Top ESL Reading classroom activities

Since doing the DELTA and reading tons of ESL books, I’ve been keeping a note of the most useful classroom activities. These are reading classroom activities that I’ve picked up, invented, or got from colleagues. You should be able to apply them to any course book text.
Reading Festival but no books.
Photo by deargdoom57

Get them interested tasks
You can make the dullest texts interesting if you can create some interest beforehand.

  • Put the title of the text in an anagram and ask them to work it out.
  • Dictate the first line or read the first paragraph and ask them to discuss what they think it’s about.
  • Pick out 8 or 10 key words from the text. Give each pair half and ask them to explain their words to their partner and vice versa.
  • With either of the above you can then ask students to write two or three questions that they would like answered while they read the text (makes it personal to them and it doesn’t matter if they find the answer or not).
  • Invent a couple of general questions about the text to encourage skim reading.
  • Running / walking (safer) dictation: copy the text and cut out the first two or three paragraphs depending on the class size. Stick each paragraph on the wall and students have to go up one by one remember a few words and then go back and tell their partner or group members. I find this works better if you stress the importance accuracy not speed.
  • Cut up the text and get the students to put it in order. Good for short stories. This helps with referencing and also learning how texts are constructed. Tip – make sure you don’t cut up the text exactly as they will just match up the cuttings. I normally try to zig zag each paragraph.
While reading tasks
The main point here is to make sure they understand what the text is about.

  • Give them a couple of general gist questions while they read it the first time.
  • Prepare some true or false questions.
  • Tell them that once they have read the text they will have to explain it in their own words to their partner.
  • Tell them to read the text and you will ask them some questions. This can be turned into a game.
  • If the text comes in two or three parts, or two or three scenarios, split the text between pairs and they have to tell each other what their text is about.
  • Read the text as a class. I like getting my students to read aloud, but I normally tell them which part they are going to read to help with confidence.
  • If the text has a tape script then you can listen and follow as a class. When you stop the listening the students have to finish the sentence. Good for young learners.
This guy’s been analysing for a while.
Photo by statelibraryofvictoria

Analysis tasks

Here the idea is to analyse the text a bit more and get them to notice grammar or vocabulary patterns.
  • Get them to underline or make notes on anything they notice about the grammar, synonyms, collocations, lexical groups.
  • Copy the text and blank out anything you want to draw attention to and get the students to fill in the blanks.
  • I find the above works well if you just put the sentence you want to highlight on the board, but change something. For example, if are doing the 3rd conditional you could write the same sentence on the board but in the 2nd and ask whether they saw that sentence. You could also write a couple of sentences on the board and get them to choose which one they saw.
  • Read out the text and students have to complete the sentence or gap from memory.
  • Ask the students to write true, false, or general questions about the text and then test each other.
After reading tasks    
This is to get the students to react to the text.

  • Ask the students a few general questions about the text, but make it personal to them. For example, what would you have done in that situation? or what do you think the write was trying to say?
  • If it’s a story then write a different ending.
  • Ask students to write a further paragraph to the text.
  • Get the students to act out some sort of role play based on the text.
  • Write a letter to the writer saying what they thought of the text.
  • There is plenty of scope at the end to do ‘What if…’ questions. Students can invent their own.
  • Get them to write out the text again from memory, word for word, just to make sure they were paying attention (a good behaviour management tool).
These are just a few ideas. It would be great if you could add yours below. I’ll be adding blogs like this based on Writing, Speaking, Pronunciation, Grammar and Vocabulary classroom activities too.

3 thoughts on “Top ESL Reading classroom activities

  1. Great ideas, thanks! One thing I do is to write a couple of information about the topic and the students tick the ones mentioned in the text as they read. I prepare some of them to be tricky and students can have a discussion amongst themselves to prove themselves right. It works very well.
    Also, if the text is about something that they may already have an opinion about, I ask them to write everything they know and later we check if any of the information is mentioned and if so is it correct. It is almost always fun 🙂

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