Do your ESL students sometimes struggle to understand what they’ve read?
Are you starting to feel guilty every time you use another one of those pre-made comprehension worksheets?
Don’t have time to figure out how to spice things up?
You’re in the right place!
We have five awesome reading comprehension activities for you here, that your students will surely enjoy.
But why do these types of activities in the first place?
The Need for ESL Reading Comprehension Activities
We know why reading is important, right? Not only does reading teach ESL students grammar, word usage and idea expression, but it also enables them to acquire new information about their second language’s culture.
Additionally, reading helps students to see how English is communicated through writing, which is why a good writer is also a good reader.
But reading anything in a second language is never easy. ESL students who are still juggling new vocabulary, grammar rules and even phonics may find reading not only tedious, but also challenging.
Most of the time, students may read an assigned story or text for the mere purpose of “doing” it. Other times, students may have diligently poured over the text—but for one reason or another—completely misunderstood the content.
This is because reading is a complex cognitive process. It involves your student recognizing individual words and putting a string of words together in their relevant context. Depending on the syntactic structure of the sentence and the overall paragraph theme, the semantic of each word may shift to carry on new meanings.
Having reading comprehension activities in the classroom helps students to test their understanding of words in written context, while enabling them to get the most out of their reading assignments.
While you have undoubtedly used the conventional reading comprehension tests to quiz your students, there are ways to make reading comprehension activities effective without relying too much on pencils and papers.
So let’s get rolling with these five activities and make reading a fun classroom task for all!
5 Creative ESL Reading Comprehension Activities Your Students Will Love
1. Picture Quiz: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
When your students finish reading a story, short text or long article, most reading comprehension activities look very similar to the following:
Sarah went to the (beach/park). There, she met a friend who went to (science class /summer camp) two years ago.
You can find free worksheets like this on K12Reader.com and Mr. Nussbaum.com, so you never need to spend time making one on your own.
But, because we want to make everything a bit more colorful and creative, we’re not going to use words and sentences. Instead of giving students two options to choose from or having them fill in the blanks, why not give them a bunch of pictures and do some matching?
If we use the example above, we can have several pictures labeled as A, B, C and D. Picture A can be a beach, Picture B can be a park and so on. Students can then sort through the pictures and write in the correct picture letter in the blank space.
Additionally, you can use connect the dots to connect pictures to its relevant sentences. Feel free to also throw in an irrelevant picture to make the activity a tad more tricky.
2. Sequence: Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together
Use pictures to retell the story and help your students to remember main plot points, characters and events of the text. Here’s how:
To prepare, you’ll need to make a worksheet of a bunch of pictures that are labeled with either numbers or letters. Make sure that there are spaces or lines immediately below the pictures so your students can label the pictures based on what they see. Depending on the level of your students, you can turn the labeling exercise into the perfect drill for practicing spelling and sentence construction.
You’ll also need copies of two stories. Make sure each is single spaced, and printed on a separate piece of paper. Label each story “Story 1” and “Story 2.”
1. Give your students the picture worksheet and talk about what’s happening in each picture.
2. Ask your students to turn over the picture worksheet, and hand out the two stories to read.
3. After students finished reading, have them turn to the back side of the story papers. Without looking at the story, students should cut out the pictures and glue them to the back of the right story in chronological order.
If you need some inspiration on how to create a great picture reading comprehension worksheet, try ESlFlow.com. There are also some interesting picture worksheets on Cal.org that focus specifically on health literacy for ESL adults.
In the end, you’ll probably find (like me) that it’s more fun to find a story online and download images from Google to make your own picture stories.
3. Story Re-creation: It’s Alive!
This is a great activity, especially for your drama lovers. Story re-creation is about reading a text or story and acting it out to other students.
Depending on the level of your students, you can read the story together in class before dividing them into groups for further discussions.
If you want to have students figure out the plot on their own, make sure the group you create has members with different English skill sets. In other words, you don’t want to put all the strong readers in one single group. Spread them out so they can help others to succeed. Then:
1. Go to ESLfast.com or any place to find short stories. Print them out and make copies.
2. Divide students in small groups, and give each group a different story that they’ll need to act out in front of the class.
3. Prepare or have your students prepare a list of short answers/multiple choices/true or false reading comprehension questions to not only engage the audience, but also to evaluate how well the actors capture the events of the story.
4. Then, once students have had enough time to prepare, it’s showtime!
4. Cause and Effect: Who Solves the Mystery?
Cause and effect questions help students to think outside the box and better understand the ripple effect of events. Text materials that have a mysterious plot or a historical background are excellent choices because they require students to understand the context of the mystery, the clues and the characters to fully appreciate the thrills of crime solving.
