15 post-reading activities

The following board contains a series of activities that the students can choose to do after reading a novel or a short story. Students take on a number of roles, such as detective, journalist, designer or disc jockey, to work on a particular area. When used as a whole group, with the teacher assigning all the roles to different students in the group, the result will be a creative, in-depth study that analyses the narrative text from multiple perspectives.

post-reading activities


The task board presents the main idea for each role, and details will be needed depending on the teaching context and the level of the students, including the amount of scaffolding that may be needed. The board does allow for differentiation, taking different interests and levels of difficulty into account. While some tasks can be carried out independently, others may require structured cooperative work in pairs or larger teams. In more homogeneous settings, roles could also be assigned numbers or colours according to their level of difficulty so that students can choose to focus on one task or engage in two or three to get the same points.

Combine these activities with this book report to check comprehension right after reading!


A book report


Developing learner autonomy: a homework choice board


Narrative beginnings


Developing learner autonomy: a homework choice board

Apart from traditional homework tasks based on lessons delivered in the classroom, there is still a myriad of activities students can do by themselves to practise their English, learn to work independently, and take responsibility for their own learning. Learner autonomy is in fact one of the most important things we can promote if we really want to get our students ready for the ongoing, life-long language learning endeavour.

The following homework choice board, intended for students at B1 level and above, suggests 16 tasks to practise all four skills as well as grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation:

  • Students can choose the tasks based on their personal interests, or areas they feel they need more work on, which should result in extra motivation.
  • In the process of choosing an activity, students will be taking into account the skills and language items that are being practised in class, but also what is relevant to them, especially when they can connect the task with their own life.
  • The activities in the board are also flexible as far as proficiency level is concerned, which means that students can work at their own performance level.
  • A few tasks have been designed so that they can be used later in class, resulting in excellent materials based on students’ interests which can be introduced in different lessons later in the year.



Although the tasks here have been selected so they are easy to keep track of, holding students accountable for their work, this should ideally be another step in helping students develop their learner independence skills. How would you use this board in your own student tracking system? How would you assess each of these tasks?

This post won the British Council’s TeachingEnglish Blog of the Month Award for October 2018.


Inside the mind of a successful language learner

A few months ago I travelled to Finland with a group of students as part of an exchange programme my school organises every other year. English is usually the language of communication among students in this type of programme. They may practise some Spanish when they visit us, and proficiency levels will vary, but at the end of the day the language most of them feel most comfortable with for communicative purposes is English. This time, however, my students soon drew my attention to one of the Finnish students who spoke mainly in Spanish, impressed both by his language skills and the speed with which he had reached that proficiency level: barely over a year and his Spanish already at a B1+/B2 level.

Admittedly, Joona Andersson is an 18-year-old secondary school student with a special gift for learning in general, and languages in particular, but after speaking to him and some of his teachers I couldn’t but wonder if there was something we could learn from his otherwise exceptional experience — and ability — that could still be applicable to other language learners. While it’s true that the learning process for him has been extraordinarily fast and efficient for a number of reasons, are there any specific motivations, activities or experiences that could be used by other students and which could help them boost their language learning skills?

1. Motivation

Joona not only agreed to be interviewed but was enthusiastic about the idea of being able to reflect on his own learning. And being a conscious learner comes, to a large extent, as a result of one’s motivation to learn:


“If someone asked me for advice on learning languages, I’d tell them to find something that motivates them to learn, something that gives them a reason to study the language. If you are not motivated to learn, it will be a lot more difficult to make yourself study often enough. You’ll also be less likely to really learn and understand anything if you don’t think it’s important in any way. If you are motivated, however, getting yourself to study won’t be a problem and you may even enjoy the process.”

He added:

“My schooling provided me with books I could use to learn more but I studied a lot more than was necessary. I believe that the work I did at home made all the difference since there are people my age who have studied the same amount of courses and passed them with great grades but still aren’t able to speak the language very well.”

This has worked for him with English and Spanish, and although he has studied Swedish as well, it “never really interested me.”

2. Immersion

So how did Joona use that extra motivation?

