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5 Reading Activities For Parents To Do With Kids At Home

parent and child reading together at homeWith schools closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents (and close family members) need to keep their children learning and entertained at home. Reading stories helps children practise English in an entertaining way. To begin with, show your child several storybooks. Ask them to choose the one they want to read. Continue reading

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Find your learner’s reading level | Andrew Dilger

Find your reading level

I have a question for you. Do you know your learners’ reading level in English – I mean, really know it? If your learners are halfway through an A2 coursebook, does that mean their reading level is A2-and-a-half?! The cautious ones among us would say ‘Not necessarily’; the bold ones would say ‘No’. But in an age when efficacy and assessment is all the rage in ELT, plenty of pressure is put on the teaching community (by itself, parents, and other stakeholders) to measure learners’ language skills accurately – down to the nth degree, in fact.

 The dark art of testing

Measuring reading level has always been something of a dark art, or at least a shadowy discipline. Part of the problem is that, as a receptive skill, it seems to take place inside learners’ heads. We can test comprehension, of course. And how we love to test it – with questions, gapfills, clozes, and multiple-choices, all of which require learners to skim and scan until they go cross-eyed! We often enjoy testing comprehension so much that we squeeze the life out of a text. It’s a wonder we don’t put learners off reading in English altogether.

There are other factors at play, of course – short attention spans in a fast-paced, device-driven world compromising the appeal of ‘deep reading’ is one of them, but that’s an easy target. The main issue is that most learners aren’t reading the right texts for them, and not in the right way.

Reading improves all-round ability

If learners want to improve their reading level – and benefit their all-round ability in English – then it’s vital we help them discover how to do this. And don’t just take my word for it. Research by luminaries like Richard Day and Paul Nation has suggested this for years. There are massive gains to be made by learners reading a lot in English – reading extensively for interest and pleasure. For more on this, see this article from El País (use Google Translate if your Spanish is rusty or non-existent).

Reading fluency over reading comprehension

So let’s go back to the question: Do you know your learners’ reading level? The important thing to appreciate is that I’m talking about reading fluency here. Can they read a text connectedly and understand the majority of words?

Most publishers have an online test which claims to tell learners their reading level. Take the Macmillan Readers Level Test, for example. In actual fact, it’s a series of grammar and vocabulary sentences with multiple-choice options, i.e. it doesn’t test reading fluency at all. It features prompt pictures for all the items but most are decorative rather than functional. In addition, some of the sentences are unnatural or misleading, e.g. I’ve got an ache in my throat; Did you hear the thunder last night? with the prompt picture showing lightning. The maximum level the test can give is Upper Intermediate and, if you retake it, the questions and options are all in exactly the same order… so you can improve instantly by virtue of having done the test already.

A tool instead of a test

Here at OUP we’ve come up with something different and something new. And we’d like you and your learners to decide how useful it is. For a start, we’re not calling it a test – it’s a tool. A semantic difference perhaps, but an important one. This isn’t a grammar check based on a random text, but something which genuinely attempts to gauge how fluent learners are at reading a page of a published story.

How does it do this? With a disarmingly simple innovation. Learners themselves decide whether they know the meanings of the words or not. They also decide whether a page of a story at a certain level is ‘Too easy’, ‘Too difficult’, or ‘OK’. This is known as the Goldilocks Principle and is common in cognitive science and developmental psychology.

‘But students will cheat!’ I hear you cry. If they do, they’re only cheating themselves because they’ll be shown a range of stories at the wrong level. It’s like buying clothes – why would you choose trousers which are two sizes too big if they fall down round your ankles? Instead, what learners need is something that ‘fits’ – something that’s right for them at that stage in their development. This means being able to read confidently at a comfortable level.

What’s the point?

After all, the point of learners finding their reading level isn’t so they can brandish it on a certificate or boast about it on social media. The point is to open up a world of texts, stories, and information which they will find digestible and rewarding – even life-changing.

If YOUR learners want to find their reading level in English, they can try our new tool here. Why don’t YOU try it, too? It’s free and takes less than 10 minutes. Because it’s a beta version, we’re also interested in getting feedback about ways to improve it, so please ask your learners to complete the survey too. Happy reading!                      

Find your reading level button


Andrew Dilger is a Managing Editor at Oxford University Press. He has been involved in English language teaching as a teacher, trainer, and editor for over a quarter of a century. He is passionate about the power of reading and claims to have read something every day of his life since he first went to school.

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4 Creative Ways To Share Your Enjoyment Of Literature

teenagers enjoying literature togetherThroughout my teaching I have used literature in the EFL classroom, and the most rewarding moments have always been connected to lessons where I was teaching a poem, a short story, or a play. I’ve always thought that the most important factor was my own love of the pieces that I was teaching, and finding ways of sharing that love with my learners.

