Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog

Leave a comment

25 Alternatives to Reading Aloud Around the Class

shutterstock_116955382Philip Haines is originally from London, England but lives in Mexico City, where he has been working as a teacher and teacher trainer since moving there in 1995. He is an author/co-author on several ELT series published in Mexico, in the primary, secondary and adult segments. Philip works as the Senior Academic Consultant for Oxford University Press Mexico.

In most ELT classrooms there are at least a few students who do not particularly like reading. There are many possible reasons for this, but one factor is that students often do not find the act of reading in the classroom very engaging, despite potentially interesting content. Teachers often capture students’ interest with pre-reading and post-reading activities, but when it comes to the actual process of reading some students are simply not engaged.

A common while-reading activity is to have one student read aloud while the rest of the students follow along in silence. While this way of working has some merits, it also has its drawbacks. It can be both stressful and boring at the same time. It can be stressful for the individual student who is reading aloud and it can be boring for all the other students who are listening and following along in silence.

Below are 25 while-reading activities that reduce the potential stress and boredom described above. These activities are designed for classes where all the students are working with the same text. It must be pointed out that these activities do not always lead to maximum comprehension, but we sometimes need to sacrifice this for the benefits of more engaged, participative and motivated students.

The activities are based on four principles:

  1. The activities can be done with practically any text
  2. All the students have something to do while reading
  3. The activities should be low-stress
  4. They can be done with little preparation

The activities have been categorized by how the students are grouped:


The activities have also been categorized by the kind of response students need to give.

  • Perform actions
  • Underline
  • Say part of words
  • Say words
  • Say phrases
  • Say sentences / lines of text


Whole class

Perform actions

Stand up / sit down –
The teacher chooses six words from a chosen section of the
text and writes these on the board. Each student chooses
three of these words and makes a note of these in their
notebook. The teacher read the chosen section of the text
aloud and students read along in silence, but stand up and
then quickly sit down again every time they hear/read their
chosen words.


Whole class

Perform actions

Perform the action –
The teacher chooses some important/common words from the
chosen section of the text. Students and the teacher decide
on a specific action to perform for each of the chosen
words. The teacher read the chosen section of the text
aloud and the students listen and read in silence, but
perform the appropriate action whenever they read/hear the
corresponding word.


Whole class

Perform actions

Click / clap –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and
students read along in silence. Every time they teacher
gets to a full stop/period the students clap their hands
once. Every time the teacher gets to a comma the students
click their fingers once.


Whole class

Perform actions

Follow with finger –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and
students read along in silence and follow along with a
finger. The teacher can check that every student is
following the text by seeing where their finger is on the


Whole class


Fill in the blank –
The teacher chooses and circles several words in the chosen
section of the text. The teacher read the chosen section of
the text aloud, but says ‘blank’ in place of those
chosen words. Students listen and follow the text at the
same time and underline the words that were substituted
with the word ‘blank’. Students then compare with
each other and check with the teacher.


Whole class


Spot the missing words –
The teacher chooses and circles several words in the chosen
section of the text that can be omitted without the text
sounding strange. The teacher reads the chosen section of
the text aloud but misses out the circled words. The text
needs to be read in a natural way so that it flows and
sounds normal. Students listen, follow the text and
underline the words that were omitted. Students then
compare with each other and check with the teacher.


Whole class


Spot the mistakes –
The teacher chooses and changes several words in the chosen
section of the text. The teacher read the chosen section of
the text aloud and the students read along in silence and
underline the words they think the teacher has changed.
Students then compare with each other and check with the


Whole class


Secret message

The teacher selects some words from
the chosen section of the text so that the first letter of each of these words spells out a
secret word or short phrase. The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud
and students listen and read along
in silence. However, every time the
teacher comes one of the previously selected words the
teacher substitutes the word with a funny noise. The
students need to underline each of these words. The
students then need work out the
secret message.


Whole class

Say parts of words

Finish off words –
The teacher reads a chosen section of the text aloud and
the students listen and read along in silence. However,
every now and then the teacher says only the first one or
two syllables of a word and then pauses. The students need
to say the missing parts of the word in chorus. The teacher
continues reading once the students have completed each


Whole class

Underline and say parts of word

Say only that part of the word –
The teacher chooses a feature of word morphology that is
common in the chosen section of the text. This could be the
plural ‘s’, ing-endings, ed
-endings, –tion, etc. The students go through the
section of the text and underline all the examples of that
feature of language. The teacher then reads aloud and the
students need to call out in chorus only that part of the
word at the same time as the teacher reads it.


