Number one for English language teachers

Teaching materials: using readers in the EFL/ESL classroom 1

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Reference material

Advice and suggestions on using readers in the English classroom.


Pre-reading activities

Before students even get a chance to open the book it is important to spark interest in the story and in the whole process of reading. Let students know that you have chosen a book for them to read which you like yourself and you believe they will enjoy too.

  • Guess the story from the cover – Show the cover to the class and elicit as much vocabulary as you can. Students then guess the story and write short summaries of the imaginary plot. These could be kept until you have read the book to see which one was closest to the real story.
  • Jumbled chapter titles – Give strips of paper with the chapter titles on to students in pairs or groups. They decide the best order for the chapters and think about the possible story. Compare the answers with the other groups and then look in the book to see who was closest.
  • Find out about the author – Ask students what they know about the author. Ask students to write some questions about the author that they would like to know the answers to. Then use the internet to search for the answers to the questions. If you don’t have access to the internet for the students, try to print off some information yourself and have it stuck around the room for the students to skim read and try to find the answers. Try typing the name of the author and the title of the book into a search engine and select the most suitable site for the age group or level. You could also try the site www.biography.com which has over 250,000 concise and clear biographies.
  • Photocopy the pictures – If the reader has pictures or photos, enlarge these and use them to familiarize the students with the main characters. Students can read the introduction page or the back of the book to guess who is who.


During reading

These activities should be selected at appropriate stages throughout the book. Some may be suitable after reading the first few chapters and others for the halfway mark. It is important to read enough of the book in the first ‘go’ so as to get students hooked on the story line.

  • Comic strips – Choose a suitable chapter or chapters that can be broken down into chunks to make a comic strip. Encourage students to be creative with the characters and give them an example of the type of language to put in the speech bubbles.
  • Radio plays – In groups students select part of the book to make into a radio play. Students are assigned character roles and one is the narrator. Plays can be recorded and listened back to for future pronunciation work. Encourage students to really get into the roles of the character they are playing. For younger students the tapes of all groups could be listened to and students could vote on the best radio play.
  • News articles – Students become journalists and report on part of the story. Choose a piece of action and students write it up as if it were to be published in a national or local paper. Focus on writing good headlines and prepare the articles in the format of a newspaper story.
  • Video parallels – If the reader you are using in class has a film version use this to spot the differences in the plot between the book and the film. Always start with the book so that students can create their own visual images of the characters. They can compare their imagined characters with those in the film.
  • Horoscopes – At an appropriate stage in the plot development, students write horoscopes for the characters predicting their future. From what they know so far about their personalities, which star sign do they think they are? At a later stage these can be used to compare against the real events of the book. Did the horoscope prediction come true?
  • Character interviews – Students role-play an interview with one of the characters. Take a couple of the main characters ‘out’ of the book and bring them into the classroom! Assign students the roles of the characters and the rest of the class prepare questions they would like to ask them. The students playing the roles of the characters must try to put themselves in the characters’ shoes and give suitable answers. Time and support must be given by the teacher to both the interviewees and the interviewers in order to make this successful. Depending on the book you could imagine that the interviews are taking place in a police station, on a TV chat show or wherever seems appropriate. With a little imagination it can be a lot of fun!


Post-reading activities

When you have finished reading the book some of these activities could be tried:

  • Book reviews – Students write reviews of the book giving it a star rating from one to five. Before doing this it would help to look at the style and language of book reviews.
  • Quiz time – In teams students prepare questions about the book’s plot and character’s. Questions would be used in an inter-team quiz to see which group is the most knowledgeable. This may involve students re-reading parts of the book.
  • Change the ending – In groups students re-write the ending of the book. If it was a happy ending, make it sad and vice versa!
  • Cinema posters – Tell students that the book is now going to be made into a Hollywood blockbuster and they are responsible for creating the poster and casting actors to the roles of the characters.


Using a class library (everybody reading different books)

Choosing a book

Ideally, learners should choose their own books to read. To do this, you will need a class library. If you are lucky, your school will pay for the books. You can get learners to choose titles they think are interesting by looking at a catalogue of readers. If you already have a selection of books let the learners choose from what you have available. One way of doing this is by laying out a series of readers on a table. Let the learners browse and choose one which interests them, just like in a book shop. Another way is by reading aloud the opening paragraphs of a couple of different books. Ask the learners to suggest a title for the book. Then ask them which of the books interests them the most.

When to read
Obviously, learners should be encouraged to read at home, on the bus, in their spare time. However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t read in class as well. One idea that has been used successfully in the United States is called DEAR (Drop Everything And Read). This means setting aside ten or twenty minutes in a class for learners to read their books. This doesn’t have to be scheduled. If a class is getting boring or you want to change the focus, call out “DEAR time” and let everyone have a ten minute reading break. Note: if you decide to have DEAR time, join in yourself and read a book too! This shows that you value reading as much as you expect them to.

More ideas for extensive reading

  1. Set up a series of book reviews. When learners finish a book, ask them to write a short review and give it a star rating (one to five stars, a five star book being excellent). Book reviews should not be book reports. Don’t ask learners to write a summary of the plot, this is usually difficult, takes a lot of time, and also gives away the plot for the others.
  2. Have a mini book fair. Ask learners to make posters related to their favourite book. They should then try to “sell” the book to others in the class.
  3. Play Call my Bluff. Ask one learner to show the cover and title of their book to the rest of the class. Then ask everyone to write a paragraph about what they think is inside the book (including the learner whose book it is). Collect the paragraphs. Read them out loud. Ask the learners to vote for which one they think really reflects the book.
  4. Play Find Someone Who... which is connected to books and reading. For example:

Find someone who...

  • likes crime stories
  • reads in bed
  • has read more than three books this term
  • started a book but didn’t finish it
  • has read a book based on a movie

For more ideas about reading and books, see the Methodology articles on using literature in the classroom.

Further reading

Krashen, Stephen - The Power of Reading; Libraries Unlimited Colorado
Nuttal, Christine - Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language; Macmillan Oxford



What is a reader?

A reader (also called a graded reader) is a book containing simplified language that is used to help you learn the language. Readers come in different levels, from beginners to advanced. If you are learning English, you must choose a reader that is suitable for your level. Readers will often have a list of headwords. The more headwords, the more difficult the book will be.

Why use readers?

Here are four answers to this question:

  1. There is a lot of research that shows that extensive reading improves all aspects of language learning (Krashen, 1993). This includes vocabulary, speaking skills, fluency and writing skills. It also includes reading comprehension of course. In sum, people who read in English learn more English quicker than people who don’t read.
  2. Reading is a way of learning English without classes, without studying and without a teacher. It is perfect for learner independence.
  3. Successful reading leads to more reading. This is what Nuttal (1996) calls the ‘virtuous circle of reading’. The more you read, the better you become at reading. The better you become at reading, the more you want to read. The more you want to read, the more you read. And so on.
  4. Reading can be a negative experience if you don’t understand the majority of what is written. If you are reading extensively, you should not do this with a dictionary. Readers grade the language for the level, so that learners don’t have to run to a dictionary every sentence.

If you decide to use readers with your classes, explain the benefits of reading to your learners before you start.



How do I get started?

There are two ways to use readers. One is to have the class all read the same book, a class set. Another way is to have the class read different books at different times. For this you need a class library. Below you will find ideas for both class sets

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Thank you very much for this helpful article. I will apply it in my sessions. I think it is the best way to deliver the ESL in our classes.

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