Planning a reading lesson
Usually this is the first lesson you have to plan when doing a TEFL or CELTA course. This is done, because I would say it is the easiest lesson to plan. Once you have gone through planning and executing a reading lesson, it will be much easier for you to plan any other lesson. It is also a lesson that focuses on a skill: reading and you are focusing more on input (receptive skills: reading and listening) rather than output (productive skills: speaking & writing). The receptive skills are the easiest to teach and not much can go wrong in those lessons.
On this page we will have an in-depth look at planning a (CELTA/ TEFL) reading lesson.
We will cover:
How to start planning a reading lesson?
There are 2 ways to start planning this kind of lesson.
- You have a reading text that you really like and you want to use it with your students. On some courses they will even give you the text, others you will have to find one you like.
- You have a topic you like (or the topic is given to you) and you need to find a reading text to go with it.
Once you have your text, which is the core of your lesson, you can start planning your lesson.
Where can I find a reading text?
The best place to start is in the student books that the school will provide to you. This is a good start because as a beginner teacher, TEFL/CELTA trainee you don’t always know if the text is suitable for the level, it might be too easy or too hard.
Why use the course book text?
Because you might be teaching a different level. You might have an elementary class (A1) or an advanced class (C1) and you can’t use the same text for both classes. For a higher classes (B2/C1) you could take an original text. For lower levels you could also take an original text, but you will have to spend a few hours you don’t have to change the text to fit the level.
You could also have a look at news in levels, which provides the same news article adapted to different levels.
Still, you don’t want to mess up your first observed lesson, so better stick to a text you know is suitable for your level.
- Make sure the text is not too long or too short (depends on how long your lesson is): For a 1 hour lesson you can have a bigger text than for a 45 minute lesson.
- Make sure your text is not too easy or too difficult for your level. If you are not sure see if you can check the level of the text: https://languageresearch.cambridge.org/wordlists/text-inspector
- Usually the course books use bigger text that take more time. You might need to cut some of it.
What’s the structure of a reading lesson?
When doing a CELTA or TEFL course you will be mostly doing PPP (Presentation, Practice, Production) lessons and following a PPP lesson plan. There are other ways of planning a lesson, but don’t worry about them now!
The structure will be:
The individual stages of a reading lesson
Lead-in of a reading lesson
Your lead-in will usually be a warmer, to get the students talking about the topic they will read about. The easiest warmer is giving the students a few questions to talk about with their partner or group. There are other warmers, like games or other things you can do with the students, but you don’t want to mess up your first lesson, so keep it simple and easy.
How long should a lead-in take
Again this depends on the overall length of your lesson. It could be 3 minutes or up to 7. Are you going beyond 7 then you’re not doing it right anymore!
What kind of questions?
Questions related to the topic of the text. Is your text about food, then food questions. But then again food is very broad. Is it about going to a restaurant, their favourite food, exotic food,… The closer the questions are to the text the better. If you need some help creating questions, have a look at my post English discussion questions.
How many questions?
Again it depends on your time and how talkative the students are, but 1 question is not enough and 10 is too many. I would say somewhere around 3 is the sweet spot. You can, when teaching the lesson, stop the students when they are talking too much and you are going over your time, or you can always do some more open class feedback to add some time if they are not very talkative.
To be honest, I don’t always pre-teach vocabulary in my classes, and I know I should do it more, still in a CELTA / TEFL observed reading lesson you need to pre-teach vocabulary!
Which words should I pick?
The ones that you think might be too difficult for your students. But, I think most of them are too difficult. So be selective. Here I mean technically you should only pre-teach vocabulary they need to answer the questions you are going to ask in reading 1 and reading 2. This means you might even have to pre-teach words that are in your question (or just rephrase the question to make it easier). You do NOT need to focus on vocabulary in other parts of the text.
This means if your class is A1 level you should pre-teach words that are higher than A1: A2, B2,..
How many words should I pick?
Again this all depends on the time you have and how many ‘difficult’ words there are. Personally, 3 is not enough and 10 is again too much, so somewhere between 5 and 7 is a good number.
How do I pre-teach vocabulary?
I know it might be boring to do it like everyone else, but the easiest is still a matching exercise where they match the words with the definitions, or match the words with the pictures. Do not do a matching of words with translations in your observed lesson!
If you want to jazz things up and want to make it more kinesthetic, you can cut the pieces of paper out and they can match them like this by moving them around.