Whole class

Say words

Banana –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and
the students listen and read along in silence. Every now
and then the teacher substitutes a word in the text with
the word ‘banana’. The students need to call out
the word from the text that was substituted . Special thanks to Quyen
Xuan Vuong for sharing this activity.


Whole class

Say words

Say only those words –
The teacher chooses and identifies about four or five words
that appear frequently in the chosen section of the text.
The teacher writes these words on the board. The teacher
reads the section of text aloud and students listen and
read in silence, but say only the chosen words in chorus as
the teacher reads them.


Whole class

Say words

Every third word
– The teacher starts to read the chosen section of the text
aloud and students listen and read along in silence.
However, the teacher reads only the first two words and the
student need to say the third word in chorus. The teacher
then reads the next two words and then the students say the
sixth word in chorus. This continues until the end of the
chosen section of the text.


Whole class

Say words

What’s the next word? –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and
students listen and read along in silence. However, every
now and then the teacher stops reading aloud and the
students need to read the next word in the text in chorus.
Once the students have said the word, the teacher continues
reading but stops every now and then and the students need
to say the next word in chorus. This continues until the
end of the chosen section of the text.


Small groups

Say words

One word at a time –
Students take turns reading one word at a time around the
group until the end of the chosen section of the text.


Small groups

Underline and say words

Alphabet words –
The teacher assigns each member of the group different
letters of the alphabet; so that all the letters of the
alphabet are assigned and so that each student has several
letters. Each student needs to look through the chosen
section of the text and underline all the words that start
with their assigned letters. Then the group reads the
chosen section of the text aloud, but each student only
says his/her corresponding words.


Whole class

Say phrases

Listen, read and repeat –
The teacher selects a short section of the text. The
teacher read the section aloud one short phrase at a time.
After reading each phrase the whole class repeats in
chorus. This continues until the end of the chosen section
of the text.


Whole class

Say phrases

Finish off the sentences –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud to
the class. Before the end of some sentences the teacher
stops and the whole class has to read the rest of the
sentence aloud in chorus.



Say phrases

Sentence tennis –
The teacher chooses a section of a text with two paragraphs
of similar length. One student is assigned the first
paragraph and the other student is assigned the second
paragraph. The first student reads part of the first
sentence aloud but stops part of the way through whenever
they want. The other student has to listen and read in
silence, but read the rest of the sentence aloud from where
the first student stopped. This is repeated for the rest of
the paragraph. For the second paragraph the students swap
so that the second student starts reading each sentence.


Whole class

Say sentences

Every third sentence

The teacher divides the whole class into three groups. The
groups are called 1, 2 and 3. Group 1 reads the first
sentence aloud in chorus, group 2 then does the same with
the second sentence, and group 3 does the same with the
third. Group 1 then reads the fourth sentence and this
continues until the end of the chosen section of the text.


Whole class

Say sentences

Dice sentences –
The teacher divides the whole class into six groups and
assigns the numbers 1-6 to the groups so that each group
has a different number. The teacher roles the dice and all
the students in the group with that number read out the
first sentence in chorus. The teacher roles the dice again
and the corresponding group reads the second sentence in
chorus. This continues until the end of the chosen section
of the text.


Whole class

Say lines of text

Secret lines –
The teacher chooses a section of the text with enough lines
of text for every student to have one or two lines each.
The teacher assigned one or two lines to each student in a
random order. The could be by handing out numbers at random
to each student or by cutting up a photocopy of the text
and giving out a line or two of text to each student. Each
student identifies their lines in the original text. The
whole text is read in the correct order by each student
reading their line(s) of the text aloud.


Small groups

Say sentences

Nominate next reader –
One student reads the first sentence aloud from the chosen
section of the text and the rest of the group listen and
read along in silence. When the student finishes the
sentence, he/she nominates the next student to read aloud
by saying the name of that student. That student then reads
the second sentences aloud and then nominates the next
reader. This continues until the end of the chosen section
of the text.


