The Reading Race

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18 November 2015 by ATL
In the last of our blogs on embedding English, we will look at a classroom activity for developing learners’ reading skills and some ways to incorporate differentiation.

As part of ATL's Union Learning Fund project, ATL Midlands have organized their first English and maths week. This week we'll feature three blogs from Joanne Miles about embedding English. 

The Reading Race

This activity helps learners to practise skimming and scanning skills in a reading activity, so that they can learn to attack texts with the appropriate reading skills. In the plenary slot, the teacher can elicit why and how they used those skills within the task. This task incorporates an element of speaking and listening and is both collaborative and competitive, so works well for engaging learners.


  1. Select a short text appropriate to the level of your class, choosing one that lends itself to a skimming and scanning task. Make sure it is big enough to read when a learner stands in front of it stuck on a classroom wall.
  2. Print off five or six copies of the text and position them around the classroom, on the walls.
  3. Write six comprehension questions on the text that students will have to answer during the reading race and prepare photocopies of the question sheet – one for each pair of students.
  4. Organise the students into pairs. One student will sit at their desk with the questions in front of them and write down answers dictated to them by their partner; the other student will run to a text on the wall to find the answers, one at a time. Note: If running is impossible or unsuitable, you could do this task with the learners sitting back to back, spread out around the room.
  5. Reinforce the rule that the runners can’t take a pen or phone with them – they need to use their memory! The sitters cannot leave their tables.
  6. Set this up as a time-bound speed activity with an element of competition. Using background music can be helpful to mask the learners’ speech so they can’t overhear answers.
  7. Mark the answer sheets yourself as people finish or have a peer marking slot as a class.
  8. In the plenary slot, elicit the differences between reading for gist via skimming and reading for details via scanning. Identify a few types of text where they would naturally need to use these skills in study/work and in life. Make links with recent activities you have done with them in class to highlight which skills they were using.

Tips for The Teacher

  • Choose a text that is relevant to a topic you have already covered with that group, to reinforce key words and ideas.
  • Consider learners’ behaviour and abilities when pairing up students for this task.
  • You could opt for explaining and demonstrating skimming and scanning skills BEFORE the activity, if the level of your students makes this an appropriate choice.
  • Early finishers can move onto the reflection activity about the kind of reading skills they were using, while the rest of the group are finishing the task.
  • As an extension task, you could take texts off the walls and get learners to work on the language used, e.g. highlighting and peer explaining key words or underlining and describing examples of grammar items you want to consolidate via Q&A.

With the levels of creativity that I see in classrooms around the country, I am sure that teachers will continue to develop engaging ways to embed English and enhance these vital life skills for their learners. I just hope that the increased focus on this area within Ofsted inspections does not tempt schools and colleges into inappropriate embedding because they feel it is a hoop they need to jump through in every lesson.

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