Here are four ways in which you can engage learners with literary texts, convey your own love of literature to your students, and show them how literature reflects human experiences and connects to our lives.


1. Connect the piece of literature to your students’ personal lives

James Joyce’s short story, Eveline, is about a young woman in early 20th century Dublin who has a chance to leave home with her suitor and go to Buenos Aires (you can find it here). I taught this to students aged 17 or 18, to whom the themes in the story were very relevant, introducing these themes without students even knowing that our discussion would lead to a literary work.

I start by presenting Edward Hopper’s painting New York Movie and asking students to describe the woman in the picture, where she is, what she is doing, how she is standing, then what she might be thinking about. Then I ask them to write the first paragraph of a short story about this woman. Invariably, students describe her as tired, stuck in a tedious job; they suggest she might be thinking about household chores she still has to do; they write about her dreams for the future and escaping her lot through marriage. We discuss the students’ interpretations, their first paragraphs, what they mean about the students’ view of life. The students see this as an exercise in creative writing but, without knowing it, they are writing about many of the themes of the story.

At the end of the lesson (or even in the next lesson) I move to the first paragraph of the story:

She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired.

This extensive introduction ensures that even before we start reading Eveline, the students have made connections between the main themes of the story and their own experiences.


2. Illustrate ways in which literature connects to current events

Many literary works are extremely relevant to contemporary events. They may be overtly political and obviously written in response to a major event, like W.H. Auden’s September 1, 1939 (a wonderful poem, though I wouldn’t suggest using it in an EFL class!), but even poems that are not political have contemporary resonances. One example is Robert Frost’s Mending Wall, written in 1914, which talks about two neighbours meeting to fix the wall between their properties. It meditates on walls and boundaries, their uses and misuses, their personal and public meaning. Though Frost could not have known that 100 years later there would be such violent discussions of walls in the public sphere, the connection to current events is clear. Discussing this enables you to work on understanding other people’s points of view and balancing contradictions and ambiguities in one’s own thoughts – vital skills and attitudes in contemporary life.


3. Connect the piece of literature to art

Many artists have responded to literature in different ways. The contemporary American artist Roni Horn has responded to Emily Dickinson’s poems by casting lines from the poems in plastic letters. She embeds these in aluminium bars, which she then places against a wall – see here . When you walk into a room with these bars against different walls they present an enigma – you have to approach to realise that they include letters and words, and you realise slowly that these are lines from poems. The bars force you to consider their meaning – which is not immediately obvious or straightforward. As you walk round one of these bars and watch it from different angles the words appear and disappear – a wonderful metaphor for the way in which the meanings of poems are difficult to grasp and the way in which they enter and exit our consciousness.

By doing this you are demonstrating to learners that literature does not stand on its own – it is part of a rich cultural history and a rich cultural present.


4. Encourage students to react

One way of moving the focus from us to our learners is an easy technique called ‘a walkabout’ or ‘gallery walk’. The idea is simple – you choose a number of extracts, print out or photocopy enlarged versions of these extracts, and put them up on the walls around the classroom. Students walk around the room, read the extracts, and choose the one that they like most, or that means most to them. They then go and stand next to it, and discuss their reasons for choosing this extract with the other students who chose it. Each group then tells the others why they chose a specific extract.

In order for this activity to work the extracts need to be short – you can choose short poems, the opening paragraphs of different stories, or the opening paragraphs of different novels. I have also used it with short critical views of works that we have studied. Choosing short extracts means that students have time to read everything before they make their choice. Also, don’t choose too many extracts – 5 or 6 extracts are more than enough. This normally means that there is someone who chooses one of the extracts.


Want even more simple techniques to promote language development, for all levels and ages? Watch my webinar!

Watch the recording



Amos Paran is a Reader in Second Language Education at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London, where he teaches on the MA TESOL. He started his professional career in Israel, where he taught EFL in secondary schools and trained teachers. He has run teacher training workshops in countries such as Viet Nam, Uzbekistan, Israel, Switzerland, Spain and France, and works regularly in Chile.

His main research interests are reading in a foreign language and the use of literature in language learning, as well as distance education, and he has written extensively on these topics. He is co-editor (with Lies Sercu) of ‘Testing the Untestable in Language Education’, published in 2010 by Multilingual Matters. His most recent book is Literature, co-written with Pauline Robinson and published by Oxford University Press in the Into the Classroom series. He is also a lead tutor on the free Coursera MOOC, ‘Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task Based Approach’.


10 Invaluable Back To School Ideas For ELT Teachers

Teacher holding Back To School sign

I have a theory: ‘A teacher’s stress level at the beginning of the year is inversely proportional to his/her years of experience’. It does ring true, doesn’t it? It’s also true that the more one prepares in advance the smoother the first days will be and the easier it is to cope with contingencies. The purpose of this blog post is to help reduce ‘back to school’ anxiety for novice teachers and experienced colleagues alike, with one or two new ideas to add to your ‘bag of tricks’ so as to give flagging enthusiasm a boost. I hope you find them useful!

