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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.



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.



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/