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10 things to do with a text – by Heather Humphreys

Heather humphriesTrying to encourage our students to both enjoy and benefit from reading texts in class can be a challenge and we often repeat the same task types with limited results. Below are a few extra ideas to help you think of twists on using texts in class to practise a range of skills, focus on language or simply engage your learners more with the written word in English.

#1 – Critique it

How?

Do this with a reading text which presents one side of an issue. Students read the text and decide if they generally agree/disagree with its message. They then analyse and discuss their view on its ideas, presentation and language use.

Why?

Develops a different, analytical type of reading skill and gives students the opportunity to engage with a text in a “real life way” –they may have to do this in English if they attend a higher education programme abroad. Also makes a simple text come alive and forms a prompt for oral interaction.

Who?

Works well with teens/young adults who often don’t transfer critical thinking skills from L1 when distracted by the linguistic challenge of tasks. Relevant and motivating for any group who need more exposure to authentic texts.

#2 – Read it aloud

How?

Give each student a different, short story with some missing words. In turns, they should read them aloud and leave a space where their partner can write down the missing word. At the end, they compare the stories they have made together….often with hilarious consequences.

Why?

Even with young students and low levels, this idea highlights awareness of where different parts of speech can be correctly placed in a sentence.

Who?

Young adults and teens come up with some great ideas, and adult classes (of any level) also like this one.

#3 – Draw it, retell it

How?

Give students a text (a linear narrative of some kind) and ask them to draw the story’s key elements with no words on the page. Take away their texts and ask them to re-tell the story with their partners. It works well to give each student in a pair a different story and then quiz students on their partners’ stories.

Why?

Fun and engaging, this mixes up students’ ideas of what will happen in a reading lesson, allowing for creativity, ownership of language and the practice of communication strategies during the re-telling.

Who?

Any age, any level – just grade the text. If there is a specific language point you have been working on (e.g. linking words, narrative tenses), you can extend this into a writing activity during which students must use this to re-tell the story on paper.

#4 – Examine it

How?

Using a past exam paper with a reading format which is familiar to students, (in groups) give them only the reading text itself and ask them to design a set of exam questions for their classmates. For exams which have multiple, different sections, each group can design one test task to be completed by the rest of their group.

Why?

Provides variety in exam preparation classes and also encourages students to think how examiners think – those with experience of language exams will start adding distractors and being far more sadistic than any teacher/examiner!!

Who?

Do it with students preparing for specific exams whose reading paper format they are familiar with already.

# 5 – Debate it

How?

Take a simple text and ask students to read it, focusing on a couple of opinion questions which then serve as the basis of debate. Students can first discuss their real opinions, then be grouped into teams to debate one main point.

Why?

Lifts a text off the page and brings it alive for students, meaning that they interact with each other and the ideas more like they would in L1.

Who?

Works well with groups who “don’t like reading” and with quieter students who suddenly find they have more to say when there is the support of a text behind their own ideas. Younger and older teens also enjoy this excuse to be argumentative!

#6 – Make it

How?

Give each student only a title. These can be related to a topic studied or completely random. Each student then writes a paragraph based on their title without alluding to it OR making obvious connections to their original title. Titles should be deliberately open to interpretation. Students then read each other’s paragraphs and guess the original title.

Why?

Student-generated reading texts are more interesting for our learners, and require minimal preparation with maximum results – higher level groups especially often produce high quality language (when they know it will be read by their peers) and will try to make the “title guessing” task as difficult as possible for their groupmates.

Who?

Good for students who sometimes “switch off” if given conventional reading texts. Highly effective with Upper Intermediate and Advanced students.

#7 – Expand it

How?

Give students a copy of a reading text with one paragraph missing. Ask students to read through what they do have and then, in pairs to write the extra paragraph to fill in the gap.

Why?

Makes students focus on how a text fits together, its order and what devices need to be used to make it make sense for a reader.

Who?

Groups of any level can enjoy this task and get a lot from it. YLs particularly enjoy writing their own paragraph as part of a story, and exam classes/weak writers benefit from the focus on textual cohesion.

#8 – React to it

How?

Find an online article or post which will be of interest to your students and ensure that there is place on the internet where students can comment on the text. Students read the text and are then allowed, in class time, to use their phones to comment on it in real time, discussing with each other what they have read and reading each other’s’ posts.

Why?

Engages students with L2 media in the same way that they engage with L1 media/life in general – through their smartphones!

Who?

14+ year olds.

#9 – Upgrade it

How?

Find or use a text which uses vocabulary your students are familiar with. Pitch the level of the text a little below them or deliberately find an authentic text which uses bland, uninspiring lexis. Students should read the text and “upgrade” its language by brainstorming synonyms, more interesting phrases, fixed expressions etc. which could replace parts of the text, whilst still keeping its original meaning.

Why?

We constantly work with our students on their language, but how much do we really push them to always use their best English, especially in written work? From Intermediate level upwards, students need to get used to reading their own work and rephrasing the parts which are simplistic/using a wider range of language.

Who?

Those preparing for written exams will benefit most, as will higher levels who have got “stuck in a rut” when it comes to language use and vocabulary range.

#10 – Act it, mime it, hit it

How?

A few final silly activities which students get into. Each one is movement orientated and gives a different take on reading. The first involves getting students to remember and act out a text with gradually fewer and fewer verbal prompts, the second has them answering your questions about the text in front of them using only gestures, and the third involves the text being projected onto the board or IWB. The students are then put in two teams and, as the teacher reads out the questions, one student from each time has to find the answer in the text and hit it with a ruler/fly swat/ball.

Why?

All are kinaesthetic, get students outs of seats, change the pace of the lesson, and encourage speedy reading.

Who?

 YL, YL, YL (and good humoured students of all other ages!)

Author’s Bio:
Heather Humphreys fell into teaching thanks to a mixture of enthusiastic Japanese infants and amazingly inspiring colleagues. She hasn’t looked back in the seven years since and recently returned to teach (and eat delicious dairy products) in Kazakhstan, working as a Senior Teacher at IH Almaty. While most of her experience has been with YL, she is currently enjoying getting back into teaching people of her own height again.

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