***This content is based on a webinar presented by Reading Horizons Reading Specialist, Stacy Hurst.***
Research shows that students whose teachers spend too much time talking are less likely to be engaged during classroom instruction. Luckily, reading instruction can be so much more than lecture, reading practice, memorization, or decoding drills. We, as teachers, can do more to get our students engaged in learning to read.
List of Reading Activities
Here is a list of fourteen student engagement strategies from Reading Horizons Reading Specialist, Stacy Hurst, that you can use to increase student engagement during structured literacy instruction:
1. Partner Pretest
Before teaching a new decoding skill or grammar rule, preface the lesson with a pretest. Let your students know that the test will not be scored, lowering anxiety and increasing student performance. Pair students up for the pretest and have them use the same set of materials for that pretest. If the pretest is on a computer or iPad, have students share the device between the two of them. During the pretest walk around the room so you can gauge student needs and adjust the lesson accordingly. When lesson material matches student ability and understanding, engagement is higher. Make sure that the pretest is similar to the posttest so you can see how much was actually retained during your lesson.
2. Stand Up/Sit Down
Teachers can use this activity to help students learn to differentiate between similar but different reading concepts. For instance, when a teacher is trying to help her students learn the difference between common nouns and proper nouns, she can give examples of each and have students stand up if it is a common noun or sit down if it is a proper noun. This is a great way to see how much of your class is actually grasping the material while getting your students’ blood flowing—helping them stay alert.
3. Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down
This activity provides a quick way to gauge if your students are comprehending a story or to test them on different reading skills. Instruct students to put their thumbs up if they agree with a statement or to put their thumbs down if they disagree. When students have a low energy level (i.e. right after lunch) Stand Up/Sit Down may be a better alternative. However, if you need to maintain your students’ current energy level Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down is ideal.
4. Secret Answer
This activity is great for students that might not be confident in their answers—students that look around the class when doing Stand Up/Sit Down or Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down to see how the other students’ answer before they answer themselves. To give students a secret way to answer, assign different responses a number and have students hold up the number of fingers that correspond to the answer they think is correct. To do this exercise properly, have your students place their hand near their heart (physically) with the appropriate number of fingers raised to indicate their answer. This way, especially if all the students are facing the teacher, it is difficult for students to copy their neighbor’s answer.
5. Response Cards
This is a great way to mix things up a bit. Have students create a stack of common responses, including: agree/disagree, true/false, yes/no, greater than/less than, multiple choice options, and common emotions. After students have created their response cards, you can have them use them to respond in a variety of different settings. For example, while reading a book together as a class the teacher may pause and ask her students what they think the character is feeling right now. The students then select one of the common emotion cards from their personal stack of cards and lift it up to answer the question.
This activity allows students to pause and process what they have just learned. After reading a passage in a book, ask your class a question that they must first consider by themselves. After giving them time to think have them discuss the question with their neighbor. Once they’ve discussed the question, invite students to share their answers with the class. By giving them this time to process, you are enabling them to be more engaged in their learning.
7. Quick Writes
Studies show that the proper ratio of direct instruction to reflection time for students is ten to two. That means that for every ten minutes of instruction teachers need to provide students with two minutes for reflection. This activity is a great way to provide students with that much-needed reflection time! In this activity, ask a question about a reading passage, have students write a response to share with a neighbor or the entire class.
8. One Word Splash
After reading a passage or learning new vocabulary terms, ask your students to write down one word that they feel sums up that material. This might seem overly simplistic but it actually requires higher processing skills that help your students digest what they are reading. This can be done either with a pencil and paper or a dry erase marker and personal whiteboard for each student.
9. Quick Draw
This activity is perfect for visual learners or students that aren’t quite writing yet. After reading a part of a story or learning a new concept or topic, have your students draw a picture about what they’ve just read or learned. For example, after reading part of the story, Jack and the Beanstalk, have your students draw what has happened in the story up to that point. A student may draw a picture of a boy planting seeds with a beanstalk growing in the background.
10. Gallery Walk
To help students get some of their energy out, have students do a Gallery Walk to see their peers' work. This activity is a great add on to Quick Writes and Quick Draw. Because students seek approval from their peers they will put more effort into their work when they know it will be viewed by the class.
11. A-Z Topic Summary
Help students connect the dots after finishing a book, a learning module, or a lesson. Have your students complete an A-Z Topic Summary either as individuals or in pairs. If it is an individual activity, have students write either a word or a sentence that connects to the book, module, or lesson for each letter of the alphabet. For example, if you learned about baking they might write a sentence for A such as: “Always preheat the oven before baking.” To speed up the activity, you can assign students to work in pairs or assign a letter to each student or pair and have them write a sentence for that letter rather than the whole alphabet.
This quick way to help students process reading or lesson material when you’re pressed for time. First, have your students write three facts they learned from something they read or learned in class that day. Next, have students write two questions they still have about the book or topic that wasn't covered or discussed in class. Finally, have your students write one opinion they have about the reading material or lesson. This activity can also help you with your lesson planning for the next lesson on the topic or book.
13. Find Your Match
This is another activity that gets your students up and moving. Create card matches that correlate to a storyline in a book, vocabulary terms, figures of speech, grammar rules, etc. For example, your card matches might include the following concepts (depending on grade level): rhyming words, uppercase/lowercase, antonyms/synonyms, words/definitions, problem/solution, and words/pictures. Hand out one card to each student in the class and then have them get up and find the other student with the matching card.
One of my very favorite teaching activities is Dictation! It is highly effective in engaging students because it is multisensory explicit phonics instruction—involving: auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile senses. Having a multisensory approach increases working memory and integrates all language skills/modalities. To do Dictation have students listen to a word, repeat the word out loud, write it out on paper, and then have them read the word out loud again.
If you found this helpful, learn more strategies on our list of reading strategies ›
Early Literacy Resources
Great ideas to work with in the class. Thank you.
You have a beautiful name, by the way.
Eliazar Sotelo said
I will absolutely use all of the activities to engage my students English learning.
By the way, I have a sister who lives near Salt Lake, Utah. Beautiful city.
Katrina Moya said
This is great ideas .. I used one of this in my demonstration teaching .. the pupils enjoyed the activity.
Marcella Camino said
Thank you so much! This has been a great help! I love how they are simple and to the point, yet prompt critical thinking, engagement and student learning.
Caroline Smith said
Thank you so much for your sharing, it’s really useful for me. My daughter is in 1st grade and spelling practice with a pencil and paper is torture to her. These look more fun!
<a href="https://spellquiz.com/">Dictation test for kids</a>
Deidra Richardson said
I have been teaching for a number of years and have used quite a few if the strategies mentioned. They are all really beneficial. To add on to the dictationne try dictating a sentence.