Teaching: Classroom Strategies for Active Reading

One of my 2013 resolutions is to stop hoarding away all the things I do in the classroom. Now more than ever, with the fragmentation of the education sector, teachers need to communicate more. So, starting with this post, I plan to release a series of resources, lessons and ideas that have served me well in the classroom.

First up: Active reading. Below is a fairly exhaustive list of strategies for effective classroom reading that I have developed/ adapted over the past year. Please feel free to use and do let me know how you get on. Also, any amendments/ suggestions are most welcome.

Right then. Happy reading!

-Unseen Flirtations

Active Reading Games, Activities and Tips

General reading strategies:

  • Ghost reading (allow anyone to read as and when they feel like it. Only one reader at a time)
  • Reading one sentence at  time
  • Assigning different characters (dialogue) to different readers
  • Having small groups read to eachother, separately (useful for those reluctant to read in larger groups)

(Note: Never be afraid to re-read, stop the reading or re-start, if the reading isn’t powerful enough.)

Walk ‘n’ talk Warm-up

Students are given a page/ section to read and they must walk around the room, taking one step for each word.

  • At full stops, they should stop completely
  • At commas, semi-colons and colons they should change direction
  • At impressive words, they should punch the air and say ‘woo!’
  • At unfamiliar words they could stop and write down, or perhaps note them on the board

Challenge students to get their number of steps exactly right. You may discuss:

  • How many turns were there? What does this suggest about the punctuation used.
  • How often did you stop?
  • How tired are you? (Lots of walking = lots of shorter words)

Reading focuses

Assign different focuses to students before reading, that they can feedback on afterwards. It can be useful for them to annotate their texts in pencil as they read. For eg:

  • Look out for/ highlight distances…
  • Locations…
  • Dates and times…
  • Quantities…
  • Dramatic moments…
  • Opinions…
  • Facts…
  • Hyperbole/ exaggerated language…
  • Similes and metaphors…
  • Shocking events…
  • Colours/ colour imagery…
  • Things to do with weather/ pathetic fallacy
  • Simple sentences…
  • Commas
  • Full stops
  • Adverbs
  • Adjectives
  • Verbs
  • etc

Note: Having a focus (even a ‘boring’ one, like Commas) is instantly engaging and there is always a conclusion that can be drawn. For example, if a paragraph has lots of commas in it, chances are it is overloading the reader with information and detail. Lots of full stops could mean that the writer is trying to keep it simple by using short, simple, sentences.


Skim, Scan, Summarise

Students have a set amount of time to skim read/ scan a select number of pages that they have previously read. Then, with books closed, they have to make a chain of information that summarises those pages in as much detail as possible. Each student can only make one point at a time. The aim is to add detail and build on eachother’s contributions.


Memory test

One person (or group) has a set amount of time to scrutinise one page of text. Then, with books closed, someone else quizzes them on details from that page. (This can be the teacher or another pupil – in pairs). Encourage students to be particular with their questions, eg:

What word does X use to describe Y?
There are three adverbs (ly words) on the page. Name one.
What word beginning with ‘u’ meaning ‘sad’ appears on the page?

Like, Dislike, Justify

Stand in a circle (with books). Students to select phrases (from certain pages – you choose) they like or dislike. When the urge takes them, a student can enter the circle and recite their phrase. They then must choose someone to guess whether they like or dislike the phrase and why.

Action Reading

Like a drinking game, students must carry out an action (you can make it drinking if you want) whenever certain things happen in the book. Eg:

  • Stand up whenever Harry casts a spell
  • Swap places with someone else when Ron says something stupid
  • Stamp your feet whenever Harry goes off on his own
  • Wave both arms whenever Dumbledore says something cryptic.

In groups/ pairs, students can devise their own rules. This is a good means of analysis. Note: this works best once everyone is familiar with the novel and style of writing.


Collective Letter

After reading a section, choose a character to write a collective letter to. The teacher should act as a scribe as students call out lines for the letter. Do not interrupt. Stress the importance of thinking before speaking out, as everything said will be transcribed. When the letter is finished, the class can then make amendments.

It might be an idea to aim for a separate letter for each character by the end of the novel. These letters should aim to give advice to the character and help them overcome problems they are facing.


Next Page Prediction

Stop at the end of a given page (even if it’s mid sentence) and predict what will happen on the next page. Predictions can be related to:

  • Plot (what will happen next in the story)
  • Character (what will happen to a particular character – what will they say/ do)
  • Language (will there be long descriptions? Dialogue?)

Most important word on a page

Students to individually decide on the most important word on a given page, for any reason. Great for close reading and discussion.


Quick searches

Find three adverbs
Find three adjectives
Find a simile or metaphor
Find a question
Find an interesting word beginning with a particular letter of the alphabet
Find three examples of impressive vocabulary


Five Word Summary

After reading a section/ page, students to think of five words to summarise. Encourage them to be as free as they wish with their words. Eg:

  • words that describe their own feelings
  • words that summarise the plot
  • words that relate to specific events
  • words that relate to specific characters

Chapter graphs

Supply a blank graph. Along the X axis is Time (which could be the whole novel, or a selection of chapters). Students are then to put whatever they want along the Y axis. Eg:

  • How brave a character is
  • Level of danger
  • Level of romance
  • How foolish or irresponsible a character is
  • How interesting the plot is
  • How exciting the novel is

Graphs can then be discussed and displayed.

Thinking hats:

Edward de Bono’s ‘Thinking Hats‘ can be an effective means of encouraging alternative interpretation. It can be useful/ interesting to give students (or groups of students) a different thinking hat to approach the text from. After reading an extract/ chapter, students can feedback (individually or in groups) as to their main conclusions from their given perspective:

Red thinking

Intuition, gut feelings, hunches

What is your hunch about the writer’s viewpoint on initial reading? What view is given?

Blue thinking

Overview, process

What is the overall viewpoint presented to the reader? What is the overall tone of the piece?

Black thinking

Judgement, caution, disadvantages

Identify negative views. Where and how are they expressed?

Yellow thinking

Optimism, positivity, advantages

What advantages are mentioned / positive ideas about the plot/ characters?

Pink thinking

Facts, figures, information, data

What details do we know for certain from the text?

Green thinking

Creativity, alternatives, possibilities

Are different possibilities mentioned? Does the writer try to consider different possibilities and approaches?

Best Word on the Page

Everyone has to choose the best word (or phrase) on the page and justify why, for any reason.


Want, Feel, Need?

Focus on a particular character and decide what they want, feel and need. Groups can be given different characters that they need to decide a Want, Feel, Need for, justifying with evidence.

Object debate

Select three important objects from the novel and ask the class to stand by whichever one they think is most important. For example in Lord of the Flies, you could select the conch, the knife and Piggy’s glasses. Students must justify their choice and discuss with others.


Mood tracking (interruptions)

  • As you read, ask the students to track the mood and interrupt whenever they think it changes. Students must justify their responses as they go.
  • Can be done after reading with a particular chapter/ passage, where students are tasked with plotting all the mood changes.

Vocabulary carousel

Provide 3 – 5 nouns to 3 – 5 groups. For example, in ‘Trash’ by Andy Mulligan:

  • Plastic bag
  • Rubbish picker
  • Behala
  • Dumpsite

Write each noun on a piece of paper. Groups to brainstorm adjectives around it. Pass on to next group in a carousel, adding new words and synonyms for existing words.


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