How to Teach ESL
Reading Lesson Plans

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Including texts and interesting articles is an important part of any ESL class, as it exposes the students to authentic texts, provides interesting topics for discussion, and helps them to extend their vocabulary.  Reading lessons can also provide a great springboard for other interesting activites. Here are some guidelines on the essential elements that should be included in reading lessons in order to make the most of the material. You will find a description of each element that needs to be included after the list. At the bottom of the page you will also find some extra hints and tips.

How to Teach ESL
Stages of a Reading Lesson

  1. Warmer - set the context
  2. Pre-teach essential vocabulary
  3. Gist task
  4. First reading
  5. Feedback
  6. Detailed task
  7. Second reading
  8. Feedback
  9. Follow-on Speaking Activity
  10. Extension task

Warmer - Set the Context

It's always possible to tell the students what they will be reading about and then climb straight into the reading. But you don't want to do that. No. Definitely not. You want them to practise a bit of talking first, and get them interested in the subject. Here are some examples of ways you can do this:

  • Give the students a quiz about the subject e.g. for a lesson about how elephants communicate, give them a multiple choice quiz about basic facts about elephants
  • Get the students to tell you anything they know about a subject e.g. if discussing the lastest movie about Abraham Lincoln, ask the students for anything they may already know about him.
  • The students can have a discussion whereby they need to resolve a problem presented in the text e.g. the increase of plastic bottles in a Nature Reserve .... they are on the committee responsible for maintaining the Reserve
  • Give the students some information, so that they have to guess the remainder of the information e.g. you can give the students the title, and they have to guess what the article is about. When teaching about the Goodle Ngram, tell them that Google have digitized 5 million books, and ask them what they would propose to do with the information.

Pre-teach Essential Vocabulary

It's always possible to teach some new vocabulary from the text after the students have read it. This is especially useful for the busy and less prepared teacher.

But it's generally better to teach some vocabulary before they read the text, because then they will have more exposure to the word, will immediately see it, understand it in context, and therefore have a higher chance of remembering it in the long run. Of course it will also help the students to understand the text! When  deciding which words to choose, bear the following in mind:

  • choose words that are appropriate for the students' level
  • don't teach more than 8 words
  • choose words that will help the students to understand the listening

As a follow on task from teaching the vocabulary - if the vocabulary is appropriate, you can get the students to guess what will be in the listening on the basis of the new vocabulary.

Gist Task

There are 2 types of reading that you want the students to practise .....

  • skimming - to get the general idea of the text (reading for gist)
  • scanning - to get specific information from the text (reading for detail)

The first time the students read a text, they will be doing it for gist. Before they start reading, do the following:

  • give the students 2 or 3 general questions which will check their overall comprehension of the text
  • give them a specific timescale, so they know that they have to read it fairly quickly without stopping to check the detail
  • give them the text ONLY when they have to read it, otherwise they will start to read it while you are talking to them
  • some possible questions can include ..... the students drawing illustrations of the story, the teacher preparing illustrations which the students have to put in the correct order, choosing an appropriate title, choosing the correct summary, simply answering straight forward questions

First Reading

The students need to read through the text in the allocated time given. As an alternative to getting the students to read through the text, you can do the following:

  • read the text to them (this will help mix up the skills in the lesson by adding listening)
  • give the students the text, but leave out every 10th word (or 9th, or 8th, depending which works better - make sure it's not too difficult), which the students have to fill in as they go along. Obviously check they have the correct answers before getting them to read the text for the second time e.g.

A baby girl in the US born 1)_________ HIV seems to have been cured after very early treatment 2)__________ standard drug therapy, doctors say.

The Mississippi child 3)___________ now two-and-a-half years old and has 4)_________ off medication for about a year with no signs 5)__________ infection.

More testing needs to be done to see 6)________ the treatment - given within hours of birth - would 7)_______ for others. (


After they have finished reading, get them to give feedback on the answer. This can be done either straight back to the teacher as individuals for smaller classes, or they can discuss the answers in pairs or small groups (in larger classes) before feeding back to the teacher.

Reading for Detail

The students now need to read the text for a second time, but this time looking for more specific detail and information. Give the students the questions in written form (either written on a hand out, or written on the board). Once again, give them a specific timescale, which should be longer this time. Questions can come in the following form:

  • normal questions
  • true/false questions
  • multiple choice questions
  • cut up the article and get the students to put it back in the correct order (if you want to do this, you have to leave out the gist reading)
  • information share - give different parts of the article to different students, and get them to feedback the information they have (for this one you also have to leave out gist reading)
  • giving titles to each paragraph of the text, or matching headings to the paragraphs

For more advanced classes, you can also get them to underline some of the words that they don't know as they read through it again. You can then go through these words with them once you have completed the reading task - however, don't feel obliged to go through ALL the words if there are too many. You can restrict the number by telling the students they can each ask about one word, or two or three (depending on the size of the class).

Second Reading

The students read through the text again in the time allocated.


Get feedback from the class the same way as before. how to teach ESL

Follow-on Speaking Activity

After the reading, it's a fine idea to give the students some form of activity to do, which is directly linked to the text. Here are some ideas:

  • personalisation - the students have to discuss their own experiences relative to the article e.g. when talking about Emotional Intelligence, the students have to quiz and assess each other
  • roleplay - the students have to act out scenarios which could have happened in the text, or as a result of the text e.g. if discussing Cheap Travel, the students have to roleplay a trip to a Travel Agent
  • discussion/debate - get the students to resolve problems presented in the text e.g. if discussing pollution in the sea, what are their long term proposals to eradicate the problem
TEFL England

Extension Task

The text can also be used as a springboard for further activities apart from reading and speaking:

  • go through more vocabulary from the text (but don't overwhelm the students with too many words)
  • give the students words which they need to collocate with the new vocabulary (you can get some ideas at, or You as the teacher can give them the collocations (give the collocations randomly, and the students have to match them to the correct word), or for homework, the students have to find collocations
  • teach the students new idioms with a words/themes that are somehow linked to the article
  • grammar - get the students to identify a praticular grammar point in the text, which you then use to teach/revise/review a grammar point
  • writing - the students need to write a letter as a response to the text, or summarise the text in their own words, possibly write a conclusion to the text, they could write a story using their new vocabulary and idioms etc etc
  • pronunciation - get the students to read portions of the text out loud
  • for homework the students can do further research on a particular topic e.g. they have to choose a current movie to go and watch with theirr 12 year old cousin, or choose a last minute holiday deal to go on with their friends. If you do this, give the students specific websites to search on, so they don't waste too much time using the search engines.

How to Teach ESL
Other Hints & Tips

  • Choose texts and articles that will be useful and/or interesting for the students
  • Make sure you choose texts that are at the right level for the students. If it's too difficult, it can be very discouraging. But, if the text is difficult, make the questions easier, and make sure the students know that they don't have to understand every word
  • Make sure the definitions of the vocabulary you give are the same as the use of the word in the text
  • don't use tabloid newspapers
  • novels are difficult to use
  • if you are using a coursebook, don't feel constrained by what they've done. Feel free to add, remove or move the elements around to get them in the correct order
  • Very advanced classes do not need to read the text twice (gist and detail), as they will understand most things the first time. They also read very quickly
  • Resources you can use include .... menus, maps, metro maps, directions, textbooks, magazines, news articles, classified ads, book and movie reviews, leaflets, holiday brochures etc etc I personally love the WEEK (published in the UK, although there also appears to be an American version), which summarizes the best media each week, and therefore saves me the job. But these texts are only suitable for Upper-Intermediate and Advanced classes

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