You can also get them moving and have the definitions or pictures around the room and they walk around and match everything on the wall.
You can even make them do the pre-teach in pairs straight away and not individually and then pair check.
The first reading stage: Reading 1
The first reading should always be a quick reading where they quickly go through the text and answer some questions, usually some gist questions (practice skimming through a text). Reading for gist should give them a general idea about the text, which makes it easier for them to read for detail in the next reading.
You could also do a reading for specific information and do a quick scanning. Here they don’t really get a good idea of the text, but they look for specific information quickly. They look for a name, a number, an address,… any information you can easily find when reading the text quickly (scanning) and not in too much detail.
How long should reading 1 take?
The reading itself should only take a few minutes, I would say about 3. Still the whole stage will take you longer, because you need to set it up, they need to do a pair check and you need to do class feedback and correct the answers. So, I would say around 7 to 10 minutes is good for a first reading.
How many questions?
Again it all depends on how much time you have, but remember this needs to be a quick reading with quick easy questions, nothing where they really need to understand the details. I would say about 3 questions is a good number, more than 5 is too much.
The second reading stage: Reading 2
Here we are looking at the same text more in depth and checking if the students can understand details of the text, hence a reading for detail is a good second reading. So, most likely you will practice reading for detail, or reading for detailed understanding. Here you need to give the students some more time, to go through the whole text, understand most of it and answer your detailed questions.
How long should it take?
Again, it all depends on how long your lesson is, how many questions you are asking and how challenging the text is for the students. Still, I would say about 10 minutes up to maximum double the time of your reading 1.
How many questions should I ask?
Here you can ask a few more than in reading 1, because you have some more time and you want the students to read the text and find answers in the whole text. So, I would say 5 to 7 is a good number of questions.
What kind of questions should I ask?
Here I would say you have different options:
- Open questions where the students answer the questions by copying parts of the text.
- True false questions: Here they just check if the statement you gave corresponds with what the text said. DO NOT use True, false, not given questions. The not given messes with students minds and can lead to a lot of debate, which means you need to go over the answers again, talk about it and you lose a lot of time. You can use these kinds of questions in a lesson that is not observed.
- Multiple choice questions. Here the students have 3 to 4 options and they need to check the correct answers.
Is it ok to combine all 3?
I would say yes it is ok to combine all 3, but do not do it in an observed lesson. Pick 1 of the 3 and have all questions like that. Not a few true false, some open and some multiple choice. It just gets too messy!
In a good reading lesson, you don’t just read the whole hour, you also do some speaking. It’s good to go from input (reading: receptive skill) to output (speaking: productive skill).
This means you need to have a speaking activity connected to the topic of the text. So, very much like your warmer at the beginning of your lesson the students will talk about the same topic.
What kind of follow up should I have?
The easiest, safest but most boring one is giving the students some more questions to discuss in pairs or groups.
How many questions?
Again it depends on your time, but better too many questions, than not enough. You can always stop the students at a certain moment. Remember the objective is to get them talking about the topic, not to answer all the questions.
What other follow ups can I have?
- You can have a class debate where they talk together about the topic and have an open discussion.
- They can do a small presentation, alone, in pairs or in groups related to the topic:
- An amazing invention
- Their rock band
- The class trip they organised
- Anything that is related to the topic of the text and is fun and engaging.
- A role-play is possible
- Instead of asking the questions in a boring way you can make them play a board game, where they roll the dice and answer the questions on the board.
- You can make them move and do a mingle. A typical mingle is find someone who…
How long should the follow up take?
Like I said many times before it all depends on the time you have available, but I would say somewhere between 10 to 15 minutes.
Error correction stage
This critical stage is usually forgotten or left out by beginner teachers CELTA/ TEFL trainees, still it is a really important stage for the students.
So what should I do?
While the students are talking you should be taking notes on their speaking: the good, the bad and the ugly. As a trainee you will be too busy and focused on other things to record errors during the whole lesson, still in the follow up stage you have more than enough time to listen and find some mistakes.
So, in the follow up, don’t just stand there and do nothing! (like I have seen in many observed lessons) Listen to the students and record some mistakes they make. But, I can’t find any mistakes, then focus on some good language they used, some good amazing expressions someone in class used and you want to show them to the rest of the class. But, my class doesn’t use good expressions, then find things they can upgrade. Especially higher levels: B1, B2, C1 students who say: ‘I like pizza’ (this is A1 vocab): ‘I absolutely love pizza.’ Finally, you can also give them words they didn’t use and where they paraphrased: ‘the place where I go buy my meat’ : ‘the butcher’
How many errors/ good/ upgrade language should I find?