“I realized that immersion was the key to learning a language quickly […] I noticed that


with the help of the internet it was possible and very easy. So I started watching videos and reading texts about different topics in Spanish. Watching videos was hard at first and I only recognized basic words and expressions, but after a while I got used to it and started to understand more and more. This combined with all the vocabulary from the texts I was reading and the grammar I learned from various books and websites helped me get fluent in Spanish faster than I would’ve believed. Every time I would come across an unfamiliar word or expression I would translate it and then memorize it.”

Hobbies and personal interests also seem to play a major role:

“Music is also a big part of my everyday life. I spend at least two hours a day listening to music, usually at the gym while I work out. I think that has also helped me to learn languages, especially Spanish because I love Latin music and that’s almost everything I listen to nowadays.”

3. Seeking opportunities to interact with speakers of the language

In today’s high-tech world, it shouldn’t be that difficult to build connections and keep up relationships no matter the distance, provided you are offered the right opportunities. But this, again, requires a high degree of personal commitment. Joona says one of the things that has helped him with the foreign languages he speaks has a lot to do with “the foreign exchange students who I became very good friends with. I talk to them daily, and most of them never learned Finnish, which means I get a lot of practice in other languages.” An immediate implication is the need for schools and teachers to foster this type of relationships through exchange or e-pal projects, for instance.

4. Pronunciation


Interestingly, for Joona pronunciation is key in learning a language: “Pronunciation not only makes you sound better when you use the language but also helps with listening comprehension. If you only think about words as they are written and don’t know how to pronounce them, it’s likely that you won’t recognize the words when used by native speakers.”

Even in English, a language he feels very comfortable with, “there are times when I mess up the pronunciation of a word or speak incorrectly. I know that it’s not a big deal and you shouldn’t worry about those things too much but it is something that really bothers me personally. So I need more practice with pronunciation.

5. Thinking out loud and assessing your needs

“There’s one more thing I do that has definitely helped me to get faster at responding in other languages and improved my pronunciation. I like to think out loud and I do this (or at least try to) in the language I’m trying to learn. I can’t recommend this enough. It’s a really useful way to know what you can say in your target language and what you need more practice with. Let’s say you’re going to cook something, for example, and you’re thinking about what you need to buy and what you need to do in order to prepare something to eat. Why not think about those things in the language you’re studying? If you can’t do it, you know what you need to work on.”

Holding students accountable

When working in teams, holding students accountable for their contributions and their own learning is especially crucial. In fact, lack of student accountability is most of the times the reason why some group activities just don’t work, sometimes with some students ending up doing most of the work or talking, others having very few opportunities to say anything or simply have the time to think, and occasionally a few students that may decide to coast on the efforts of others.

Making sure every team member participates equally, no matter their proficiency level or, say, prior knowledge on a given topic, is the first step to make students responsible for their own learning. Cooperative structures such as Think-Pair-Share or Numbered Heads Together are step-by-step interactional strategies that effectively introduce think time with an element of randomness: no one knows who is going to be called on, so everyone working in pairs or in a team needs to make sure they all know what is going on (which may involve giving a specific answer to a question or a series of exercises, explaining what their views are regarding a topic, or sharing ideas based on the background knowledge each student in a team has about a topic.) By providing think time, all the students are given an opportunity to contribute at their own pace and in an equal manner, but it is this positive peer pressure that is established, where students learn to respect, wait, negotiate, listen and share, that will help us hold each and every one of our students accountable and encourage on-task collaborative behaviours.

The first activity in Unit 2 from “Gateway C1” (MacMillan) asks the students to guess the meaning of a series of highlighted words related to trends and fashion, and then decide what their opinion about each statement is. If I’d asked the class, I know there would have been a small group of students doing most of the talking in an orderly fashion, others still following the discussion but not really willing to participate for various reasons, and perhaps a few others completely off-task — a scenario we don’t like to think about. This is how the students worked on that activity instead:

  • Each team was given a sentence to be discussed.
  • Each team member wrote their personal opinion independently on a post-it note.
  • An appointed secretary in each team collected the post-its, read them, and then led a short team discussion.
  • The team wrote a short summary of the opinions to be shared later with the rest of the class.
  • Teams handed in their papers at the end of the activity.


When the time was up, everyone in the room had thought about their sentence, had shared and listened to their classmates’ opinions, and were ready to explain them to the rest of the students in the room after working on a summary.

