Material-light Reading Tasks

2 Jul

As with the last post, this one is intended to become an article for a local journal that focuses on reading and has sections intended for teachers, students, and parents.  Before submitting it to them, I thought I would see what  people visiting the blog think.  All constructive criticism is greatly appreciated.


Not another gapfill!

As teachers, we’ve all created matching exercises, crafted carefully worded comprehension questions, or cut up the paragraphs of a text.  These are the things, we are told, that dedicated teachers do to help their students develop their reading skills.

But is there no other way?  While the traditional assortment of reading activities are all tried and tested, there are often situations or contexts when they are not a viable option.  What happens if there is no photocopier or materials available? Or a student brings an interesting article to class that you know would be of immediate interest and relevance?

Below I would like to share a few ideas that have worked for me in such situations and that might be of use to others as well.  Keep in mind that these are just reading activities in isolation – the contexts, lead-ins, and post-reading tasks are not included, but are of course an essential part of any reading lesson.

On to the activities…

Authentic texts are often more interesting and relevant for the learners, but don’t come with any handy accompanying tasks.  Here are a few which can be used at a moment’s notice, divided according to reading sub-skill.

Gist tasks – tasks to help the learners get the main idea of the text

  • Learners quickly read the article and write possible titles.  During feedback they can choose their favourite one.
  • Read the first paragraph of the text at normal speed and learners take notes.  Then in groups they reconstruct the text in full sentences and compare it to the original text (sometimes called dictogloss).
  • Prediction tasks where the learners are given the title, first sentence, etc. and they must guess what comes next.  They then read to check their predictions.
  • Write a list of possible topics on the board and the learners read quickly to decide which ones were mentioned.
  • Students read different sections of a text and summarize to their partners.

Reading for specific information – tasks to help the learners practice scanning

  • Learners create their own questions about contents of the text (short answer, true or false, multiple choice, etc.) for the other learners to answer.
  • Provide ‘answers’ and ask the learners to make the questions
  • Write words or numbers from the text on the board and the learners scan the text to find their significance

Detailed reading – tasks to help the learners develop a more in-depth comprehension of the text

  • As appropriate, learners create charts, diagrams, maps, or time-lines based on the information in the text
  • Learners create summaries of the texts which deliberately contain factual errors.  Their peers must then try to find the errors and correct them.

Inferring meaning – tasks to help learners read between the lines and work with context

  • Each learner chooses one unfamiliar word and the class tries to work out the meaning from context.  They can then check with the teacher or a dictionary to confirm their predictions.
  • Learners deduce and discuss the emotions of characters, the opinion of the author, etc. (any questions in which the answer is not explicitly stated).

Engaging with the text – tasks to help the learners interact with the text and express their own opinions

  • Don’t give the ending of the text and learners write their own, which they can compare to the original later.
  • Hold a debate or discussion about issues raised in the text.
  • Rewrite the text in a different genre, e.g. short story to newspaper article.

Other considerations

One text – On occasion, it may not even be possible to get multiple copies of the text.   True, this will make reading practice difficult, but the one text can be used as excellent stimulus for speaking practice.

  • If one student brings in an article which they have read, designate that student as the ‘expert’.  The rest of the class can then write questions to ask the expert, who tries to answer them, referring to the text if necessary.
  • Bring in a local newspaper and have them predict possible stories for the day.  Then, divide up the paper and have groups check their predictions before reconvening to compile their answers.  Following on from this stage, each pair can choose the article they found most interesting and give a report to the class.  The rest of the students then ask ‘the experts’ more specific questions.

Using student compositions – Sometimes, the best text to use is the one that students have created themselves!  Naturally, these texts won’t provide the same richness of language that an authentic text would, but on the other hand, the language will definitely be graded sufficiently.  Should the teacher choose to use student-made texts for reading comprehension, many of the aforementioned activities can still be adopted, and many students thoroughly enjoy creating comprehension tasks about their own writing for their peers.

Young learners – For teachers of young learners, many of the activities described here can also be adapted in order to incorporate an element of fun, for example, competitions, board races, treasure hunts, etc.

Further reading

Hopefully, the ideas presented here can be of use to anyone interested in developing learners’ reading skills.  As always in language teaching and learning, there is no one right way to do something, so it certainly helps to have as many teaching tools as possible at one’s disposal.  For many teachers, coming equipped with stacks of resources provides a sense of security, but sometimes it’s just not possible, and who knows, maybe going green and using the students themselves as a resource will in fact liven up the lessons.  It can’t hurt to try!


5 Responses to “Material-light Reading Tasks”

  1. Leo July 8, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    Excellent! Adding this to my bookmarks under Original ideas for working with texts

  2. Stephen Greene July 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Some great ideas here.


  1. ‘Material-light Reading Tasks’ by Ben Naismith | English Teaching Daily - February 19, 2013

    […] Material-light Reading Tasks […]

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