How can the reading skills of students be improved? What activities can facilitate reading exercises in the class? Reading success starts with comprehension, followed by reading practice, using a wide range of activities and methods. Good comprehension, in turn, promotes fluent reading and will result in students gaining a greater love for reading and the academic benefits thereof. Teaching reading skills and adding or linking them to other activities should therefore be integral to every teacher’s arsenal.
Why Comprehension precedes Fluency
The first step to fluent reading and fluency of speaking is for learners to gain sustainable comprehension of the text. The teacher should first model fluency by reading the section to the students and explain the meaning of new words in context. The students should then read along as a group before they read alone, allowing the teacher to check if they have mastered the material. Comprehension is thus best improved when reading along with the group and self-correcting, before being challenged to read alone.
More advanced students can study and read on their own, using a dictionary to find the meaning of words they do not understand, for they will then be more successful in memorizing such words, especially when they see other uses of a word as noun, verb, with adjectives, its synonyms, antonyms, phrasal use, etc.
After gaining a solid comprehension of the text the students are ready to improve and practice their fluency, making use of various methods and some of the fifty activities provided below.
To improve fluency, help students to first read the section and pronounce all difficult words repeatedly, next they should read phrase by phrase and then progress to reading paragraphs. The students need to read along out loud to improve fluency and pronunciation before reading individually to allow the teacher to check for pronunciation. Fluency implies tone and rhythm, which differs from language to language and also dialect, which is why native-speaking teachers are so essential for proper ESL teaching.
Book selection is critical
Picking the right book is very important. Selecting a book with suitable text will determine how easy or difficult reaching the targetted outcome will be. What is the target language? Is it relevant and interesting, do you have any related materials and activities to incorporate? Is it the optimum length? Teachers should utilize different ESL books that focus on variations of methodology and learning skills, taking into account the age, English level and interests of their students.
The three Reading Phases
Teaching reading skills in the classroom should happen in three phases:
Pre-reading: Preparing students for the story, raising their interest and understanding of the context, history, author, etc.
While-reading: Reading along with others, checking their understanding, explaining the meaning of words, and correcting pronunciation.
Post-reading: Reflecting on what they have read by asking questions, repeating difficult phrases, checking their understanding of new words, practicing the pronunciation of difficult words and phrases.
This is where additional activities come into play to excite learners and grow a fondness for reading.
Following are 50 activities that can be used during each of the three reading phases with any text:
Four Pre-Reading activities
1. Most reading materials have a picture or photo. Ask students questions on it.
2. Elicit vocabulary. What can they expect in the reading? Pre-teach the keywords.
3. Author and Title. What do they expect will happen from reading the title and details about the author? Make predictions.
4. The Tarantino. Read the end and predict the beginning; the Preview – Skim the first paragraph; the Spoiler – Scan the whole story for words that pop up.
Nine While-Reading activities
5. Read aloud. Students are put in groups and go to the front. They read the passage, sentence by sentence or word by word. If someone makes a mistake, mispronounce or is too slow, they sit down and the other group continues. It’s really fun and the kids get competitive.
6. Reading race. Pin parts of the story or on one side of the room. Students get a sheet of paper and have to alternate to run to the wall and read to find the answer. The reason we place pieces is so that they don’t read the whole reading and then race back.
7. Whisper race. Make teams. Read and whisper it along the line. The last student writes it on the board. Let the students in each team organize their own position. It gives them a sense of authority and gets them invested.
8. Roleplay. Break the class into groups. Write the characters and narrator on the board. Each student gets a character to read and other parts can be alternately read by other students. Tell them to discuss it afterwards because you will check comprehension. You will see the group work together to understand the material.
9. Blank out keywords. Erase certain words and students have to guess what it is.
10. Pieces. Cut the reading up into different pieces (You can also use multiple stories), after reading they go around the class and find their partners to reassemble the story correctly.
