How to help your students develop Reading & Listening skills

(Reading time: 4 - 7 minutes)

The following article refers to the theory, and the practice needed, for developing the Reading and Listening skills effectively. However, before getting into details concerning the two skills it would be helpful to provide a definition to the term ‘skill’ as far as language teaching is concerned. A ’skill’ is an action or procedure which may be developed through graded and guided practice.  

 by Akis Davanellos, MA (ELT)



The students before they get involved in the actual process of reading or listening to the target text for developing their reading or listening skills they should receive some kind of preparation for the text and the tasks which follow.


a. It is important the students to be introduced to the topic of the text (e.g. The natural world, The world of crime, Travelling, etc) and increase their motivation around it.  

b. The teacher should elicit as much information as possible from the learners concerning the specific topic/s.

c. Make it more personal by relating the text to the learners’ own real life, personal experiences.

c. Make sure you provide adequate language preparation for the text which follows. The preparation concerns vocabulary, ambiguous structures, cultural elements any linguistic aspect which will ease the learners later while working with the text.

d. Set the context for the text which follows by eliciting the possible information. Who are the characters? What is their relationship? Where are they? What is the text about? etc. Of course, since the students are not familiar with the text yet, they will be making wild guesses. Use it as a ‘bridge’ to …

e. provide a reason for the learners to read/listen to the text for the first time.


The following are only some suggested activities which may be easily adapted to match the needs of any course book one may be using.




1. Ask the students to predict the content of the text by reading its title.

2. Jumble the words/letters of the title of the text. Ask the students to ‘build up’ the title.

3. Ask the students to exchange ideas concerning the topic of the text.

4. Ask the students to describe/discuss about photographs/pictures concerning the topic of the text.

5. Ask the students to brainstorm the vocabulary which might be associated with the topic of the text.

6. Pre-teach the necessary vocabulary for facilitating the students’ understanding of the text.



Now the students have received enough preparation work and it is time to move into the next lesson stage. The focus of the particular stage is the development of the learners’ reading or listening skills. Therefore, the learners will be involved in guided procedures which will enable them to work on the text and try to ...


a. Exploit the content of the text through tasks.

b. Understand the writer’s purpose for writing the specific text.

c. Analyze the information provided in the text through ‘graded’ and appropriate tasks. By the term ‘graded’ I will refer to tasks which at the beginning demand a more general understanding of the text whereas later the learners deal with tasks which focus on more specific information and, of course, they require more detailed reading or listening. Some of the sub-skills which may be practiced and developed are:


* Deducing the meaning of unfamiliar lexical items.

* Understanding explicitly stated information.

* Understanding information not explicitly stated.

* Interpreting text by going outside it.

* Understanding cohesion between parts of the text.

* Understanding relations between the parts of a text through lexical cohesion devices and more.

(Francoise Grellet, ‘Developing reading skills’, CUP 1981)     


The following are only some suggested activities which may be easily adapted to match the needs of any course book one may be using.



* For identifying the general meaning of the text …


1. Ask the learners to read or listen to the text to confirm what was predicted during the ‘pre’ stage.

2. Ask the students to read/listen to the text and put photographs in the correct order.

3. Read/listen to the text to invent a title for it or a title for each paragraph.


* For locating specific information in the text …


4. Cut and mix the lines (sentences) of the text. Then, ask the students to listen or read the jumbled sentences and try to put them in order.

5. Read or listen to the text and fill in the blanks.

6. Read or listen to the text to extract the most important information for a piece of writing which follows. e.g. summary writing.

7. Ask the students to read or listen to the text and identify stress, rhythm and intonation patterns.

8. Ask the students to read/listen to the text and answer multiple choice/comprehension questions, gap fill exercises etc.

9. Ask the students to read/listen to the text and create their own multiple choice/ comprehension questions, gap fill exercises etc. for their classmates.

10. Ask the students to read/listen to the text and identify the meaning of words/expressions as these appear in the text.

11. Ask the students to listen/read the text to identify vocabulary, grammatical, syntactical mistakes etc, deliberately made by the teacher.



During this stage the students should be guided …

a. To reflect or consolidate on the information which has been heard or read.

b. Like in real life, speaking is the natural result of listening and writing is usually the result of the reading process.



The following are only some suggested activities which may be easily adapted to match the needs of any course book one may be using.


1. Ask the students to write a dialogue between the characters presented in the text.

2. Interview one of the characters in the text.

3. Use the text as a springboard to initiate discussions in L2 or their mother tongue for developing the students’ ideas about the topic.

4. Write a letter to one of the characters in the text.

5. Ask the students to role play parts or the whole situation as it is described in the text.

6. Ask the students to give a live presentation concerning the text studied.

7. Ask the students to write a reply to the author of the text.

8. Ask the students to re-write the text from another character’s point of view.

9. Ask the students to involve themselves, as being some character in the text, in re-writing the text.

10. Ask the students to design posters concerning the topic of the text. Then, display the students’ work in the classroom.

11. Ask the students to write the summary of the text.


In the following table an overview of a typical reading or listening lesson stages is offered.















-to set the context

-to pre-teach lexis

-to introduce the topic

-to encourage text prediction

-to activate background knowledge

-to focus on specific listening or reading sub-skills


-to encourage the learners to use the information (and / or language) contained in the text to perform a speaking and / or writing activity












-listening / reading graded tasks’ comprehension for development



-role play

-communication activities

-story telling

-writing activities



-whole class

-pairs or groups


























-audio recording

- reading text




-role cards

-task sheets




 Akis Davanellos has been a school owner and Practitioner Teacher for twenty five years and he holds an MA in English Language Teaching from the University of Warwick. He has written a number of articles in local and international journals and he has worked as a materials designer for international and local publishing companies also presenting professional and commercial seminars and courses. He has also been involved in forthcoming book evaluations and piloting. He is the initiator and the main materials designer of the IGUANA PROJECT publishing house.


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