Activities For Improving EFL Reading Skills

Reading is, along with listening, a receptive skill that it heavily weighted when it comes to exam time. Most recognised language qualifications require candidates to read long pieces of text and interpret their meaning.

However, it can sometimes be difficult for teachers to incorporate reading into their classes, especially if you have limited class time. The time-consuming and occasionally arduous nature of reading practice can mean that it gets left to one side or for students to do as homework. This leads to a lower level than could be achieved if more time were dedicated to it.

So in this post I have put together some activities that have helped me to improve my students’ reading level, broken down into 3 categories.

Gist Reading – Skimming text for general meaning and tone.

Scan Reading – Picking out only the specific information they need from a text.

Intensive Reading – Paying attention to all of the information and looking at the text as a whole to infer intention, feelings, etc..

While these may not be the official names for the types of reading, (I haven’t looked at my textbooks lately!), they are pretty much the terms you’ll find on TEFL course.

Gist / Skim Reading

Imagine that the text you’re doing in class is a building, any type of building for now. The first time that your class reads the text, it should only be to determine the text type and the general idea. In other words, they need to know whether it’s a house, a historic building, an office block, a tower with lots of flats, etc.



Knowing the type of text and what it’s likely to be talking about allows students to be ready for the type of vocabulary they might come across, the tone, the style and also be prepared to identify the possible key points in it when they read in more detail.


  • Title Guessing 
  1. When preparing your handouts for the class, omit the title of the text and give them only the text itself. If using a textbook, perhaps cover the title with strategically placed tape.
  2. Give students 1-2 minutes only, depending on the length, to skim the writing and try to identify the main idea. At first, students may find it difficult to skim in such a short time, but make it clear that their eyes need only dance over the words and not understand them completely. Even very low level students will get used to this.
  3. Have them work in pairs to come up with a title of their own for the piece, and then compare with other classmates.
  4. You can tell them the real title of the reading after they have finished comparing, or you could wait until they have read the text more intensively later, getting them to update their original idea before the big reveal!
  • Picture Association
  1. Choose 3 pictures that you feel are appropriate for the topic discussed in the text, but not too similar. Remember that students have only skimmed!
  2. Get your class to decide which one fits best with the reading, and ask them what words they think they read backing this up.
  3. Again, you could tell them the correct answer once this activity is finished, or wait until they have a better idea and can update the answer themselves.
  • Choose The Writer
  1. Write three professions on the board, or you could use pictures that illustrates jobs.
  2. Get students to decide which professional is likely to have written the text, based on the subject of the writing. For example, if the text is about legal issues, you might put pictures of the police, a lawyer and a criminal on the board and ask the class which one they feel is the most suitable.
  3. Just as before, I would usually wait until they can update their answer themselves at the end of the lesson, but you can always tell them now 🙂

These activities might seem a little samey, but the truth is that they are all very simple ideas that you can mix and match! Obviously, only one of these is necessary for a reading lesson, so save the others and you don’t have to repeat the same one next time!

Scan Reading

Imagine the building again. Now that we have the general type and idea of it, we can start zooming in. Looking at how many floors it has, the street number or the company logo on the front.


Being able to identify key pieces of information from the text means that students can accurately answer questions that deal with specific details. Picking out and underlining only information that is relevant to the question. Scanning can be particularly useful for True / False questions.


  • Scavenger Hunt 
  1. Pick a text with lots of little details in it, like phone numbers, addresses, adjectives and dates or times.
  2. Make some questions from those details. A basic example; Which house does Marta live in? Do 5 – 10 of these. You could also make True / False questions.
  3. Give students no more than a few minutes to complete the task. Allowing more time would risk students reading intensively and not scanning over the words, which is not the goal.
  4. After the few minutes, the group with the most correct answers, wins!
  • Key Word Finding
  1. Choose your text, try to make it about one specific topic and not general. For example, an adventure blog about a specific destination, rather than somebody’s life story.
  2. Give students a few minutes to scan through the text and find all of the keywords that relate to the topic. For example; Aeroplane, Beach, Hotel, Excursion.
  3. The pair or group that has the most relevant words when the time limit expires are the winners!
  • Draw The Character

This one is particularly effective with children, but could work with any age group!

  1. Choose a text that describes a person, their appearance and personality.
  2. Give students those few minutes to scan the text, making sure that they know to focus on the information about the person.
  3. Take the text away and get the class to draw the subject of the piece as accurately as they can. They should draw the physical characteristics and try to incorporate things about their personality as well.
  4. Compare the pictures with other groups in the class and decide which one is more accurate.

Intensive Reading

Finally, we need to work the groups intensive reading skills. Go back, one more time, to that building. This time we are looking for how the different parts work together as a whole. On which floors of the tower block different things happen and how it affects the workings of everything else. Or, in a family home, which person has which room and what they do there.



Intensive reading practice helps the group to understand the entire text, and link each part to another. They will improve their ability to deal with specific learning aims and tasks, and also to answer questions about the writer’s intention, feelings, and the narrative of the text.


  • Paragraph / Event Ordering
  1. Choose a text that is suitable for the level of the class, making it challenging but not impossible!
  2. Cut up the paragraphs and give a set to each group or pair.
  3. They must put the paragraphs into the correct order, the first group to do wins.

Alternatively, you could give students a list of key events in the story, jumbled up. This time, they must put the items into chronological order, according to what they read.

  • Spot The Mistake

This requires a bit of work on your behalf before the lesson, but it’s a really good activity for students to do in pairs and occupies quite a lot of the lesson, so you don’t have to prepare too much other material.

  1. Choose a text that you think students might find interesting, always better for class motivation!
  2. In each line of the text, insert a mistake, either in the vocabulary or the grammar, or even the punctuation, depending on what you want the class to focus on.
  3. Each pair or group should read the lines and identify, and then correct, all of the mistakes.
  4. I usually don’t set a time limit for this one. Give the class as much time as they need to finish the activity.
  5. When everybody has finished, bring the group back together and go through the reading line by line to correct the mistakes.
  • Writing / Choosing A Summary
  1. Set students a time limit to read through the text you have chosen. Give them enough time to read through properly and understand the material, it’s necessary for them to understand most of it in order to complete the task.
  2. Give each group or pair enough time to write a summary for the text, including all of the key ideas and topics, but not rewriting the whole thing! Perhaps give them a word limit and get them to turn over the reading so they are not tempted to look!

Alternatively, especially for lower level groups, give them several pre-written summaries and get them to choose the most appropriate. This might require a little more preparation from you!

Putting It All Together

In order to plan a successful reading skills lesson. I use the following procedure, it’s only the bare bones of a lesson plan so that you can plan your own according to your groups!

  1. Introduce lesson aims and objectives to the class, so that they have a clear idea of what they will be practising. Don’t go overboard and teach them what all the technical words are, they’ll get bored!
  2. Use a text that I feel the class will be interested in and is appropriate for their level.
  3. Do one each of the Gist, Scan, and Intensive Reading activities, in that order. Generally, with the same text.
  4. With any time left at the end of the lesson, you could do one of the following.

Extensive Reading – This is the type of reading that is difficult to practise in class. Unlike Intensive Reading, it involves reading for pleasure and usually means books, magazines and longer texts. Something that the students must practise at home. With time at the end of class, you could emphasise this and encourage them to read more as homework.

Recommendations – Get the class to recommend a book or any other type of text that have enjoyed. They should briefly describe the synopsis, why they like it and perhaps their favourite character.

Did you find these activities useful? Do you have any to add? Let me know in the comments at the bottom!

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