Again depending on your time, I would say between 3 to 5 is a good number to go over.
It’s too difficult for me to find mistakes?
In any group of 10 students who talk for 10 minutes you will find mistakes on:
- Articles : a, the, an, not using an article: I am doctor
- Prepositions: I listen radio, I look it up in the internet
- Collocations: it was very freezing
- Countable/uncountable: We had a lot of homeworks
- Problems with tenses: I living in, Yesterday I work hard,…
- Pronunciation: mispronouncing certain vowel sounds: I saw a /beard/ in the park
How to do this?
You just write the mistakes on the board when the students are talking during their follow up. And when the follow up is finished you show them the mistakes and ask them to correct them as a class feedback. Or if you have some more time, let them first discuss it in pairs, then do an open class feedback and let them give you the answers. If they can’t give you the answer or they give a wrong answer try to help them in the right direction. If that doesn’t work just give them the correct answer.
You can give students some time to record the error correction in their notebook. If they don’t have enough time, you can always tell them to take a picture with their smartphone.
When all this is done your lesson is finished. You can relax and start reflecting on how your lesson went and now it’s time for you to focus on the good, the bad and the ugly.
So let's recap
So let’s review the stages and timing.
- Lead-in 5 minutes
- Pre-teach vocabulary 7 minutes
- Reading 1 7 minutes
- Reading 2 12 minutes
- Follow up 10 minutes
- Error correction 5 minutes
Total time here is 46 minutes, so if you teach a 45 minute lesson you will have to cut somewhere (maybe your error correction, bring it down to 4 minutes). If you teach 1 hr lesson you will have to add some things to make it longer. You can give them more questions in the reading, you can give them more time to do the pre-teach and you can give them more time for the follow up.
You don’t always need to have the correct time, you can have a few minutes less, because usually you go over time anyway.
How do I make sure my timing is right?
The easiest way to check is by doing the exercises yourself and time them. If it takes you 1 minute to do something it will usually take the students 1.5 to 2 times more time: so 1min30 to 2 minutes. If you do this for all exercises you have a good idea how long everything will take.
Don’t forget every lesson stage takes time to set up, give instructions, ask ICQs, do the task, do pair check, and open class feedback/ correction. All that time needs to be included in every stage.
Common pitfalls in a reading lesson
In the 100 or so reading lessons I have observed the most common mistake are:
- The text was too difficult for the students and they could not answer most of the questions
- Students became too frustrated and want to give up
- Teacher had to go over all the answers and explain everything, losing too much time.
- The text was too easy and they answered everything quickly
- Too much time at the end and finishing the lesson before time was up
- Not enough questions in reading 1 or reading 2 and having too much time at the end
- Too much time at the end and finishing the lesson before time was up
- Too many questions in reading 1 and/or 2
- Not enough time to do the follow up and no error correction at all
- The gist questions were not really gist questions
- Not really successfully passing the reading lesson because there were the wrong questions
- It’s not because they were in the book that they are good questions!
- The questions were not in the order of the text: The answer for question 1 was at the end, question 2 in the middle, 3 in the beginning,…
- The answer for question 2 is in the text always between the answer for question 1 and question 3
- Students get too frustrated and give up
- Teacher loses too much time explaining
- Making the students read 2 different texts: 1 for reading 1 and 1 for reading 2
- They should always have the chance to read the same text twice, which will help their understanding of the text.
- Pre-teach vocabulary was not very useful
- The selected words/ phrases were too easy or not really needed to understand the text
- The follow up didn’t have enough questions
- 1 or 2 questions is not enough for students to talk for 10 minutes
- About 1 question per minute is a good start.
- No error correction at the end
- Lost too much time somewhere else and just cut error correction
- Didn’t listen for language in the follow up and had nothing to correct
I think this should cover most of the important information of planning a reading lesson. We will go into detail in other posts about other aspects of planning or executing lessons.
If there is anything not really clear, or you still have some questions, just post them in the comments below.
Good luck planning your first reading lesson, but after reading all this I’m sure you’ll do great!
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Teacher, Trainer, Course Designer
Teaching in English on 4 different continents since 2006.