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Activities to Prompt Great Reading Responses to Texts

Responding to texts is a complex cognitive process that requires learners not only to show their understanding of explicit and implicit ideas but also their ability to analyze, evaluate, select, and organize relevant information to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the text. However, many high school ESL learners are struggling with these higher-order reading skills. The stages of response process all ESL learners should be able to carry out autonomously by the end of their final year are the following:

  1. Preparing for reading.

  2. Understanding global meaning.

  3. Looking for detailed information.

  4. Making inferences.

  5. Connecting

  6. Evaluating information.

  7. Synthesis

  8. Using information in a new context.

These stages fall under three major categories:

  1. Explore: preparing for reading, understanding global meaning, looking for detailed information, and making inferences.

  2. Connect with the text: text to self, text to text, text to world.

  3. Go beyond: evaluating, drawing conclusions, synthesis, and using information in a new context.

Most of my grade 11 high school learners struggle with stages 6 and 7: evaluating information and synthesis. The activities requiring students to evaluate, select, and organize relevant information from texts to produce a new, original piece of work always prove to be the most challenging tasks when we start a new school year. Since synthesis and the ability to use information in a new context are important skills to master, I often assign the following activities to my ESL learners to help them improve.

Picture Prompts

Picture prompts are great to help learners to make inferences. You can display different images in your classroom, then, have your learners walk around the room and spend 3 minutes looking at each picture to take note of everything they observe. They should record what they see, what they feel, and what message the picture is trying to convey. Once students have finished the gallery walk activity, they share their impressions with their peers in small teams or with the entire class. If you wish to learn more about using picture walk, read my blog post here: Why Should You Use Picture Walk in Your Secondary ESL Class?

You may also use pictures as writing prompts. Showcase an image on your Smart Board and ask learners to describe what they see. To practice narrative writing, you can simply prompt students to write a short narrative inspired by the picture.

Short Films

The short films THE MASK directed by Adem Akyol and Identity SHORT FILM directed by K. J. Adames are always a big hit in my ESL classes. This activity is perfect for practicing writing response paragraphs. These videos will surely spark great conversations as each has a strong message that will urge students to react to the text. Show either of the videos in class, or ask your students to watch it on their own device if you are remote teaching. After watching the short film, students form small teams to discuss their impressions. Once they debated their ideas, they write their response paragraph as a team.

Independent Reading and Keeping a Reading Journal

I always start the year with independent reading instead of an assigned novel. Once I finished reviewing reading and paragraph writing strategies with my students, I take them to the library to choose a novel to read. The only assignment learners need to carry out while enjoying their first self-selected novel is providing me with 6 response journal entries using the PEEL paragraph writing method. To assist learners in the response process, I also distribute a How-to Guide to Reacting and Responding to Fiction and Nonfiction handout that contains guiding questions they can use for their reading journal.

Rewriting Classic Fairy Tales

One of my favourite creative writing assignments is the Fairy Tales with a Twist project. I love this activity because learners not only need to understand the text, but it also requires them put a spin on the story and create an original piece of work. Students need to zoom in on and evaluate which crucial elements they need in order to provide the reader with a familiar story and which aspects of the text they want to change to rewrite the story from a new perspective.

TV Show Tasting or Book Tasting with a Creative Writing Component

Have you thought about turning your persuasive writing workshop into an activity that also strengthens learners' response to text skills? Learners need to watch the first episode of three or four TV shows and take notes of the main events, characters, and the strengths and weaknesses of the episode. Once they completed this part of the assignment, they need to create a persuasive media product to convince their peers to continue watching the TV series they enjoyed the most. Of course, you could do this project with a novel if you are not comfortable with showing TV shows in class. Instead, you could ask students to read the first chapter of three or four different novels, then, produce a media product that showcases learners' ability to employ persuasive writing techniques.

If you are ready to try these activities in your ESL classes, you might like to check out these ready-to-use resources to cut down on your prep time:


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