1. Set Back To School objectives for your students

Ask yourself: what would you like your students to achieve by the end of the year? Setting back to school objectives is hugely important because it gives your students something to aim for. Here are some tips: 

  • Make sure your students can relate to your objectives (e.g. [for Business Students] ‘By the end of the course, you will be able to give presentations at least as well as your colleagues from the UK and the US’). 
  • Aim high. Expectations act like self-fulfilling prophecies (provided you believe in them).
  • Make sure your objectives are measurable. How will students know they have achieved a particular objective?
  • Ensure buy-in. As teachers, we often automatically assume that what we desire for our students is what they want too. Not so! We need to discuss these objectives and get our students on board.

2. Set objectives for yourself!

Don’t forget about your own development. It can be all too easy to pour all of your energy into the development of others, but self-care and personal growth are essential if you want to be the best you can be. Worried you won’t have time? Try these everyday development activities for busy teachers.

3. Prepare a stress-free Back To School environment

Prepare a learning environment that energises, rather than one that demotivates and increases anxiety. High levels of pressure are counter-productive to learning, and creating a safe space for students will give them the confidence to push themselves. Watch the webinar to find out how you can manage your own wellbeing and how this can be transferred to help students in the classroom.

4. Prepare your Back To School classroom

Perhaps you would like to encourage more open discussion among your students this year, or just fancy changing things up to help returning students (and yourself) begin anew. The correct back to school classroom layout can also help you manage your classroom more effectively, as you can design it to support the tone you want to set in lessons (see below).

5. Revisit your bag of tricks (what do you mean you don’t have one?)

OK – a ‘bag of tricks’ is a collection of games/activities/tasks that you have used in the past, your students enjoy and which you know and trust (see your free downloadable activities below). You might think that there is no reason to write down ideas you are so familiar with. Wrong! Time and again, when I get frustrated while planning a lesson, I go through my list only to marvel at how activity X – which was my favourite only a year ago – had completely slipped my mind. If something works, write it down. The faintest pencil beats even the best memory!

6. Revisit your list of sites

Looking for material or ready-made activities to use with your students? A site like Breaking News English for instance offers graded texts, based on topical issues, each accompanied by dozens of exercises for you to choose from. For Listening material, the British Council site has a huge range of excellent clips for all levels. If you or your students are movie fans then Film English might be just the thing for you, or if you believe, as many do, that students learn best through songs then a site like Lyrics Training is right up your street! As for comedy fans, there is always the ‘Comedy for ELT’ channel on YouTube…  😊

7. Prepare templates instead of lesson plans

Lesson plans are good, but Lesson Templates are far more versatile! A Lesson Template is a set of steps that you can use repeatedly with different materials each time. For example, a Reading Skills Template can be used with a new text each time (see this one for instance; you may even choose to use this particular set of activities for the first day of school!). Prepare a template for each of the four skills, and an extra one for a Vocabulary Lesson. Seeing is believing! Here are examples of a Writing Skills template, and a template combining texts and activities from Breaking News English with Quizlet.

8. Support yourself with apps

Learning doesn’t stop when students leave the classroom! Apps like Say It: English Pronunciation, LingoKids and Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary can deliver time and time again whenever you want to give your students homework with a twist! You can find all of these on iOS and Android.

9. Set the tone in the classroom

Do it from day one. Make sure each lesson contains at least one fun activity (a song/game/funny video clip etc.). It is best if this is linked to your lesson plan, but it does not have to be; motivation trumps linguistic considerations (I hope OUP do not fire me for this… )! Don’t avoid using your best activities early on for fear of running out of interesting things to do later. If your students come to see you as a fun/creative teacher, this will colour their perception of whatever you do later. Plus, by doing exciting things in class you set a standard for yourself and this will do wonders for your professional development!

10. Have a great first lesson!

Below you can download some back to school activities for your first class (feel free to tweak the activities or play with the order as you see fit). Given the number of things a teacher has to do at the beginning of the academic year, it is comforting to know that at least the Lesson Plan for the first session is out of the way!



Nick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) has been active in ELT for many years as a teacher, examiner, presenter and teacher trainer. He has travelled and given seminars and workshops in many countries all over the world. He has written extensively on Methodology, though he is better known for his ‘Psychology and ELT’ articles in which he draws on insights from such disciplines as Marketing, Management and Social Psychology and which have appeared in numerous newsletters and magazines. His areas of interest include Student Motivation, Learner Independence, Teaching one-to-one, and Humour.

This post is a collaboration between Nick Michelioudakis and Oxford University Press.


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 reads 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 reads 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 the 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 page.


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 reads 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 teacher.


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 to 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 word.


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 text.



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 3 rd 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.