10 Activities to Improve Your English Reading [Self-Study Guide #3]

Published on
November 13, 2022
Updated on
January 6, 2023
min read
This article may contain affiliate links
Written by
Emile Dodds

Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to find things to read in English. But what is the best way to approach reading? What methods and activities can you try? This guide will give you ten great ideas for reading activities that you can do on your own… today!

10 Activities to Improve Your English Reading [Self-Study Guide #3]
Table of contents

Note: This is the third of a series of guides covering self-study activities. You may also be interested in the other guides on listening, writing, speaking, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.

If you are learning English, I bet you keep hearing this advice: if you want to improve your English skills, you should read.

It’s true. Reading engages your brain more than when you watch videos on YouTube or shows on Netflix.

But what should you read? Is it enough just to simply read? It seems passive. Or should you give yourself an activity to do?

In this guide, you will discover ten simple but effective ways to improve your reading skills.

How to approach reading practice

Before we begin, here is some general advice for reading:

  • Vary the things that you read. Choose some non-fiction, some fiction and some news articles.
  • Try to read about topics that you are interested in, such as football or fashion. Don’t simply choose a random article or book and begin reading it.
  • If you are reading mainly for fun or fluency (and not to learn new words or grammar structures), choose something easy. If you are looking to spend more time on vocabulary and grammar, choose something a little difficult.
  • Reading is by far the best way to learn new vocabulary. Always keep a vocabulary notebook handy when you read. I recommend this: don’t write down individual words; instead, write the entire sentence (or phrase) with the new word underlined. This will give you context.

Furthermore, you will see that many of my suggested activities involve writing, listening or grammar alongside reading. It is always a good idea to practise many skills together.

Some suggested sites

Some of the activities below ask you to use short stories or short texts. Here are two great sites where you can find these:

  1. Reader’s Digest - Reader’s Digest magazine is over 100 years old, and an old favourite of anyone who loves reading. I recommend their true stories (witten by readers of the magazine) and also their stories of irony.
  2. On This Day is a great site for people who love history and non-fiction. Every day, it features an article about something that happened “on this day” in the past. The good news it that you’ll find something new every day, and it’s almost always fascinating.

Easy activities

Activity 1 - The reading speed test

Do you read slowly in English? How fast would a native speaker read? Let’s examine these questions here.

In fact, the average reading speed for adults in English is 238 words per minute. This falls to 183 words per minute when reading out loud (reading and saying each word). The averages for non-fiction are just a little bit higher.

Of course, people read at different speeds. Perhaps a better question is how fast do YOU read in your own language and in English?

Well, it’s easy to test. You need a stopwatch and an article to read. (You can easily count the words by copying and pasting the article into Microsoft Word and using the word count feature. Or you could use this site.)

Time yourself for an article in your own language and for an article in English. Note: try to use similar articles, e.g. two sports reports, two short stories, or two news articles.

You are likely to find that you read more slowly in English. Over time, can you close the gap? This is the real challenge!

Of course, life isn’t just about reading fast, but I would recommend you write down your reading speed today, then test it again in 3 months after doing the activities I suggest. 

I would be very surprised if you hadn’t improved significantly.

Skills: Reading, fluency
Tools: Various texts
Time: 10-20 minutes
Skill Level: Easy

Activity 2 - Riddle me this

A riddle is a short word puzzle. Riddles are fun and help you think about language.

Here’s an example:

Riddle: Which word is always pronounced wrong?

Think about it and see if you can get the answer. But don’t think about it for too long! The answer is below.

Answer: “Wrong”

Did you get the answer? If not, then I at least hope you had fun trying.

I often start my language classes with riddles and my students always ask me for more.

You can use riddles as a (very) short reading activity for your self study. You could use them as a warm-up activity before doing longer and more serious reading.

The only question is where to find lots of riddles. Don’t worry, I have the answer! You can find 50 riddles here, 60 riddles here and 80 riddles here. All three sites give the answers.

Skills: Reading for fun
Tools: Various sites
Time: 5-10 minutes
Skill Level: Easy

Activity 3 - Quiz yourself

Next, let’s look at some sites that offer reading passages with comprehension quizzes.

It’s an old-school way of learning, but effective. If done properly, the questions should not only test your comprehension, but point out things that you can learn from the texts.

Here are five sites with free content to help you do this:

1 The British Council website - this site features a selection of short reading texts by level. You can also leave comments.

2 National Geographic Learning offers a series of articles with questions, accompanying audio and even extra worksheets.

3 LinguaPress offers a selection of texts with questions. Ignore the ugly website; the content is good!

4 CL Granda offers advanced level passages with questions, downloadable as PDF documents.

5 Lingua.com has thirty Business English reading passages with questions. You can subscribe to the site to unlock more passages.

Skills: Reading, grammar, vocabulary
Tools: Various sites
Time: 5-10 minutes
Skill Level: Easy

Activity 4 - Headline activity 1

At Leonardo English, we received feedback that news or article headlines can be confusing. For example, they are written in a particular tense and style!

Luckily, we have a couple of self-study activities that you can use to become more comfortable with headlines.

The first one is simple. Choose a news article and read the headline. Try to predict what the article will be about. Then, write out five words or phrases related to the topic that you expect to find in the text.

Then, check the text and see how many of your five words were there. Don’t forget to note down new vocabulary, too!

