Beating the Humdrum

Flicking through your courseboook, have you ever thought the reading texts all seem a little bit….



It’s hard to get teenagers to interact with a text about Prince Charles.

Exam course books with page-long texts sap energy from the classroom and tire students out.

Can students bring their cultural knowledge interact with an anglo-centrically themed text?

Read, underline, read, underline, answer questions… seems a bit repetitive, doesn’t it?

So here are some ways of adding a little zest to a reading text. They are not failsafe and obviously aren’t applicable to every text you come across but I have found them very useful lately to increase student participation in reading and make it a bit more than just the humdrum comprehension.

1. Rewrite

Take a more informative text – exam books are full of them, like on the founders of some juice company or how children spend their free time in the UK. Put students into groups and give them each a part of the text. They then underline five sentences they think express the opinion of the author. Discuss them as a group and check with the teacher. Ask each group to rewrite the part of the text using the 5 sentences (like a writing guide) but stress that it must be rewritten in their opinion! Swap and guess which part of the text the rewritten version comes from.

2. Interviews

Again making use of the numerous ‘informative’ texts or even a true story human interest text, ask your class to make three of four interview questions to interview the class with. To add some support for this activity you might use the same key sentences for opinions activity or perhaps by putting a question box on the board.

what would you say is______/let’s say you were_________, would you?

3. Pictures

This one works well with short-story or human experience texts or just a part of the text. If the text describes one scene, give students a piece of paper, if it’s a sequence of scenes, give them paper with boxes on. One reads the text and the other draws it unfolding. Compare pictures and explain their stories to different groups. Some groups will have understood different vocabulary and at this time they can explain these to each other, the teacher can also intervene to add to this and supply more information.

4. Game shows

Give the text to your class for homework to read: half the class reads the texts and creates 3 questions and the other half only has to read. In class, have the other half of the class write their questions on the board. Those who didn’t make questions now have to read the text one final time and will work in groups of two to answer the questions, like a game show with one point for sufficient detail, two for lots and three for detail plus opinion.

5. Jigsaw summaries with longer texts

Mark a number one each paragraph. Distribute parts of a text like a in jigsaw activity. Students summarise the paragraphs they are given. Having done this, they pass their summaries to the other groups, who read the rest of the text and match them to the correct paragraphs.

6. Character

Take a character from a short story or text from a course book. Make two questions about the character, ambiguous questions which students would have to infer information in the text in order to answer like “would X prefer a night in with friends and pizza or a wild night out on the town?”. Once students have answered these, ask them to make two of their to share with the class.

6 thoughts on “Beating the Humdrum

  1. DaveDodgson says:

    Hi Dale,

    Thanks for sharing these ideas. My students always seem to get into texts more when I ask them to write their own questions and I do something similar to your game show idea, except we usually do the reading and question writing in class. I like to use their questions to put either a quiz or a review activity on our school website as well. 🙂

    I like the picture idea too – anything with drawing works well in my classes!

    Another activity I like to do as a pre-reading exercise (although it does require a little preparation) is to use Wordle to make a jumbled word cloud of the text (or part of the text if it is longer). I then ask the class to identify words they do and don’t know already and to predict content from the text using the words they see. This creates an initial purpose for reading as they generate some sentences (with lower levels) or speculate about the theme of the text (at higher levels) and then read to confirm or modify their ideas.


    • dalecoulter says:

      Hi Dave,

      Give them a vested interest in the text and watch them run with it! It’s so true, isn’t it? I have to say, a lot of the time I’ve have done the reading and question writing in class, but found it to be a bit time-consuming, your thoughts?

      I really like your wordle idea. I’m going to use that in the new year with my teenage classes. Thanks.


      • DaveDodgson says:

        It can be time consuming but it all depends on what is done with it. Sometimes, I have let the question writing run to the end of a lesson and then collected the questions and used them to make a quiz for the start of the next lesson or a webpage for our class wiki. Other times, I have asked each group to write just a couple of questions, perhaps about different sections of the text, which we then pool on the board. Oh, and I also sometimes get them to write questions before reading (based on the title, section headings, pictures, word clouds etc). They then read and try to find the answers.

        Glad you like the wordle preview idea! I’ve found that works really well with the driest of texts like “Mr Brown’s Daily Routine” – they enjoy the piecing the verbs and times/places together and then checking their ideas much more than just reading it and answering the questions. 🙂

      • dalecoulter says:

        That’s exactly it – going beyond reading it and answering the questions, which is so dry and dull. They could give you the instructions they know the routine so well.

        Going to experiment a little with the question formation in class. I had gone off doing it in class a bit after it took up a big chunk of the lesson but you’ve convinced me!


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