How to set up reading tasks

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How to set up reading tasks

Reading is like watering the mind and, therefore, one of the most important tasks for learners. Reading, however, can be a boring and tough task if not set up carefully. In this entry I’d like to share some tips on how to do it so that students learn and enjoy.


Introduction: What and where to read

Course books are a great source of texts but not the only one. I’ve always found some interesting texts in books but sometimes I’ve decided to leave them out because I didn’t think they would be interesting, engaging or appropriate for my students. It’s also true that with training and experience I’ve learnt to exploit them better and I’ve found that it was not just the content of the text but the use I was making of it.

I also suggest reading some texts from outside the book once in a while to personalise the lessons and make them more meaningful and engaging. For example, if there is something big going on it might be a good idea to bring an article to class depending on the level and age of the students. Also, if there is a festival coming up it might be a good idea to read about it, e.g. Thanksgiving.

Students can do some reading in class but it’s essential that they do some reading outside too. This reading can be connected to the lesson or it can be something different. I suggest to my students that they read readers (stories graded to their level).

Students must understand what they are reading otherwise they won’t learn and they will feel frustrated.


How to set up a reading activity in class with teenagers and adults.

Step 1. Create interest

Before the students start reading the text it’s important to create interest in its content. In order to do this you can:

  • Write the title of the text on the board and get the students to predict what the text is about. They can discuss it in pairs for a few minutes and then you can get class feedback. Tell them they will see  which pair had the closest version to the book later on.

  • Choose some key words from the text and write them on the board. As above, give the students a few minutes to predict the content of the reading.

  • You can write the title and some key words on the board! And get the students to connect the word to the title.

  • Write the title on the board and instead of words you can show them some pictures. Elicit what the pictures are and predict the connection to the title.

Creating interest in the text is essential to engage the students

Step 2. Skimming: quick reading to get a general idea

Once the students know what the text is about it’s time for a quick reading. To do this you can:

  • Get them to check if their predictions in Step 1 were right or wrong.

  • Give the students 3 or 4 True / False statements about the main ideas in the text, e.g. A shop assistant  went to jail. The story has a happy ending.

  • Instead of statements you can give them some general questions, e.g. Who went to jail?

Skimming is reading a text quickly in order to get a general idea of its content.


Step 3. Noticing language

Now we want the students to pay attention to the language in the text. Course books usually incorporate the target language of the unit in the texts and many times the students are not given the time nor the tasks to notice it. This is how you can help students notice the target language:

  • Ask them to underline language they have learnt recently and understand. This can be grammar or vocabulary. This is good to consolidate language and for their self-esteem.

  • Ask them to circle language or vocabulary they don’t quite understand and they need to understand in order to follow the story.

  • Get them to guess the meaning of the language they circled. Ask them to get help from their partner.

  • Get them to ask you about the language they circled and they still don’t understand. Copy it on the board and explain meaning.

  • Get the students to take notes in their notebook.

When students notice new language they pay attention to its form, use and meaning. It’s an important part of the learning process.

Step 4. Scanning: reading for details

Once the students know what the text is about and they understand the target language it’s time for deeper understanding, it’s time to read the text in a more detailed manner. To do this you can:

  • Copy and cut up some questions about the text. Stick the questions on the wall around the room. Get the students to read the text. When they are ready, they walk around the class in pairs and answer the questions on the walls. Ask them to write the answers in their book or notebook. Get class feedback.

  • Copy and cut up the reading in 3 or 4 paragraphs. Give each student a different paragraph and a set of questions. Students read their part and answer the questions. Once they have done that, students find other students in the class who have read the same paragraph. Get them to do this in English, e.g. My paragraph is about…. Once they are in pairs or groups they compare their answers. Now students can swap paragraphs and answer a different set of questions or they can read the whole text and answer all the questions.

Scanning is reading a text quickly in order to find specific information.

Step 5. Discussion

This step is very often skipped and it’s a shame. After having read a text it’s important to ask the students to share their opinion. To do this you can:

  • Have a debate, ask the students if they agree or disagree with what the author said. The debate will obviously depend on the content of the text.

  • Get them to rate the text. For example, 1 to 5, 1 being the lowest score and 5 the highest, they can rate some items and then have a class discussion. For example,

How interesting was it?

Was it difficult to understand?

Was the language in the text useful?

  • Students can highlight what they liked / didn’t like about the text.

  • Get the students to highlight the 5 pieces of language they found most useful. Make a poster with their answers, put it up on the wall and encourage them to use them in the next lessons.

  • Get the students to change the ending, the title or some part of the text when possible.

  • Ask them some questions to personalise the text, eg, Have you ever been in that situation? Have you ever eaten that kind of food? Would you like to travel to that country? etc

Personalisation makes learning more meaningful, more engaging and thus more effective.

Step 6. Writing

So far, we’ve seen that texts can help students develop not only their reading skills but also their speaking and listening abilities by talking about it and discussing it. It’s also a good idea to use texts to help students develop their writing. Here are some ideas:

  • Get the students to write a summary of the text. Ask them to include the main ideas and new language in their own way. Summarising requires a great deal of comprehension.

  • Get the students to write a different ending, beginning or middle part. Or just get them to change some parts of the text. This way they can rewrite the text but they will add their own ideas making it more personal and relevant. The idea is that the use and reinforce the new language they’ve seen in the text.

  • Depending on the text they could just write their own version. For example, if it was an article on polar bears they could write about a different endangered species.