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12 Student-Pleasing Activities Using Graded Readers

children reading graded readersReading can be a challenge for students learning English. Therefore, starting with graded readers for extensive reading lessons can be a very good option. This way, the student will learn new vocabulary in a meaningful context and improve their language skills. Having an extensive reading program can also help students become independent readers.

A reading program may consist of three stages: pre-reading, while reading and post-reading. Here are some activities that you may find helpful in implementing graded readers in your lesson plans.


1. Word Detective

Before you begin reading any of the graded readers with your class, choose a sentence that can be a message for your students. This can be as simple as ‘Reading Is Fun.’ Find these words inside the books and note down the name of the book and the page that the word is on. Show students the sentence without the words, using only lines.

For example, _ _ _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ / _ _ _.

Ask students to check their book(s), depending on how many graded readers you are going to read in class, and to try to find the words. You can help them by saying that ‘The second word is an auxiliary verb’, or ‘The first one starts with ‘R’.’ They can work in pairs, which will help them to work on their communication and collaboration skills. The students can also gain a general understanding of the book they are going to read. It will be even more fun when they come up with their own sentences.

2. Find the characters

Before you start reading your book, in order to generate curiosity, ask students to go through the pages of the book and search for proper names. How many can they find? Ask them to guess who these people might be. Ask them to take notes of the answers they give. When they finish reading the book, they can then see if they can guess who these characters are.

 3. Guess the title

Show the cover of the book to the students but hide the title. Ask them to guess the title of the book. Talk about the various answers they give and why they gave that answer.

 4. Match the title

Ask students how many types of book genres they know. If they are not ready to answer you can elicit. You can also ask them to search for different literary genres online before your lesson. You can say that Sherlock Holmes Short Stories belongs in the crime and mystery genre, Dracula is a horror story, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a classic fantasy story. They can add more to these examples. Talk about each genre to understand if each of them means the same to all. Write some examples of different genres on the board then write the titles of the graded readers that you are going to read and ask them to match with the genres. They need to try to guess the genre of the book just by looking at the title. After reading, you can discuss if they are right.

While reading

5. Take a selfie

When your students start reading their books, ask them to take a selfie while they are reading. They can get as creative as they want. Then, create a class, or even a school, exhibition and share the photos for everyone to see. Seeing other people’s photos in which they enjoy reading may be inspiring for those who do not find reading ‘cool enough’. You can also share these photos on a classroom blog or school website. If you are teaching online, every student can use the photo they take as their profile picture.

6. Word Clouds

Choose some words from the next chapter and add them to a word cloud tool online (there are many free online options, here is one example). Add some words that they will encounter in the next chapter and make a word cloud. Ask them to guess what might happen next. After they finish reading the chapter, they can see if they are right about the story that they come up with by only looking at the words in the word cloud.

 7. Horoscopes

Before moving on with the next chapter, students can write horoscopes for each character in the book and predict what will happen next. Since the students may not be familiar with horoscopes, you may need to clarify what a horoscope is first. You can share some examples of horoscopes that you can easily find online. They can think about what sign these characters are. You can divide the classroom into teams and give each team one character to write horoscopes for. They can then compare their tasks and, after reading the chapter, you can have a class discussion on which team is the closest to the correct answer.

 8. Tell me what you see

This activity is for the books that have illustrations in them. Ask students to work in pairs. One student will explain what they can see in the illustration for the chapter you are about to read, and the other will try to draw a picture while listening. They then try to guess what that chapter is about.


9. Write a play

After students finish reading the reader, in groups they can write a playscript of the book and act it for their classmates. They can revise the grammar structures you have been working on and add new characters if they want.

10. Act a scene

After you finish reading the book as a class, you can discuss what the best part was for the students and why. Ask the students to work in pairs or groups and choose a scene from the chapters and act that scene. You can differentiate this activity by asking the students to act the scene without speaking. They will only use gestures.

11. Pose the scene

For this activity, you need to describe some important scenes very briefly from the book on small pieces of paper. Divide the classroom into as many teams as the number of scenes you have written. Put the papers in a bag and ask each group to choose one. The students should decide quickly how to organize for the scene and pose like it as if somebody is taking a photo of it. The others will guess which scene it is and what happened. When everybody finishes posing, they can decide the order of the different scenes.

12. Roleplay

Ask students to write a brief description of one of the characters. You can also nominate a character to each student. The description may include age, occupation, Zodiac sign, hometown and anything that you think is relevant. Students then work in pairs and ask and answer questions according to the role-play cards. You can turn this into a kind of a gala event where all the characters meet each other and talk. There may be 2 or 3 of the same characters, which may add more fun!