Structuring tasks in this way can be time-consuming at the beginning, but as the year goes by, and as the students understand what is expected from them, the steps can be simplified. And it really pays off. With larger projects, each team member can be assigned a role (time keeper, materials manager, leader, and so on) or students can be asked to complete a log or a reflection form at the end of the project that shows how the group and each team member worked by analysing the quality of their contributions. All of these can also help to keep our students accountable for what they do. Even more interestingly, this positive peer pressure built within team work will very soon affect not only the rest of the group but the overall classroom management and an atmosphere that is conducive to learning.



Cooperative Learning and the Language Classroom


Avoid Randomness: Three Other Ways of Grouping Students


Three Content-Based Teaching Strategies

Content-based strategies



Question charts

Question charts are excellent tools to help both teachers and students to generate a wide range of questions. You first choose one of the question words on the left column, then a word from the top row, and finally finish the question with a phrase related to the passage you’re reading or the discussion being held.

Question chart 1

Most interestingly, the types of questions will be more and more complex the farther down and to the right you move. The blue colour in the chart below, for instance, would belong to questions that ask students to remember factual information from a text; questions in the yellow boxes demand that students analyse the information, draw their own conclusions, or use their prior knowledge; the green boxes invite students to apply the information from the text to new situations and make predictions; and the brown ones, the most demanding, get them to compare and contrast, classify, express an opinion or create something new based on the information provided.

Question chart 2

For teachers, a question chart like this can help us to make sure we are asking all types of questions, but starting at B1/B1+ levels students can also use it to generate their own questions when working on reading and listening comprehension, or to plan an oral discussion in class by writing a variety of questions related to the topic beforehand or as the speaking task progresses. We would, of course, be selecting just a few combinations out of the ones available. Once it has been modelled by the teacher and the differences between the questions have been pointed out and practised, students can simply be asked to write at least one question for each area in the grid.

One way to make students aware of the differences between the questions in terms of difficulty is to use a point system and gamify the activity at the same time. The students writing the questions , and even the students answering them, would get those points if they get them right (although we really want them to write all sorts of questions and so certain rules need to be established if we don’t want them to be writing the same types of questions just to get the most points!):

Question chart 3

What I really like about charts like this, however, is that it is the students themselves that get to generate the questions, demonstrating comprehension of the written or oral text as they write them, interacting with the text at different levels, or planning a speaking task with all sorts of questions to make it the most engaging. Not only does this improve their comprehension skills and proficiency in English but it develops learner autonomy and it helps to boost their critical thinking skills.

Question Chart.pdf

UPDATE 30/05/21

Svetlana Kandybovich from ELT-CATION has turned this question chart into a really useful digital tool in which students play to earn the most points by writing a wide variety of higher-order questions.

Click the picture below to read the full description!

Avoid randomness: 3 other ways of grouping students.

A few weeks ago I wrote this summary about what an ideal cooperative language classroom would look like and the strengths of adopting such a model. Even if you’re already working within a cooperative learning framework, however, there are times when we may want to change the types of interactions for specific tasks and offer the students more opportunities to communicate with other peers. This applies to other settings, too, where we often need to group students yet randomness does not just seem to be the most effective way to go about it if we want to make sure the students will be working in a rich, diverse environment that enhances learning. Besides, it is tasks like these that help to build rapport among students — and we all know how important this is to create a unique, positive classroom culture.

The following are three grouping strategies that work well and are mainly based on the students’ interests and motivations, but also on their level of proficiency. They can all be used at any point in the lesson to brainstorm ideas or encourage discussion about a topic, work on specific concepts that will be practised later independently, as a response to a reading passage, or even for assessment purposes at the end of a lesson or project.

