils are asked to comprehend large pieces of fiction and non-fiction, particularly in the English Language GCSEs, ensuring that pupils have the confidence and the skills to approach a text is significant. Trying to find an effective strategy for using group work in an English lesson can be a difficult task, especially when wanting to maintain focus and behaviour. This case study will consider the use of reciprocal reading and the benefits it can have in when utilised English lessons.

Reciprocal reading refers to a teaching strategy in which students learn and use the skills to allow them to understand a text. Pupils are asked to consider four core concepts when approaching a text:

    • summarising
    • questioning
    • clarifying 
    • predicting

(Palincsar and Brown 1985).

In English, reciprocal reading works well to share the responsibility and task of comprehending a text. More importantly, the scaffolded approach and movement from guided to independent (in groups) practice (Education Endowment Foundation 2019) means that moving towards independence in comprehending a task is not daunting, but instead one that pupils are prepared for.


Reciprocal reading (RR) in English

RR provides possibilities for both academic and social development in the classroom which is significant for the English classroom as our pupils need to comprehend, but simultaneously use empathy to develop a viewpoint, a skill which arguably is enhanced through discussion (Palincsar 2012)

During a typical lesson, students are organised into small groups, usually a pair or a three, to complete the task. Although reciprocal reading has four clear components, I find that using pairs or threes is more efficient for controlling the focus and positive behaviour that I expect from my pupils. By having a smaller group, this allows for a reduction in distraction and gives the pair more ownership over the text. Once in their pair, as a class we will read the text, often completing the predicting before using the title to consider what it will be about. Then, we will complete the summarising together at the end to ensure that all pupils understand the core thread of the piece.


The following script could be used to as an example to start a task:

‘So first of all, look at the title. What does the title ‘War Photographer’ imply? What will this poem be about? Why do we think that?’

[here you would ask pupils and develop their responses through further questioning]

‘Now, let’s read the poem in full. As we read, I want you to consider what the narrative is of the poem. Remind me, what does narrative mean? Why is it important we understand the narrative of the poem’?

[reading of the poem and a discussion of the narrative]

From here, pupils are asked to then question and clarify the text, establishing a clear and thorough understanding of the text, as well as beginning to build their interpretation of the text (Education Endowment Foundation 2019). Pupils will be given clear questions to support their thinking and approach to the text, which then would eventually be faded away to allow for independence (Education Endowment Foundation 2019).


Questions that pupils could be given to support their use of RR in the classroom:


•       What does it make you think of?

•       How does it make you feel?

•       What picture does this create for you?


•       What is ‘personification’?

•       Where can you see it in the poem?

•       What is the narrative of the poem?

•       What does the poet want us to understand?

•       What is the overall message?


•       Why has the writer included it?

•       How does it make you feel?

•       What are you unsure about?


•       What might people find confusing?

•       How could you explain personification’?

•       What is the writer’s message?

•       How do they convey this message?

Reciprocal reading offers the opportunity for collaborative comprehension which uses ‘scaffolded support in academic language use and vocabulary development’ leads pupils to develop the necessary skills to approach a text on their own (Padma, 2008). Although not the only effective strategy that can be used to facilitate effective group work in English, this method has seen success in my classroom due to the amount of control I, as a teacher, can have over the work being produced. By using this strategy, pupils are now supporting each other and becoming upskilled in approaching a text without guided teacher support.


Other strategies for creating effective group work

Although this is a detailed account of reciprocal reading, that is only one strategy that could be used to create effective collaborative work. Other strategies, such as pairing pupils by assessment objectives (in KS4 or KS5), could work to promote shared learning and support in the classroom when producing co-constructed answers. Similarly, group work could be used during revision periods at the end of text study by creating resources or presentations to consolidate learning and share interpretations.



EEF (2019) Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/improving-literacy-in-secondary-schools/ (accessed March 2020)

Padma B (2008) Reciprocal Teaching Techniques. New Delhi: APH Publishing

Palincsar A S and Brown A L (1984) Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension Fostering and Comprehension-Monitoring Activities. Cognition and Instruction. 1(2):117–175. Available at: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= (accessed March 2020)

Palincsar A S (2012) Reciprocal Teaching In: Hattie J and Anderman E M eds. (2012) International Guide to Student Achievement. London: Routledge

Palincsar A S and Brown A L (1985) In: Urquhart V and Frazee D (2012) Teaching Reading in the Content Areas: If Not Me, Then Who? 3rd ed.  USA: ASCD

Urquhart V and Frazee D (2012) Teaching Reading in the Content Areas: If Not Me, Then Who? 3rd ed.  USA: ASC


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