Give this interesting crime scene a try by reading it together with your students in class. The story also ends with the question: Why isn’t Inspector Coderre satisfied with Ms. Webb’s version of the event?
Divide students in groups and answer this question together:
1. Create a cause and effect map to capture the first part of Ms. Webb’s testimony, which ends right before the sentence, “The inspector was very sympathetic and told her that it was very natural to not want to damage somebody’s property.”
Here is an example of the map based on what we read:
(effect) Ms. Webb could see the study room → it was well-lit (cause).
(cause) Ms. Webb broke a small window → to get into the house. (effect)
It doesn’t matter how we order the cause and effect. The point is to help students notice details in the story and make an effective analysis.
2. Ask the students to identify the part of testimony that made the detective lose his sympathy. Analyze that testimonial section with another cause and effect chart. Do they notice any inconsistency?
3. Discuss student findings as a whole class or in small groups.
5. Following Directions: It’s a Treasure Hunt!
When we think about reading comprehension materials, stories and short stories are usually the top resources that come to our minds. However, ESL teachers can do some hands-on activities to encourage students to read and thrive in a fun environment.
The treasure hunt reading comprehension game does just the trick. To play:
1. Hide different treasures (cards, small balls and beanies) in the classroom or schoolyard.
2. Write a short story and clues that tell where to find each treasure.
3. Divide students in groups and give them a map and a clue sheet to locate the treasure.
The map can be hand drawn or printed. Give unique names to the basic geographic features of the classroom/schoolyard so students can navigate the rain forest or dark caves without getting lost!
The clue sheet should begin with a short text that describes an actual or fictional event in the past. The story should include the name of the characters and vague descriptions of the treasures involved. The rest of the clue sheet should be filled with hints, codes and even secret messages for students to decode.
For example, if you hid a diamond playing card on the third shelf of a bookcase in the corner, you can give the following clue:
It stands in a corner with lots of pages for you to read. The diamond is on the third floor and right under a fairy tale.
The first group that finds their treasure wins the game. But they are always welcome to join other teams to help them find their treasures too!
Have Fun with ESL Reading Comprehension
Sure, there is a time for your students to read for its sheer pleasure. However, reading comprehension activities maximize the benefits of reading by making it more relevant and personal through creative reinforcements.
Let’s help students to personalize the “read information” in applicable and meaningful manners with fun reading comprehension activities.
In the process, you will have opportunities to clarify misunderstandings, discuss points of ambiguities and enhance students’ vocabulary, word usage and interpretation skills.
Who knows, with a few dashes of drama, entertainment and creativity, your ESL students will “read” happily ever after!
Elena is a linguist who enjoys helping ESL teachers and students to find ingenuity beyond the conventional ESL learning process. Besides teaching, Elena is also a freelance content writer who provides engaging and SEO content for business of all niches. Read more about her writing service at My Content Hopper.
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you liked these fun activities, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities.
You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.
Bring English immersion to your classroom!
General instructional activities
To correspond with a typical reading lesson, comprehension strategy instruction can be organized into a three-part framework, with specific activities used before, during, and after reading.
Providing instruction such as the following example allows students to see, learn, and use a variety of comprehension strategies as they read. Note, however, that the framework is a general one and represents an array of strategies. All of the strategies in this framework do not have to be used with every text or in every reading situation.
Before reading, the teacher may:
- Motivate students through activities that may increase their interest (book talks, dramatic readings, or displays of art related to the text), making the text relevant to students in some way.
- Activate students' background knowledge important to the content of the text by discussing what students will read and what they already know about its topic and about the text organization.
Students, with some help from the teacher, may:
- Establish a purpose for reading.
- Identify and discuss difficult words, phrases, and concepts in the text.
- Preview the text (by surveying the title, illustrations, and unusual text structures) to make predictions about its content.
- Think, talk, and write about the topic of the text.
During reading, the teacher may:
- Remind students to use comprehension strategies as they read and to monitor their understanding.
- Ask questions that keep students on track and focus their attention on main ideas and important points in the text.
- Focus attention on parts in a text that require students to make inferences.
- Call on students to summarize key sections or events.
- Encourage students to return to any predictions they have made before reading to see if they are confirmed by the text.
Students, with some help from the teacher, may:
- Determine and summarize important ideas and supportive details.
- Make connections between and among important ideas in the text.
- Integrate new ideas with existing background knowledge.
