Low to no prep ideas to use for reading/listening

Ever since I helped lead the PEARLL summer workshop on input to output, I have wanted to write this blog post- but it is always so hard to find the time! As teachers are transitioning to a more proficiency based teaching, it can be overwhelming. Or they may have to use a textbook and want to try to get more out of the book that they are using. We all need quick, successful activities that require our students to process the language more, so they have a higher likelihood of acquiring it. These activities can be used for ANY reading or listening resource. It can be authentic, teacher created or from the textbook. Sometimes, we spend forever looking for that perfect resource then don’t have time to actually plan the activities. Also, some of the best resources in the textbook for input are listening and reading activities. But they are frequently given very little supplemental activities. So how can we change this? First- why is it so important to including interpretive reading and listening into your classes?

But we cannot deny the importance of both reading and listening! I pulled out two quotes from Common Ground:

And similarly for listening:

However, we know that learners will not reap these benefits with a quick read through or listening once and answering some comprehension questions about them. So what do we do? And what do we do specifically when we are overwhelmed with all of our preps, too much to grade and only so much coffee that our bodies can take without staying up all hours?


  • For reading, pull out the title, the subtitle and any captions or subheadings. Make sure that students understand the title which will help them understand the main idea. In order not to always rely on translation, students can represent their understanding with a small drawing or using emojis. If the listening source also has a title- you can look at that too. This would be effective for podcasts.
  • Retrieval practice is always very successful in my classes! With any topic that we are about to read about or listen to, I will have students recall all of the vocabulary they can on the topic. This is an activity in which almost all of my students will participate. Then, students could work with a partner to predict which of the words from the list would be in the source that you are about to use.
  • If you have a few minutes to find a photo related to the topic (or if there is one included on your resource!), describe it to students in the target language and have them draw what you are describing. At the end, reveal the photo and see how close they got. Also, if there are important words from the source, make sure to try to use those when you are describing the photo to provide more exposure to them.
  • In a twist of the previous image activity, you could also just pull out key vocabulary and have students illustrate them. However, when students illustrate the images in a list, have them draw them out of order and then have another student match a peer’s drawings to the key vocabulary terms.
  • For reading sources, you can pull out some key sentences to do a dictation. Leave some of the sentences as they are and then modify some other sentences. Read the sentences to students and the students should copy down what you are saying. After you show the students how each sentence is written, then have students predict which one is true and which one is false. As they are reading, they will look for these sentences and answers. Another variation is to not modify the sentences and have students put them in order that they think they will appear in the reading.

During resource activities:

  • If you haven’t had a chance to write comprehension questions, have students do it! Break up the text or listening source into chunks and assign one chunk to each group. That group can write comprehension questions for that section. Then the students move in groups to answer all of the other groups’ questions. This is similar to a jigsaw activity.
  • For reading source, you can give students different colored markers or highlighters and have them highlight: who, what, when, where and why in different colors. Then they can compare notes with a partner. The class as a whole can create a list in each different category (who, what, when etc), then with their partner students could create new sentences that best summarize the article. For a listening source, you could give the same categories and students could write down the words as they hear them. Then do the same activity with writing original sentences that summarize the article. I would make sure to have students listen at least once without writing anything down to make sure they understood the main ideas and didn’t get too bogged down the the details each time.
  • Having graphic organizers that students can readily fill out would be easy to do as well. From my list of Jamboard activities, I like when students find the main idea and supporting details. As students are writing the main idea and details, they can leave blanks in their sentences. They can then exchange papers with a partner who fills in the blanks with the correct word.
  • You should always revisit the pre-resource activities. Students can check off the key words or phrases that they heard in the listening source or have them highlight the phrases in a reading. Were any of the retrieval practice words in the source?
  • Depending on the topic, students could classify parts of the resource. However, have students not label their lists. They trade lists with other students who decide which category title goes with which list. Some ideas include:
    • Items I like or do not like
    • Things I have tried or not tried
    • Events from previous stories and new events
    • Feelings: positive, neutral, negative
    • Practices in our community and practices in another community

Post-resource activities

Remember that not all post-resource activities have to be output! Also- they should go beyond rehashing of the facts that students learned… but they can still be low to no prep!

  • Timelines are always popular with news articles and stories- but how can you extend them to give purpose for another person? Students can create a timeline but include some fake events. I always encourage my students to change a small fact- not create something that isn’t related to the story at all. Then they trade timelines with another partner who finds the “fake” events.
  • An analytical task that I love is thinking of a color, symbol (or emoji!) and image that represent the resource. Katrina Griffin first shared this with me and the idea is from Harvard’s Project Zero Thinking Routines. Students could then compare with a partner and explain why they came up with the idea that they did. Then as a class, you could come to a consensus to see if everyone came up with similar answers and also honor divergent answers.
  • Along the same lines- another thinking routine is word, phrase and sentence. If you follow the directions linked, by the end, you would have some great summaries. Students could create more visual representations of what they the summaries or they could write a full summary as well.
  • Students can also create two truths and a lie about the resource. Then, the teacher collects them all the the class guesses what the lie is for each of the three statements. I always try to get them to think of a little fact that would be difficult to figure out superficially. Students get really excited if they can trick everyone and me! It is also beneficial to give them a specific part if the source is longer, so they don’t get as repetitive.
  • I love Martina Bex’s collaborative mural! It allows us to recycle a lot of the vocabulary and discuss the source on multiple levels. It also encourages interpersonal discussion between the students and me. I frequently do similar twists with playdoh and students acting out in a freeze frame manner (where they pose as part of the reading/listening and we guess what it is).
  • Finally, if you looked at a lot of the text features- have students evaluate them. Can they write a different title for the piece? Do they feel that the title and the article match up?

4 thoughts on “Low to no prep ideas to use for reading/listening

  1. Thanks for all your ideas! I tend to fall into ruts, and you have a bunch of twists here that can change things up for everyone. I will print this post out and paste it into my book cabinet so that I see it every time I open that door — and so that it doesn’t become part of the background I ignore. (You would think that having your book would be enough, but …)

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