Small groups

Say sentences

One sentence at a time
– Students take it in turns to read one sentence at a time
around the group until the end of the chosen section of the



Say sentences

Fizz / buzz / bang –
The teacher selects three words which appear frequently in
the chosen section of the text. The teacher writes these
three words on the board and next to the 1st
word write ‘fizz’, next to the 2nd
words writes ‘buzz’, and next to the 3rd word writes ‘bang’. Students then
take it in turns to read one sentences at a time and
substitute the selected words with ‘fizz’, ‘ buzz’ or ‘bang’ as indicted on the board.

1 Comment

Chinese New Year Activities for your EFL Classroom

shutterstock_222402865In recognition of the lunar new year on January 28th and to celebrate the Year of the Rooster, we’ve created some resources for your language learning classroom. Former contributors Vanessa Esteves and Christopher Graham have come up with a range of activities and tasks for young learners and secondary level learners that we hope you’ll enjoy. Happy New Year!

Young Learner Resources:

Lesson plan


Secondary Resources:

Lesson plan



Extensive Reading and Language Learning

oup_54206Dr. Richard R. Day is a Professor at the Department of Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii. He has authored numerous publications, particularly on second language reading, including Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (co-author).

Extensive reading is based on the well-established premise that we learn to read by reading. This is true for learning to read our first language as well as foreign languages. In teaching foreign language reading, an extensive reading approach allows students to read, read, and read some more.

When EFL students read extensively, they become fluent readers. But there is more. Studies have established that EFL students increase their vocabulary, and become better writers. We also know that reading extensively helps increase oral fluency—listening and speaking abilities. Finally, students who read a lot develop positive attitudes toward reading and increased motivation to study English. So there are some excellent reasons for having EFL students reading extensively.

Let’s now look at what extensive reading is by looking at four of its key principles*:

1. The reading material is easy.

For extensive reading to be possible and for it to have the desired results, students must read books and other materials that are well within their reading competence—their reading comfort zone. In helping beginning readers select texts, I believe that more than one or two unknown words per page might make the text too difficult for overall understanding. For intermediate learners, appropriate texts have no more than three or four unknown or difficult words per page.

I recognize that not everyone agrees with using easy materials. Many teachers believe that learners must read difficult texts; they also believe that students need to be challenged when learning to read. Perhaps they think that reading difficult texts somehow gets them used to reading materials written for first-language reading.

This is a mistake. Of course, our goal in teaching students to read is to have them read literature that is written for native readers. But we should not start with that goal! We need to start with books and material that have been especially written for beginning and intermediate levels of reading ability. They have to read texts they find easy and enjoyable as they learn to read.

2. A variety of reading material on a wide range of topics must be available.

For an extensive reading program to succeed, students have to read. So it is critical to have a large number of books on a wide variety of topics to appeal to all students. Such a library will include books (both fiction and non-fiction), magazines, and newspapers. There should be materials that are informative, and materials that are entertaining.

3. Learners choose what they want to read.

Allowing students to select what they want to read is key. Again, this is related to the basis of extensive reading: we learn to read by reading. Students are more likely to read material in which they are interested. So it makes sense for them to choose what (and where and when) to read.

In addition, students should also be free, indeed encouraged, to stop reading anything that isn’t interesting or which they find too difficult.

4. Learners read as much as possible.

The most crucial element in learning to read is the amount of time spent actually reading. We have to make sure that our students are given the opportunities to read, read, and read some more. This is the “extensive” of extensive reading, made possible by the first three principles.

How much should we ask our students to read?  The quick and short answer is, As much as possible! I usually set reading targets for my students. For example, for beginning EFL readers, the minimum is one book a week. This is realistic, as language learner literature for beginners (for example, graded readers) is short. Some teachers set their reading targets in terms of time. For example, students must read for 60 minutes each week.

To finish, let me repeat this important fact: we learn to read by reading. There is no other way. Extensive reading helps students become readers.

Richard will be presenting on extensive reading at Oxford ELTOC 2017 – our first ever online conference for teachers in Asia.

If you’re a teacher in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia you can find out more about the conference and register to attend here.