- Ask themselves questions about the text.
- Sequence events and ideas in the text.
- Offer interpretations of and responses to the text.
- Check understanding by paraphrasing or restating important and/or difficult sentences and paragraphs.
- Visualize characters, settings, or events in a text.
After reading, the teacher may:
- Guide discussion of the reading.
- Ask students to recall and tell in their own words important parts of the text.
- Offer students opportunities to respond to the reading in various ways, including through writing, dramatic play, music, readers' theatre, videos, debate, or pantomime.
Students, with some help from the teacher, may:
- Evaluate and discuss the ideas encountered in the text.
- Apply and extend these ideas to other texts and real life situations.
- Summarize what was read by retelling the main ideas.
- Discuss ideas for further reading.
Activities and procedures for use with narrative texts
The following are some examples of specific procedures that you can use to help students improve their comprehension of narrative texts.
Retelling involves having students orally reconstruct a story that they have read.
Retelling requires students to activate their knowledge of how stories work and apply it to the new reading. As part of retelling, students engage in ordering and summarizing information and in making inferences. The teacher can use retelling as a way to assess how well students comprehend a story, then use this information to help students develop a deeper understanding of what they have read.
The teacher uses explicit instruction, explaining why retelling is useful, modeling the procedure, giving students opportunities to practice, and providing feedback. As the following chart shows, students' retellings should become more detailed as they become better readers.
Types of Retelling
The student can:
- identify and retell the beginning, middle, and end of a story in order.
- describe the setting.
- identify the problem and the resolution of a problem.
More complete retelling
The student can:
- identify and retell events and facts in a sequence.
- make inferences to fill in missing information.
- identify and retell causes of actions or events and their effects.
Most complete retelling
The student can:
- identify and retell a sequence of actions or events.
- make inferences to account for events or actions.
- offer an evaluation of the story.
Story maps are visual representations of the elements that make up a narrative. The purpose of a story map is to help students focus on the important elements of narratives-theme, characters, settings, problems, plot events, and resolution-and on the relationship among those elements.
Story maps to be used with younger students can be very simple-like the one that follows. These maps focus on a single element, such as the sequence of a simple plot.
With older students, the maps can be more complicated, focusing on several elements. As with retellings, the teacher uses explicit instruction to introduce the procedure, explaining why story maps are useful, then modeling the procedure, giving students opportunities to practice, and providing feedback.
Simple Story Map
Story Title: BEGINNING ⇒ MIDDLE ⇒ END (The story starts when-) (After that-) (The story ends-)
Similar to story maps, story frames are visual representations that focus students' attention on the structure of a story and on how the content of the story fits its structure.
Students use story frames as a way to activate their background knowledge of the elements of story structure and thus to organize and learn new information from a story. Simple story frames require students to provide basic information about the sequence of events in a story:
The problem in the story is ______.
This is a problem because ______.
The problem is solved when ______.
In the end ______.
More complex frames might involve having students supply more detailed information by summarizing sequences of actions or events, or providing factual information to explain problems or motivations.
The procedure encourages students to interact with each other, asking questions, seeking clarifications, and sharing evaluations. Again, as with story maps, the procedure can be simplified for use with younger students — it has been used successfully with grade-one students *— or made more sophisticated for use with older students.
And again, as with the other procedures that have been described, the procedure is introduced through explicit instruction, with the teacher first explaining why story frames are useful, then modeling when and where to use them, guiding students through practice opportunities, and providing corrective feedback along the way.
Directed Reading and Thinking Activity (DRTA)2
This procedure focuses on reading as a thinking process. Its intent is to teach children to make predictions throughout reading. Before reading, the teacher asks students to form a purpose for reading and to make predictions about the content of the story to be read.
During reading, the teacher stops students at strategic points in the story to ask students to make additional predictions and to verify, reject, or modify their purposes and predictions.
After reading, the teacher asks students to find and read aloud any part of the text that supports their predictions. Students must use the text to explain their reasoning and to prove the accuracy-or inaccuracy-of their predictions.
Often teachers have students use charts such as the following to record their predictions and information from the text that proves the prediction's accuracy:
|I Predict||Proof from theText|
Activities and procedures for use with expository text
The following are some procedures teachers use to help students improve their comprehension of expository texts.
The purpose of the K-W-L procedures is to help students become good readers by learning to do the things that good readers do. Specifically it helps students learn to activate their background knowledge and to set purposes for reading.
