Using Reading Races in EAP/Test Prep Classes

What’s the first image that comes to mind when you hear “Academic Reading?” Personally, I have flashbacks from my undergrad days lugging around the 1,000 page plus Norton Anthology of English Literature.

When I ask my students, they typically use words like “boring, business” and/or “scientific” to describe what they have to read in their IEP/Test-Prep classes.

That the material they have to read is uninteresting or even boring doesn’t really surprise me: honestly, who really wants to read academic texts?

Does it really have to be like this?

However, just because the material is boring, it doesn’t mean the class has to be. Instead of just telling students to read and answer a list of questions, how about we make it a little more interactive, social, competitive and (gasp) fun?

Reading Races or How to Make Academic Reading Fun

This activity (also known as treasure hunt) is all about teaching students how to read strategically. Since students need to read effectively and efficiently for their academic tasks/tests – why not have them practice these skills in an engaging environment? Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Select a text or a section from a text

If you are teaching TOEFL iBT, TOEIC or IELTS, use a reading passage or, if you are using a course book, select a relevant section of the book.

Step 2: Write 6 to 12 questions

A friendly reminder about writing reading questions. Make sure your questions:

  1. are a mix of skim and scan questions
  2. test multiple academic skills

Step 3: Make copies of the questions for each group

Now you have some decision to make:
  • Do you want students working in individually, pairs or in small groups? Whichever you decide, make sure to arrange the desks accordingly.
  • When do you want students to submit their answers? After they have found all the answers or after each one?
  • How do you want students to submit their answers? Do you want them to shout them out, sprint to the board or submit them electronically using Google Forms, Poll Everywhere or Socrative?

Whichever of the above options you choose, I guarantee a far larger percentage of your students will be far more engaged than if you follow the traditional approach to teaching reading. How do I prefer to do this activity? Glad you asked. I have two versions.

Word Jumble Running Dictation Reading Race

Before Class

  • Jumble the words in the questions
  • Cut the questions into strips and put half of them around the room/in the hall using Blu-Tack

In Class

  • Divide the students into pairs
    • Student A is responsible for running around the room, reading all the questions and telling and dictating the question to their partner.
    • Student B is responsible for writing down what their partner says and putting the sentence back in the correct order.
  • Once the students have all the questions, put up the other half of the questions and have the students change roles. For an example set of questions, please click here.
  • Next, students work together to find the correct answers in their texts.
  • First team to successfully answer all the questions wins.

Word Jumble Sentence Strip Correction

Before Class

  • Jumble the words in the questions
  • Make a set of questions for each team. For example, if you have 18 students, make either six (groups of three) or nine (pairs) copies of the questions
  • Cut the questions into strips

In Class

  • Arrange students desks in such a way as to allow anyone to run to the front of the room. I recommend “The Horseshoe”
  • Sit at the front of the room
  • Place each set of strips in front of you on your desk(s). If you do not have enough space, put each pile on the floor or put the questions in envelopes and Blu-Tac them to board or put them on the floor.
  • Explain to the students that they must
    1. Select someone in their group to run to the front of the room
    2. Take one slip
    3. Go back to their partner/group
    4. Put the jumbled sentence into the correct order
    5. Find the answer to the question
    6. Write the answer (and where they found it) on the back of the slip
    7. Bring the slip back to you
    8. If the answer is correct, throw it in the recycle bin and give them a new slip.
    9. If it is wrong, they return to their group and keep looking.
    10. First team to get through all their slips wins.

One Final Note

ALWAYS be sure to have students cite where they found their answers. Why? The point of this activity is to have the students practice their reading skills, not test what they already know.

Also, like all new activities, this exercise won’t go smoothly the first time you try it. However, it will energize the students and ensure a higher level of participation than normally found in reading classes.

Happy teaching!

4 thoughts on “Using Reading Races in EAP/Test Prep Classes

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