Day, R. R. and J. Bamford. (2002). Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading.  Reading in a Foreign Language 14/2.  http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/October2002/

Leave a comment

6 Simple Ideas to Motivate Your Students using Linked Language Learning

Ideas for motivating students Linked Language Learning

To mark the launch of the Everybody Up Second Edition, author Patrick Jackson shares some practical ideas about Linked Language Learning, the concept at the heart of Everybody Up, and the reason for its success.

These days, I live and work in Ireland. Near my home, is Newgrange – a huge mound of rock and earth that’s over 5,000 years old. At dawn, on the shortest day of the year, everyone gathers to see the sun’s first light shine along a passage and light up a chamber in the mound.

This special moment reminds me of how our classrooms should be. We should connect them to the wider world beyond their walls. We should allow light to shine in from outside. And, in turn, our classrooms will become places from where light shines. They will become memorable, happy places that encourage and empower the children who are lucky to come there. That is what we hope anyway!

Young children spend rather too much time in classrooms these days, often sitting unnaturally still for hours every day. Many of them spend a lot of time after school in other classrooms before they go home. A lot of them are expected to study at home as well. They can easily become bored and lose motivation. They can become unengaged. They can become tired of the whole learning process and switch off. Our greatest challenge as educators of children in this competitive and systemised environment is to find ways of stopping them becoming burnt out and simply giving up. It’s a sad but true reality.

How are we going to create lessons that stand out and that our students look forward to and become excited by? How are we going to motivate and inspire? I believe that the best way to reboot our students is to think of ways that the classroom can be linked to the wider world. This is the thinking behind everything we did when we created Everybody Up.

Here are some ideas:

1 Teacher Show and Tell

It’s really interesting for students to see their teacher bring something curious into the classroom. This could be anything really so long as it’s something the teacher is enthusiastic about. This enthusiasm leads to students sharing their own interests and passions in turn.

2 Snail Mail

Of course, nowadays we can communicate with people all over the world so easily using the Internet. Much more exciting than an email though is an old-fashioned parcel containing snacks and stickers from a classroom in another country. Picture postcards from around the world are also really exciting for students to get. It’s very easy to arrange this sort of exchange and your students will be really motivated by it. Check out epals.com to find a classroom to twin with and get started. I have used it successfully over the years as a way of making connections with like-minded teachers around the world.

3 Decorate your Classroom

Set the scene by making your classroom a Global HQ for Linking. A notice board in the classroom is a good place to display students’ projects and you can put posters up on the walls from different parts of the world. A good way to get these is to write to foreign embassies and tourist offices in your country. They are always happy to send their publications to educators.

4 Hold an International Day

Plan and hold an International Day for your class. Students work individually or in pairs and research a country to tell their classmates about. If you can get the parents involved, it may even be possible to arrange some foods from those countries. Students can draw flags and learn a few phrases of their countries’ languages. It’s great fun and helps create an international mindset.

5 Our Town Video or Powerpoint

Students will enjoy making a video about your city, town or village in English and sharing it with other classrooms via the Internet. You can also use PowerPoint very effectively for this sort of project. This can be as simple as a series of photos of local attractions with captions in English or it could be a more sophisticated with students acting as anchors. It’s a great way to ‘Englishify’ your local surroundings.

6 English Hunting

Ask your students to find a number of examples of English in their surroundings outside the classroom. Simply by doing this they will identify the fact that English is happening all around them and is not just something that takes place in lessons. If your students are old enough to have their own mobile technology they can “hunt” English and bring it to their next lesson.

These are just a few of the many ways that you can start to connect your classroom to the wider world. As a teacher, it’s a state of mind that you get into and ideas will keep coming to you. In fact, once you become a Linked Language Learning Teacher, there’s no going back! These projects also build from year to year and become part of your classroom’s culture. It’s fun showing your new students the work of the previous year’s class. These sorts of activities are certainly the best way to get your students engaged and developing a strong sense of the purpose of learning English. They are also the best way to create memorable learning moments and experiences for our students. And of course, most importantly, they are all really fun.


Making the ‘Impossible’ Possible – How to get your students writing


Gareth Davies is a writer, teacher, teacher trainer, and storyteller. He has been in the ELT industry for 21 years teaching in Portugal, the UK, Spain and the Czech Republic. Since 2005 he has worked closely with Oxford University Press, delivering teacher training and developing materials. Gareth joins us today to preview his webinar ‘Making the Impossible Possible… How to get your students writing’.