1. Value Line

After presenting an issue or topic to the whole class, each student decides how they feel about it and stand up to form a rank-ordered line. You can make a scale from 0 to 10, or from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”. As they form the line, the students explain their choices and talk to their partners about their decision so that they know what the best place in the line is for them. Groups are then formed by pulling one student from each side of the line and two students from the middle of the group, who will work together on that specific taskcaptura-de-pantalla-2017-02-21-a-las-19-53-15

There are several types of issues or topics that can be used to form these groups through a value line:

  • A topic for debate: “School uniforms should be compulsory in public schools.”
  • To complete the KNOW step of a K-W-L chart and have the students share background information.
  • A reaction to some text you’ve read or a video you’ve watched. In the short story “All Summer in a Day”, for example, the students made a value line expressing their opinion about whether the main character should become friends with the rest of her schoolmates or not. The members of each of the groups formed with a value line had different opinions about the problem, which maximised the learning opportunities with highly relevant interactions.
  • If you’re revising for an exam, a more personal prompt such as “I am concerned about the exam next…” is also a good option. Groups will then be made up of students with different attitudes and feelings towards it.
  • Even if you want to revise the difference between, say, the present perfect and the past simple, the students can form a value line based on statements such as “I know the difference between the present perfect and the past simple and I can use these tenses with few errors.” And after revising, you may even want to use this to present some new content and practise it in the same groups.

2. Corners

The same types of topics, statements and activities can be used in Corners. Here the teacher plans four different corners in the classroom which could typically belong to “Strongly Agree” – “Agree” – “Disagree” – “Strongly Disagree”, but they could also be content-specific: “Which is your favourite film genre?” (thriller, comedy, drama, action), or “Which sport do you like most?” (baseball, basketball, tennis, cycling). The students go to the corner they feel most comfortable with after the teacher presents the problem, they take some time to discuss the reasons why they are there with the rest of the students that chose the same corner, and finally provide some feedback to the rest of the class as a starting point. Groups are then formed by pulling one student from each corner.captura-de-pantalla-2017-02-21-a-las-19-53-12

3. Inside-Outside Circles

In Inside-Outside Circles the class is split in two halves: one group makes a circle that faces outwards towards the other students, and the other group stands outside in a wider circle so that the students end up facing each other. Once a topic or issue is presented, the students are given a set amount of time to discuss it with the student facing them; when the time is up, the students rotate clockwise and continue the discussion with the rest of the classmates.


This is a much more flexible grouping strategy and can be used for short exchanges of ideas or more guided interviews or questionnaires. For instance, the students working on this project on habits and routines first gathered information using this technique before reporting the data collected back to their teams and finally writing a report based on this.

I like using Inside-Outside Circles for students to discuss ideas before writing an expository or persuasive essay so that they can collect different ideas and perspectives about a particular topic and have them ready when they get down to writing. By lowering the pressure and providing the students with sufficient tools and information to get started, both the writing process and the final product are bound to result in a far more engaging and meaningful experience!


Cooperative Learning and the Language Classroom


Three Content-Based Teaching Strategies

Content-based strategies

Cooperative learning and the language classroom

I admit I sometimes feel jealous when I read other language teaching blogs I follow (most of them, actually): one-to-one settings, diligent adult students who choose to be in the classroom, or small groups at language schools where grouping students for a variety of tasks does not seem to be a problem and language appears to flow naturally and simultaneously. Yes, I know – those teachers have many years of teaching under their belt and with a good repertoire of classroom management strategies! I don’t even know if I could succeed in any of those settings, to be honest.

I belong to the large mixed-ability classroom, where a group of 26 students is considered a luxury one gets to see once in a blue moon and 30 is the norm. I belong to compulsory education and the teenage years, motivating the all too often unmotivated, transforming the infectious energy into meaningful learning, teaching after a tough Maths exam or a long passive lecture. And when it comes to language teaching, beyond basic classroom management, it is the type and quality of interactions and contributions in my classes that I’m most concerned about.

One of the challenges in mixed-ability and/or multi-level groups, for example, is that some students sometimes become over-dominant at the expense of quieter or weaker students who are only occasionally given the chance to participate equally and at their own performance level. Adopting a cooperative learning framework can help to respond to some of these problems by structuring the teaching-learning process through flexible groupings with the aim of boosting language learning through well-defined dynamic classroom interactions.