Bonus! – Your students are more likely to develop a habit of reading when they see you reading. Read along with your students, carry the book that you are currently reading, talk about it with your students and you will see this will have a positive impact on them.


Aysu Şimşek is a passionate advocate of continuing professional development. After graduating from Istanbul University with joint honours in American Culture and Literature with Theatre Criticism and Dramaturgy, she embarked on her own teaching career. She has a distinctive experience with young learners, and now in her role with Oxford University Press, Aysu meets and supports teachers from across Turkey and is an active member of a global community of dedicated educationalists. She has delivered training sessions for different types of ELT events, and co-written articles for Modern English Teacher magazine and TEA Online Magazine.

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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.

Note: allowing your child to choose the story helps spark their interest and make them curious. Put simply, ‘Choice’ makes your child feel motivated and empowered.

1) Talk about the front cover (with a new story)

Have your child look at the front cover. Say things like this:

Can you read the title?

What can you see in the picture?

What do you think this story will be about?

Let’s start reading and see if you’re right.

Note: the important thing is for your child to imagine what will happen in the story, not for them to give the ‘correct’ answer!

2) Take it in turns to read (with a new story)

Say, ‘Can you read the start of the story?’ Let your child read. Let them decode the pronunciation as they go. If they have problems, say ‘Use phonics to work it out.’ Point to the beginning sound, the middle sound, the end sound, and prompt if necessary. If a word is non-decodable, point this out, and model the correct pronunciation of the whole word.

Then say, ‘Shall I read now?’ (Read in a dramatic voice while your child follows the words with a finger.)

Note: with reluctant readers, start reading yourself and ask your child to read one line on the first page, two lines on the next page, and so on.  With a child is skilled at reading, this process will probably not be necessary.

3) What happens next? (with a new story)

While you are (or your child is) reading, stop at the end of a page and ask: ‘So what do you think happens next in the story?’ before you turn to the next page. Let your child give their ideas. Give positive feedback. ‘Really? That’s a good idea.’ Then say, ‘Shall we see what really happens next?’ and continue the story.

Note: revisit your child’s guesses later to see which ideas were close to the actual story. When your child guessed closely, point this out, and praise them.

4) Talking about the pictures in the book (with a new story)

Ask your child to look at a picture in the book. Ask, ‘What can you see in this picture?’ To encourage your child to speak at length, ask extra questions like: ‘What’s this on the left/right?’ ‘What can you see at the top/bottom of the picture?’ ‘What’s that in the background? / What’s this in the foreground?’ ‘What do you think happened just before this picture?/What’s going to happen just after it?’

Note: If you like, before you read a story, do a ‘picture walk’. This means asking your child to describe what they think is happening as you go through the book looking only at the pictures. Again, it’s not important for your child to get the ‘correct’ answer. Good readers naturally hypothesize well, poor readers need help (some prompt questions maybe?) and a lot of practice to get good at hypothesizing. While doing a picture walk, check/teach words which your child spots in the pictures that are important in the story.

5) Talking about the whole story (with a story your child has just read)

Once your child finishes reading a story, talk about it together. Ask these questions:

Who is your favourite character in the story? Why?

Which is your favourite part of the story? Why?

Would you like to be in the story? Why?/Why not?

If your child likes drawing, have them draw: their favourite character, their favourite part of the story, them in the story. Once they finish, stick the drawing on the wall with Blu-tack, on a bulletin board with drawing pins, or on the fridge with fridge magnets. Ask your child to point to things in their drawing and describe these to you.


Please visit our Learn at Home page for more resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home.

Learn at Home


Bill Bowler is a founder series editor, with his wife, Sue Parminter, of Dominoes Graded Readers (OUP). He has authored many readers himself. He has also visited many countries as a teacher trainer, sharing ideas about Extensive Reading. Bill has contributed to the book Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (OUP). Two of his Dominoes adaptations (The Little Match Girl and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) were Language Learner Literature Award Finalists. Born in London, he now lives in Spain.

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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’.


Easter resources for your EFL classroom

Spring has arrived here in Oxford, and Easter is on the horizon – it’s a perfect time of year to bring some seasonal activities and worksheets into your language learning classroom. Our former contributors Vanessa Esteves, Julietta Schoenmann, and Christopher Graham have come up with a range of Easter-themed lessons for young learners and secondary level learners through to adult learners that we hope you’ll enjoy.

Young Learner Resources:

Lesson plan

Easter Card Template

Secondary Resources:

Lesson plan


Adult Resources:

Lesson plan

25 Million Dollar Easter Egg – Reading Text


For more free teaching resources like these, head over to the Oxford Teacher’s Club! It’s free to register, and it’ll give you access to over 20,000 lesson plans, worksheets, and activities. Happy Easter!


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.