Here is a 'best of' collection of ESL reading activities which have been successfully used by many English teachers. If you interested in whether it's better to use graded or authentic reading texts. Or in the difference between intensive and extensive reading practice. Or whether ESL students should read silently or aloud - then read Teaching Reading to ESL Students
Back to ESL reading activities. Unless mentioned in the explanations below, all these activities are suitable for teaching English to adults and teaching English to children - although they may need adapting a little. I highly recommend you use pre-reading, while reading and post-reading tasks.
Guessing the story from chapter headings, or random word within the story, or predicting what will happen from the pictures.
Ordering sentences from the story. Choose random sentences which may- or should - contain new vocabulary. This will give you an opportunity to pre-teach the vocabulary, and give the students an immediate opportunity to receive follow-up practice and reinforcement. The sentences should not be written in the order they appear in the story/reader. The students must place the sentences in what they think is the correct order.
When they actually come to read the story or passage of text, they can check to see if they had chosen the correct order. If not the students can put the sentences in order after reading.
Playing With Words Choose either new or difficult vocabulary from the story. Pre-teach it, or review it in questions with the students. Then play with the new words. ESL reading activities provide an excellent opportunity for teaching English vocabulary.
Games such as tic-tac-toe [noughts and crosses] work well. You can ask questions with the words chosen, or the students can make sentences with the chosen words. Be careful with this if the vocabulary is really new, as making sentences is quite hard without exposure to the word in its natural environment.
Another option is to put the new vocabulary into interesting questions. Then have the students ask you the questions, giving you the opportunity to model answers for them. Then put the students into pairs to ask and answer the questions. Then ask for feedback: "Fiona, what did Tom say?"
Questions are the most commonly set ESL reading activity. Usually comprehension questions based on the text. I recommend no more than two or three comprehension questions. Most coursebooks provide these, but you can easily write your own if necessary. A lot of comprehension questions is counterproductive, taking time away from more profitable activities.
In addition to a couple of comprehension questions, it is practice to add a conversation type question that is relevant for the students. For example: how they would deal with a similar situation.
Ordering Activities As mentioned in the pre-reading activities, students can be asked to order a set of sentences, or events from the story. Or ordering the sequence of advice, or instructions in a non-fiction text.
Choosing Titles from a list of possibilities can show whether the students have understood the overall theme of the text. The titles should be worded in such a way as to make the students think about the overall meaning. One of the titles could focus only on one paragraph, for instance.
Finding Information is one of the more common ESL reading activities. Really, this just means asking questions - as was discussed above. Here, however, the students are scanning for particular facts. Tell the student that you are only interested in them finding this particular information quickly. A more intensive reading of the text can take place after, if you wish.
Making Questions One of the simplest ESL reading activities, providing the text contains enough numbers, prices, dates or any other numerical data. Write the numbers that appear in the text on the board, or in a photocopy. Ask them to write - &/or say - the question that the number is the answer to. This is suitable for all apart from young children.
Role Plays If the text is in the form of a dialogue the students can act out the parts. This is especially effective if the story - or part of it - is a strip-cartoon. In other texts students can be given roles based on characters in the story. Or, in the case on non-fiction, roles related to the situation of the text.
Retelling the Story This can be done from the point of view of one of the characters, or from a more impersonal perspective. It can help to list the important verbs from the text in the present tense. The students can then retell the story, changing the verbs into the past tense.
Character Studies This works well when using a class reader. Choose some of the main characters from the story. Create a grid on the board [or photocopy]. Write the names of the chosen characters along the top. Then write personal information down the left hand side. For example: age, interests and hobbies, education, family background, problems in life, ambitions... In pairs or small groups, the students can discuss their answers. When finished it can be interesting or amusing to compare the ideas from the different groups.
Which Character? This also works well when using a class reader. Copy descriptions of characters from the book, blanking out their names. Write the names of many of the characters from the book on the board, or on the photocopy. Students need to match the names and descriptions.
Continue the story This can be done orally first, then as a writing exercise. The writing can be done in the class or as homework. Often it works well to begin the writing in class to make sure the students have the right idea, and then continued for homework.
Treasure Hunt This works well as an occasional activity with children and teenagers, especially if you are lucky enough to have an outside space, or more than one room to use. Prepare some small gifts and hide them well. Then write clues around the room. The clues can lead to the next clue, until the treasure is found. Once or twice a year is probably enough for this kind of game.
Reconstruction of a Text Find a short text and photocopy it. Cut the sentences out and paste them to pieces of card. Give each student a card. They are not allowed to show their text to the other students, but must read it aloud. The group must decide on the order of the sentences. A more difficult version is to have the students memorize their sentences, and put them face down when speaking.