Comparing the effectiveness of two reciprocal reading comprehension interventions for primary school pupils in disadvantaged schools

Liam O'Hare, Patrick Stark, Maria Cockerill, Katrina Lloyd, Sheila McConnellogue, Aideen Gildea, Andy Biggart, Christine Bower, Paul Connolly

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Background: Effective reading comprehension teaching is an aspiration of education systems across the world. Teaching incorporating reciprocal reading theory and evidence is an internationally popular approach for improving comprehension. Aims: This paper uses two large cluster randomized controlled trials of similar reciprocal reading interventions implemented in different ways to compare their effectiveness. Sample: The two interventions had the same teacher professional development, reciprocal reading activities and dosage/exposure, but varied in their implementation, with one delivered as a whole‐class (‘universal’) version for pupils aged 8–9 years and the other a small group (‘targeted’) version for pupils aged 9–11 years with specific comprehension difficulties. Methods: Two large‐scale cluster RCTs were conducted in 98 schools with N = 3699 pupils in the universal trial and N = 1523 in the targeted trial. Results: Multi‐level models showed significant effects for the targeted version of the intervention on pupil reading comprehension (g = .18) and overall reading (g = .14). No significant effects were found for the whole class version. A sub‐group analyses of disadvantaged pupils showed the targeted intervention's effects were even larger on reading comprehension (g = .25). Conclusions: The evidence suggested that this reciprocal reading intervention worked best when implemented in small groups and targeted for pupils with specific comprehension difficulties and particularly for pupils in disadvantaged circumstances. Comments: This evaluation shows that even if a reading comprehension intervention is underpinned by strong theory and evidence‐based practice, its effectiveness can still depend on implementation choices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages24
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date22 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 22 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions and participation of all the schools, teachers and pupils involved in this study. They also gratefully acknowledge the funding provided by the Education Endowment Foundation to conduct the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. British Journal of Educational Psychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Psychological Society.


  • implementation
  • comprehension
  • reciprocal reading
  • literacy
  • randomized controlled trial


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