You needn’t use a news article for this. You could choose the culture, sport or fashion section of a news website, if news isn’t your thing.

I recommend using the CNN website for this activity. They often give just the headline on the front page, without many details of the actual story.

Skills: Reading, vocabulary
Tools: The CNN website or a similar news site
Time: 5-10 minutes
Skill Level: Easy

Medium-level activities

Activity 5 - Headline activity 2

This activity is a harder version of the previous one.

In this activity, instead of simply predicting an article from the headline, you’re going to write the article! It’s another activity that blends reading and writing skills.

For this activity, I recommend the BBC website. On the front page, they give both the headline and the first few sentences of the story.

Start with these first few sentences and write about 100-200 words. Then, compare your writing with the actual article.

Of course, the two will be different, but you can look for similarities in vocabulary, sentence structure, formality and style. It’s a great way to apply analytical thinking to your English studies.

Skills: Reading, writing, vocabulary
Tools: The BBC News Website or a similar news site
Time: 10-20 minutes
Skill Level: Medium

Activity 6 - Take action on action verbs

Perhaps you are able to read through a short newspaper or website article. This gives you the confidence to attempt a novel. Unfortunately, you find the kind of English used in a novel is quite different.

For a start, novels use a lot of specific action verbs

For example, instead of saying that George walked down the street, a novel might say that George strutted down the street. The word strut means to walk in a way that seems you are showing off.

There are thousands of specific action verbs in English. Although novels tend to make full use of them, we do not use them nearly as much in factual articles or everyday conversation.

So, our first activity is to read a short story or (a few pages of) a novel and make a list of the action verbs that we find.

For example, can you spot the action verbs in the following excerpt?

The senators lunged forward and thrust their daggers into Caesar’s back. Julius howled with pain and then glared at his attackers.

Did you find the action words lunge (jump forward), thrust (push something forward), howl (make a screaming noise) and glare (look intensely)?

Extra points if you noticed that the verb thrust is the same in the present and past tense. (Stories are also a great way to practise narrative tenses.)

Skills: Reading, vocabulary (action verbs), grammar (narrative tenses)
Tools: Graded readers or other books
Time: 10-20 minutes
Skill Level: Medium

Activity 7 - The other meanings

As you go from an intermediate towards an advanced level of reading ability, you should be able to find more nuance.

For example, it should be easier to spot when a word does not have its usual meaning. As an example, let’s say that you read the following:

Henry was a wise and just king.

A lower-level reader would skim over this sentence without noting any new language. After all, “just” is a common word - it means “only”.

However, if we look closer, we can see that “just” doesn’t have its usual meaning here. Here, it means “fair” and it is connected to the word “justice”.

English is full of words like this, especially if we count phrasal verbs. Everyone knows the word “count”, but what about “count on”? It means to rely on. (You can count on me!)

We can turn this into an activity. Take a reading text, such as a short story, and see how many examples you can highlight.

Guess the alternative meaning for each one, and use the dictionary to check yourself. Remember, in a dictionary, the most common meaning is listed first and the most unusual last.

Skills: Reading, vocabulary, reading for details
Tools: Short texts
Time: 5-10 minutes
Skill Level: Medium

Activity 8 - Combine reading and listening

In the Leonardo English blog, we often recommend listening to a podcast and then reading the transcript.

Reading and listening go really well together.

In this activity, instead of reading a listening script, we will listen to a reading text. It’s the same thing, but from a different perspective.

A reading text is more organised and we can expect it to have richer vocabulary.

As this activity is designed to improve fluency, you need only read and listen. However, as usual with reading, you should note down new or useful vocabulary.

What is a good resource for this activity? I highly recommend this Voice of America page, which has hundreds (or even thousands?) of articles with audio.

Skills: Reading, listening, fluency
Tools: Voice of America articles
Time: 5-10 minutes
Skill Level: Medium

Activity 9 - Read and comment

I would like to introduce a fantastic blog called Reedsy. This blog, associated with a publishing company, looks for new writers. To do this, they run a weekly writing contest with a prize of $250.

As a result, they have collected over 25,000 short stories that you can read on their blog for free!

Users of the blog tend to leave encouraging comments at the end of each story, explaining what they liked about it or what they learned from it. You could do this, too. This is a great activity for an English learner.

When you know that you are going to leave a comment for the writer to see, it will really help you to engage with the story. It’s something real, rather than an artificial activity.

Of course, you could always enter the weekly contest yourself. Who knows, you might win the $250!

Skills: Reading, writing
Tools: Reedsy Short Stories Blog
Time: 5-10 minutes
Skill Level: Medium

Activity 10 - Reading and giving advice

In this activity, we will blend reading and writing.

Have you ever read an advice column? It’s a weekly or daily article in a newspaper or magazine. Readers send in letters explaining their problems and receive advice from an expert.

Your challenge, for fun, is to read the problem and then, without reading the expert’s reply, write your own advice.

You can compare your advice to the expert’s advice and see who did a better job? You can also see if you used similar language. Tip: modal verbs are very important for giving advice.

You can simply Google “advice column” or you could try this one to start with.

Skills: Reading, writing, grammar (modal verbs)
Tools: Various websites
Time: 5-10 minutes
Skill Level: Medium

Remember to repeat these activities

These ten activities should activate your reading practice and give you some good ideas on how to improve.

Remember, most of these activities can be repeated. See if you can build them into your regular learning routine!

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