The first step consists of designing effective cooperative teams. Based on the students’ proficiency level, heterogeneous groups of four are formed at the beginning of the school year including, to the extent possible, high, middle and low achievers, both sexes, and students with different interests and motivations. Once the teams are set up, both the cooperative setting and the specific strategies we use will be characterised by all or most of the following:

1. Everybody working at the same time!

When working cooperatively, every single student in the class is working at the same time, which means more on-task time for them and more interaction going on. There is no one student doing most of the talking, or no quieter student struggling with participation. Take, for instance, a popular cooperative learning strategy such as Numbered Heads Together:

Numbered Heads Together

  • Students count off 4s (or they may be assigned a number for the whole term or year.)
  • Teams discuss a teacher-generated question or work on an activity until all members can answer it.
  • The teacher calls a number 1-4: only those students with the number called can answer.

Because the students do not know who is going to be called, they all need to make sure they can all answer the question or activity, and that they have listened to each other.


2. Less teacher talk, more student talk.

Who has not struggled to some extent with limiting teacher talk or allowing for sufficient thinking time at some point in their career? Cooperative learning strategies put the students at the very centre of the learning process and provide opportunities for quality thinking time while practising the target language.

3. Individual accountability.

Unlike informally assigned groups, where very often some students do all the work while others do little or even none for various reasons, the strategies used in the cooperative classroom are structured so that no student can coast on the efforts of others. Every student in a cooperative team is responsible for his/her own contributions to the group and learning gains. The students engaged in Think-Pair-Share, for example, need to rely on each other to carry out the task:


  • The students work individually on a question or activity before pairing up.
  • Pair shares responses and reaches a consensus.
  • Pairs share with the class.
    (Think-Pair-Square is an alternative strategy in which pairs check with the group of 4 before reporting back to the rest of the class.)

4. Equal participation.

All the students become involved in the learning process no matter their language level. Indeed, each student is encouraged to make unique contributions based on their interests and motivations, which will at the same time assist in developing interpersonal skills that can benefit communication with others. In Roundtable, it is the addition of the students’ contributions that will be reported to the whole class:


  • The teacher poses a question/activity.
  • The students take turns to write answers down.
  • It may be sequential, with one paper being passed over, or simultaneous, with four papers going around at the same time.
  • Teacher calls a number 1-4.

5. Sink or swim!

In cooperative teams the success of each member of the group depends on the success of the whole team. Apart from making sure each student does well, this positive interdependence also requires that the students make sure they can understand each other during the task, so communication strategies that allow them to speak and listen for understanding become the most relevant.

Of course, our ultimate goal is to improve the linguistic competence of each and every one of our students, who should be able to read, write, listen and speak independently in a variety of contexts and for multiple purposes. Devoting classroom time to cooperative work, though, will certainly help to promote a rich, communicative and interactive environment based on differentiation and equal participation, an environment in which the students are assessed both individually and as a team as they work together towards the same goal.

It takes time to set up a cooperative classroom that works, and strategies should be introduced little by little, but in my experience it’s not only worth it but a much better way to respond to so many of the challenges we face in the language classroom on a daily basis.

JOHNSON, D.W., JOHNSON, R.T. & HOLUBEC, E.J. (1994): Cooperative Learning in the classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

KAGAN, S. & KAGAN, M. (1994): The Structural Approach: Six keys to cooperative. In S. Sashran (Ed.) Handbook of Cooperative Learning Methods, pp. 115-133. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press

SLAVIN, R.E. (1992): When and why does Cooperative Learning increase achievement? Theoretical and empirical perspective. In R. Hertz-Lazarowitz and N. Miller (Eds.). Interaction in cooperative groups. The theoretical anatomy of group learning, pp. 145-173. New York: Cambridge University Press

individual -v- group by Sean MacEntee, on Flickr

individual -v- group” (CC BY 2.0) by Sean MacEntee


Avoid Randomness: Three Other Ways of Grouping Students

Team building and collaboration: Up for a challenge? 

Bringing closure to a lesson

Bringing closure to a lesson connects what has just been learnt with both previous and future learning experiences, encourages student reflection on their work and progress, and provides invaluable information for formative assessment. The amount of time spent on lesson lead-ins and the variety of activities and strategies used to this end has often little to do with the time devoted to wrapping up a lesson, missing a meaningful learning opportunity altogether – and one that is notably crucial.