KWL stands for determining What I Know, What I Want to Learn, and reviewing What I Have Learned. The following chart shows the steps in each part of the procedure:
|What I Know||What I Want To Learn||What I Learned|
|Students discuss what they already know about a topic in the text they will be reading. The teacher has students list ideas and concepts related to the topic, then has them organize their ideas into broad categories.||Students discuss what they want to learn from reading the text and write down specific questions that they think may be answered in the text.||After reading the text, students discuss what they learned from it. They next write what they learned and answer s t u d e n t - g e n e r a t e d questions about topics that were addressed in the text.|
As they confirm the information in the Know column of the chart, students relate new information gained from their reading to knowledge they already have. As they generate questions for the Want column, they learn to set their own purposes for reading. Further, because they are reading to answer their own questions, students are more likely actively to monitor their comprehension. By putting information in their own words for the Learned column, students better understand what they know and what they do not know. Proceeding through these steps reinforces students' learning from text, involves them in doing what good readers do, and teaches them about their own reading processes.
Questioning the Author4
The Questioning the Author procedure involves discussion, strategy instruction, and self-explanation. It encourages students to reflect on what the author of a selection is trying to say so as to build a mental representation from that information. Teacher and students work collaboratively, reading to resolve confusion and to understand the meaning of the text.
Focusing on a segment of text, the students respond to teacher questions such as the following:
- What is the author trying to say?
- What does the author mean by this?
- o Why is the author saying this?
- What is the author getting at?
Through modeling, the teacher helps students to understand that some parts of a text can cause confusion and hinder comprehension. The teacher then discusses with students what they can do when comprehension problems occur. Students learn to "grapple" with text by emulating the teacher's questioning techniques.
Reciprocal Teaching is the name for a teaching procedure that is best described as a dialogue between the teacher and students. "Reciprocal" means simply that each person involved in the dialogue acts in response to the others. The dialogue focuses on a segment of a text the group is reading and is structured by the use of four comprehension strategies:
- asking questions,
- clarifying difficult words and ideas,
- summarizing what has been read, and
- predicting what might come next.
The teacher first models and explains how to apply a comprehension strategy, then gradually turns over the activity to the students. As the students become more competent, the teacher requires their participation at increasingly more challenging levels.
Reciprocal Teaching provides students with opportunities to observe the value of applying strategies in their "real" reading. In addition, it allows the teacher to identify problems individual students might have in using strategies and to provide instruction that is geared to individual needs.
Transactional Strategy Instruction6
Transactional Strategy Instruction (TSI) is a procedure that involves teaching students to construct meaning as they read by emulating good readers' use of comprehension strategies.
TSI helps students (1) set goals and plan for reading, (2) use background knowledge and text cues to construct meaning during reading, (3) monitor comprehension, (4) solve problems encountered during reading, and (5) evaluate progress. To accomplish these tasks, students are taught to use a set of reading strategies. The strategies typically include:
- predicting based on prior-knowledge activation,
- generating and asking questions,
- relating background knowledge to text content, and
Instruction occurs in small-group settings, with the strategies used as vehicles to coordinate dialogue about text as students read aloud. In their groups, students are encouraged to relate a text to their background knowledge, to summarize text, to describe any mental images they make during reading, and to predict what might happen next in the text. As students read aloud, they engage in and exchange individual interpretations of and responses to the reading.
The I-Chart Procedure7
The I-Chart Procedure is a technique that promotes critical thinking by encouraging students to apply reading strategies to learn from content-area texts.
The procedure is organized into three phases: Planning, Interacting, Integrating and Evaluating. Students begin the Planning phase by using content-area texts to identify a topic of study. They then generate questions they want to answer as they read. Next, they construct a large chart, similar to the following, on which to record information as they gather it. They complete the Planning phase by collecting materials about the topic.
Teacher Questions and Student Questions
|Topic||1||2||3||4||Other Interesting Facts/Figures||Other Questions|
|Sources||What we know|
In the Interacting phase, students record their background knowledge of the topic, as well as other information they might gather. In addition, the teacher elicits and records relevant student questions. Finally, the students read and discuss, with teacher guidance, the sources of information.
In the final phase, Integrating and Evaluating, students make summaries for each question on the chart, incorporating information they have gathered. Next, they compare their summaries with background knowledge, clarify statements as necessary, and discuss new knowledge they have acquired. Finally, they locate new information to address any unanswered questions and report their findings to the group.
In this procedure, the teacher directs and models the phases of the procedure. Gradually, however, the teacher releases responsibility for managing the procedure to students. The goal is for the reader to satisfactorily apply these comprehension strategies independently.