5 ways to make reading tasks more fun

This week a colleague at the British Council gave me FIVE different activities for my young learner classes. That means I have to share 5 ideas to even things out! There’s a theme to the ideas below – 5 ways to make textbook reading activities come alive!

  1. Word stress practice

This is one of the best ideas in The Book of Pronunciation (Marks and Bowen). Draw various stress patterns on the board, like this:


Elicit a word that fits each pattern – possibly one from the reading passage in the textbook. Then tell students to look at the reading passage again and find any other words that have these stress patterns. You could set a time limit for this activity and make it a competition (points for the team that finds the most words). Students could even write words on the board under each pattern, making it a writing race. Anyhow, this is a nice way to integrate phonology.

  1. Word order practice (intermediate and above)

This was a nice tip from my colleague Lisa Demilrap, and is a good supplementary activity.toolkit2b

Designate pairs/groups of students certain parts of a reading passage (e.g. group 1 look at paragraph 1, group two… etc). Ask them to find a sentence with between 15-20 words in it – smaller if you want, but it does make things a lot easier.

Give students 20 small slips of paper. Get students to write one word from the sentence on each slip. They then shuffle up all the words and leave them in the middle of their desk (face up is fine).

Have the groups rotate, so they move to another table. Give them 2 minutes to try and arrange the words into the correct order, making the sentence from the text. Award points if they get it right/nearly right, then get them to mix up the sentences again and move to the next table. They repeat the task with a different set of words.

I think students learn a lot from this task about word order, and often notice how flexible some clauses can be.

  1. Reading relay

If the textbook activities for a give reading passage involve scanning for information, you could make this a reading relay.

Students don’t look at the text in their books. Instead, photocopy it and display it outside the classroom. Put students in pairs, one writer and one runner. Give the pair a question from the text. The runner finds the text on the wall outside the classroom, scans for the answer and then reports back to the writer, who jots it down. Then students swap roles. You reveal the next question and they repeat the task.

You can easily make this a competition, and add different challenges to make it harder. I was recently using a text from ‘Interactive 2’ (Cambridge University Press), about two people who had travelled around the world. Rather than simply answer each question as I revealed it, the students first had to order each question correctly, adding a further challenge…


Similar to a reading relay, doing a running dictation activity with part of the text can also jazz things up a bit.

  1. Quick fire quiz

Young learners love this, especially if the text is a bit dry. Just read through the text beforehand and think of some simple questions – not detailed comprehension ones, just things like simple facts, what’s the missing word? Etc… Give students a mini whiteboard in groups (laminated paper with tissue as a rubber is a good substitute). Read the question, and the first team to write the answer on their board and show you get a point. Make sure students pass the boards around the group after each question so they all stay involved.

This sounds like such a simple thing, but as I’ve got in the habit of doing it, I find younger students focus more on the reading as they want to win points!

Getting students to make questions about the text for other groups is also a classic activity. I haven’t done that for a while actually…

  1. Summarising the text

Summarising helps students to establish the key information, message or purpose of a text. One of the best activities I’ve used for this is with newspaper articles. I get students to summarise an article in 50 or so words, then pass their summary to another pair who reduce the word count to 25. They then pass it on and the next pair cut the word count further. Eventually you often end up with a 5 or 6 word sentence that is pretty much the same as the headline of the story.

Anyway, if you’ve got a text from a student book, you could summarise it in other ways. How about getting the students to sum up the article in a tweet (140 characters)? Or, they could write a 50 word review of the text and give it a ‘star’ rating – that’s a good way to see how interested there were in it!


Ok, that’s this week’s tips. Try one of the ideas out, and if you like it you could share an idea in return… If 5 people do that, then next week’s post is done!

Categories: General, Lesson Ideas, lists

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. LOVE the Twitter review idea 🙂 I always find it goes down well when students write in ‘real’ templates; ie emails on a blank email template or a book review in a pretend book review sheet. So I shall definitely be using this – thanks 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Some lovely ideas Pete. I do like the word stress activity. I suppose you could develop it into sentence stress and get students to think of sentences or questions with a particular stress pattern.

    Here are some of my 5 favourite activities with reading:

    1. Put up between 5-10 words on the board and get students to predict what the reading is about.
    2. Change the words to pictures for the activity and repeat the same activity.
    3. Vocabulary about a topic and activate schema and prepare students for the reading.
    4. The reading is about -x-, think of five questions to write for the reading to ask other learners.
    5. Reorganise the reading: cut up the reading into paragraphs or in between sentences and get students to try to put it back in order.

    Hope that helps and I will definitely be using some of the ideas from this.

    Finally, one activity that I picked up from “5 Minute Activities” is cutting up questions word by word and then giving each student a word and they have to reorganise themselves in order to make the question. Students stand up at the front of the class and then they end up running up and down to make the question. Learners, especially young learners, love this activity and it can add a whole new dimension for reading and comprehension questions.


    • Sketch, cheers for this great comment. It’s great that you’re sharing ideas – do you fancy putting those ideas down in a quick post to make a Toolkit Part 3? What me to do it? I’m thinking that eventually I can collate all the ideas into different topics. Anyway, the picture activity is a good one, I like some of the strange predictions that sometimes come up! All those ideas suit listening tasks as well by the sounds of it. That last one is brilliant, I’ll try that out with my pre-ints in class on Saturday!


  3. Thanks for sharing these great ideas Pete – I’m going to steal a few for these last weeks of courses!
    I used easy readers last year on a summer course with teens and instead of Twitter, we used Todaysmeet.com (a backchannel tool) for similar plot summaries, predictions and in-character ‘tweets’ (there’s no student registration required) – useful if your students haven’t got Twitter.


  4. Thank you for sharing this and your creative displays article. Both are awesome activities!



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