At its very simplest, asking the students a variety of questions on different aspects of the lesson or project, having them predict what the following lesson might be about, or just eliciting one-word responses from them, are all quick effective ways of closing a lesson. When time allows, cooperative strategies such as Think-Pair-Share or Numbered Heads Together will result in far richer responses by having students compare and analyse their thoughts while keeping each of them accountable for their contributions. Stand and Share, for instance, is one strategy I’m particularly fond of for lesson closures:

1. On a slip of paper students write down something they have learnt, or a short personal response to some reading or speaking activity. Focusing on different aspects of a lesson each time you use the strategy will make it the most meaningful.
2. Students stand up and take turns reading their reflections. If a student has something similar, he/she may sit down.
3. Continue until all the students are sitting down.
4. Collect the slips of paper at the end to keep the students accountable during the whole process.

There are times, however, when an activity will take much longer than we had expected, extra support might be needed at some point in the lesson, or you may feel that some impromptu interest raised by the students should be dealt with at that moment. (Your lesson may even be interrupted by institutional announcements, unplanned assemblies, and for a myriad of other reasons – but that rant belongs somewhere else!) Providing a choice of short closure activities that students can complete on their own, even at home, can be a good way to guarantee that some type of closure is done when we run out of time, but it’s also a good resource that allows the students to reflect on different aspects of each lesson using a wider variety of different tasks.

The students choose one of the tasks in the worksheet below that they think best suits one particular lesson and keep a record of the dates. The teacher can then collect these every now and then to check their responses and use that information for future planning, or as the case may be. In addition, the taboo cards and the multiple choice questions written by the students can be collected and be the basis for a great revision session, while the thank-you notes can be distributed perhaps every other week, hopefully contributing to enhancing rapport among classroom members and, ultimately, meaningful learning.ClosureClosure.pdf

Three content-based teaching strategies

Whether you’re teaching content in a CLIL setting, carrying out an inquiry or problem-based project or simply want to check understanding of an expository text such as an article or a news report, these are three of my favourite content-based teaching strategies both due to their simplicity and the effectiveness with which they help structure the learning process. The three strategies share a number of inbuilt characteristics that make them ideal for our purposes:

  • They all tap into the students’ prior knowledge.
  • They set a purpose for learning: by comparing what students know and what they don’t, interest will arise and challenges responded to.
  • A final self-assessment of the task is included, contributing to an effective closure at the end of the lesson or project.
  • They provide students and teachers with a clear framework: everyone knows where they have started and where they are heading at any stage in the lesson or project.
  • They are easy to implement!


Anticipation guide

Writing ten statements about the content to be read and/or discussed and having students guess whether the information is true or false will not only introduce the topic to the students but also check their prior knowledge and create the need to fill an information gap. For it to work well, a few sentences should be about things we know our students will already know.

In its simplest form, anticipation guides can be used with short texts as in the following example:


Anticipation Guide.doc

Anticipation guides, however, work even better with longer units of study, adding both a starting point and a series of guidelines that should reflect key content that we want our students to focus on. In addition, because the statements offer a meaningful context where a need for clarification is created, anticipation guides are also a great tool to pre-teach key vocabulary that the students will need along the project.


Here’s the Answer. What’s the Question?

A more guided version of the above, in this strategy students choose the right answers about the text(s) they are going to work on. Students are first introduced to the topic by having them think of possible questions for each of the answers and use their own knowledge – and their own guesses – to get them involved in the task in a meaningful way. As with anticipation guides, both questions and answers are checked at the end of the reading or listening task for self-assessment purposes.

In the example below, students were introduced to a few extracts from “The Great Gatsby” using this activity:


Here’s the Answer. What’s the Question?.pdf



A K-W-L is a simple three-column graphic organiser: students complete the first one with what they already KNOW about the topic, the second with what they WANT to know about it, and at the end of the task, the third column should reflect what the students have actually LEARNT about it.



The K-W-L chart is, therefore, a much more flexible alternative that will adapt to all kinds of tasks and will promote student-centred instruction. Indeed, even though teachers may guide the W step to focus on specific information, the K-W-L chart works best when it is used as a tool to answer the students’ specific needs related to the content being covered. Yes, it will require some extra planning as the project evolves (sometimes even on the spot!) but, after all, responding to the students’ real needs, interests and motivations is what true teaching is all about, isn’t it?