Writing’s a Chore?

When I was on a recent short-term teaching assignment in Northern Spain, I decided to ask my students to do some creative writing. I gave them some prompts and asked them to write a story. Far from being a joyous activity, the students rolled their eyes. There was a lot of grumbling and sighing and the finished versions were no more than four or five lines long. They had written stories, but they had not written creatively. Why did my students have such a negative reaction to writing and how could I encourage them to enjoy it?


Why is writing an essential 21st century communication device? Well, take a brief look around in any town in any country you will see people hunched over their phones or tablets or laptops sending texts, emails or WeChat messages. Writing is in vogue. But it is more than that. It is argued that encouraging students to create in a foreign language helps them to internalise it more effectively. This is because they need to think about how language works and what they know, in order to be able to use the language successfully.

Merril Swain argues that input, being taught the language and being asked to manipulate it in controlled exercises, is useful, but it doesn’t produce the cognitive processing required to internalise language. Whereas:

“output pushes learners to process language more deeply – with more mental effort… With output, the learner is in control. In speaking or writing, learners can ‘stretch’ their interlanguage[1] to meet communicative goals.”

  • Swain

[1]Interlanguage is the learner’s current, work in progress version of the language. 

Thus when producing language, whether it be writing or speaking, students are being cognitively challenged which is helping them to internalise the language, and get better at it. Therefore, the work we do on writing in the classroom can be seen as work done on language development, helping students to improve their linguistic ability.

So how do we get our students writing?

One complaint I often hear from students is that they don’t know what to write about. Here are a couple of solutions.

Sit the students in circles of six. Ask students to write the topic they want to write about on the top of an A4 sheet of paper and then pass the paper around in the circle. Each student writes a question on the sheet about the topic at the top. Now each student has the subject they are going to write about and five questions to answer in the text.

Task: You are on a shopping trip to a big city with friends. Write a blog entry about your experience.

Instruction to Students: Decide which city you are visiting write it on top of the piece of paper.



Are the shops expensive?

Are there any street markets?

Is there a department store?


Are the shops expensive?

Is it crowded?

What is the food like?

If you want the students to all write about the same topic, write the topic on the board and draw two columns. Elicit all the things the students know about the topic and write them in the first column. Then give them time to think of what they would like to know about the topic. Elicit the questions they have thought of and write them in the second column. Now ask the students to do the writing task. The weaker or more cautious ones can rely on the information in the first column the more adventurous ones can try to find answers to the questions in the second column.

Task: Prepare a small advert for tourists about your home town.


What do we know?

Traditional markets at certain times of the year.

Best time to come is spring

Two castles

What would we like to know?

How much is it to stay in a hotel?

How much to taxis cost?

How do you take a boat trip?

Where’s the best place for a view of Prague?

If you want your students to do some creative writing, you might want to start by asking them to adapt an existing story. For example, you could take the story of Aladdin and ask the students to write a fifty-word summary or to write a 21st Century version or a version that would be more specific to their own country. This allows the students to work within an existing structure, but create their own ideas. An alternative might be to take a song or poem with regular repetitions and ask students to write their own version. Ian Dury’s I Believe is a good song for this kind of activity and can be found in Headway Intermediate.

Call a draft a draft

It is a good idea to encourage students to call their work drafts, to give them a sense that they can, and should, make changes. Asking questions is a really good way of giving feedback. The questions can help create a richer piece.  Some example feedback questions for a piece of creative writing might be: what happened next? why did this happen? how did the people feel? What did the street look like? This shows that the teacher has read the piece with interest and is keen to know more about the story, and was not just looking for mistakes and errors to correct.

In my webinar on the 25th and 26th of January, I will discuss some of these ideas in greater detail and suggest other ways to make the impossible possible and to get your students to enjoy their writing tasks.



Tasks mentioned are taken from Solutions Pre-Intermediate 2nd Edition.

Swain, M., ‘The output hypothesis and beyond: Mediating acquisition through collaborative dialogue’ in Sociocultural theory and second language acquisition ed. James P. Lantolf (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 97- 114 p. 99.