11. Scrambled sentences. Cut up sentences or paragraphs and ask students to arrange them correctly.
12. Add misspelled words. Let students circle them while reading
13. Stop before the end! Stop and discuss what the possible ending will be – let the students do brainstorming.
36 Post-Reading activities
14. Discussion about the text. Comprehension questions – Students can quiz each other. Ask them to create 10 questions to ask their partner.
15. Summarize the text. Ask students to retell the story by paraphrasing. Summarize the main idea of each paragraph.
16. Relate it to Real-life. Share similar situations from your life. Or you can compare it to another story or movie, what are the differences and similarities?
17. Keywords. Ask students what the keywords mean in the context of the reading. Why was it important to include?
18. Play Taboo. Students have to explain keywords without using the words itself.
19. Simplify or Rewrite. How can the story be retold for kids? Add illustrations.
20. Debate the story. Make sure that the debate is structured. (I will do a video for teaching basic debate later.)
21. Roleplay. Let students role-play scenes; interview a character from the story.
22. Alternate ending. Let the students write/act out an alternate ending. Write a missing part of the story.
23. Eulogy for the characters. This may a bit dark but students can look into the personality and life of each character more deeply.
24. Find and use new words. Students search for new/good words and use them in new sentences.
25. Fake definitions. Students write fake definitions and another team should guess the correct one. 2 groups. Give 5 words. They have to write a few fake definitions for the other team to guess
26. Find five irregular verbs. Write sentences in the past, present and future tense.
27. Find ten adjectives. Find and write down ten adjectives with their antonyms or synonyms.
28. Create a timeline. Let students create the timeline, a diorama (model), or character collage.
29. Alter the story. Imagine a different story with the same title.
30. Write a character’s diary. Create a new character for the story.
31. Alternate ending. Draw a picture and comment.
32. Change the Point of View. Rewrite the story from a different point of view. Other character or 1st person.
33. Make a List. Let students make a “the most list” of… the funniest events, the saddest, the most surprising.
34. Provide subtitles. Think of a subtitle for each section of the story/ reading.
35. Underline Pronouns. Underline “he, she, it” and ask students who or what they refer to.
36. Letter to the Protagonist. Write a letter to the main character.
37. Draw a story map. A story map is a graphic organizer to help students learn the elements of a story.
38. Design a Poster. Let students design, draw or describe a poster for the story as if it was made into a movie.
39. Write New Dialogue. Create and act out some new dialogue between characters, this can be very funny.
40. Crazy Synonyms. Let students find words and replace them with synonyms or something funny.
41. Be a Reporter. Let the students practice direct speech by writing a report about the author’s life.
42. Mime. Let students mime the words or their opposites.
43. Secret word. Think of a word in the reading, write it down and the students have to guess what it is.
44. Act out scenes. Perform a “lost” scene from the story
45. Song. Let students discuss the title of a song that fits with the title or story.
46. Pair Interviews. Let students interview each other in pair on the story, author or a character.
47. Sing. Let the students sing the text to the melody of some well know tune!
48. Double Dollars. Let the students make pairs beginning of words in the reading with the same first letters. For example, angry adult, beautiful butterfly.
49. Who said that? Give sentences and the students guess the speaker/ character.
50. Retell the story. Students sit in a circle and paraphrase the book. You can give them tips if they struggle to refresh their memory.
One thing that most successful language learners have in common is that they are all dedicated readers and it is up to us as teachers to inspire them, and guide them to becoming eager book lovers.
Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers! If we do our jobs right, we will raise a generation of open-minded, critical thinkers that will take humanity, and the world to a higher level.
Note though that reading should not happen in isolation, it should be integrated with other skills to improve the holistic well-being of our students. If it is accompanied by comprehension, speaking and the creative use of the language, students will evolve into stronger individuals with a set of skills that will make them successful in their future pursuits.
So thank you to all the teachers out there who are making enthusiastic readers out of your students.