Experiences of an English Language Teacher

Top Six Reading Activities for EAP Teachers

I recently read a really interesting and inspiring blog post on ELT Planning – about 23 ways to use a text in the classroom. It was very interesting to see what was suggested and it got me thinking about EAP-related tasks which could be used by teachers and students for their academic reading skills.

In academic writing and skills development, reading is crucial for any undergraduate or post-graduate student, with English being their second language. For the vast majority of EAP students, they have difficulty comprehending academic language, so in this blog post, I am sharing my six favourite reading activities for EAP students.

1. Absent Abstracts

I was introduced to this activity by a colleague during my first year of academic English teaching. It is probably my favourite activity to incorporate to introduce EAP students to the type of text that they will encounter with their academic studies.

First you find a range of different academic articles (possibly associated with your students’ related study), which are published in reputable academic journals, and just copy and paste the different titles and their corresponding abstracts/summaries. You print out these titles and abstracts/summaries, cut them up and then stick them up around the classroom – possibly on one side of the room you place the titles and on the other side, the abstracts/summaries. Students then have to match titles to articles to their corresponding abstracts.

This will get students predicting the possible topic and focus of the article with potential key words from the title. This will allow students to develop their lexical awareness for the topic, so if the article title is about ‘International Business’ then you could get students predicting possible language associated with this, such as ‘globalisation’, ‘trade tariffs’, ’emerging markets’, etc. Students will start to notice this associated language from the title to the abstracts/summaries.

2. Re-Organising Paragraphs

This lesson activity is based from the popular task whereby the teacher cuts up paragraphs of reading and the students have to put it back in order. Students are essentially attempting to notice signposting language and the expected order that academic writing is encouraged (Introduction, Main Body, and then Conclusion).

Teachers find a suitable academic article to use for this activity – preferably an a reading that is connected or associated with the students’ future study at the University or a topic that they are interested in. The teacher then copies the text and pastes it within a Word document adding a few extra line spaces between paragraphs. This is then cut up into their paragraphs, with students having to organise the article into the most suitable order.

It is probably a good idea for the teacher to hand out the same article to small groups in the same class, so that the class are able to compare and contrast their ordering of the article to other small groups. You can also make this activity more competitive by adding a timer and getting students to speed read the article together. This also encourages more focus on overall meaning rather than understanding all words.

3. Academic Verbs

If you have been involved with academic English in one way or another, or remember reading as well as writing academic English, then the one important element is the use of the main verb when writing. It is valuable to know the meaning of the verb to aid understanding of the whole sentence. Therefore, it is common in English to use more complicated verbs (‘consume’ or ‘predict’) that are replaced from more informal verbs, such as ‘eat’ or ‘guess’. One way to introduce more complicated verbs in academic reading by getting students becoming aware of the main verbs.

You can use one paragraph from an academic text or the introduction for the topic and then prepare the following. Highlight the main verbs which are used within the paragraph which are considered more formal/academic. Then, make a note of possible column of synonyms which students can complete.

Example text available from “An Analysis on Adult Learners’ Satisfaction in Online Education Programmes (Baharom, 2018)

It is important to make a table, such as the example above, for students to complete. You can either get students to use the verbs that you have highlighted, or the students can find the verbs in the text and then complete the table fully. Anyhow, students work individually on the task, filling in the example sentence and then finding or using a synonym – it is probably better for students to know the synonym so that they are able to see the difference.

Once students have completed their corresponding table, you can pair students together so they can compare their own ideas and completed tables. This will help students become more aware of more appropriate verbs in academic writing but also develop their lexical range for academic writing.

4. Missing Conjunctions

Conjunctions in academic reading help provide some form of sign-posting for the reader. There are six uses of conjunctions in academic writing: addition, result, reason, opposition, example, and time (Bailey 2019, p.204). Knowing the use of the conjunction is another important element of reading academic text and understanding the overall meaning. Therefore, I usually follow this activity by pre-teaching the use of conjunctions with my EAP learners.

First of all, I pre-teach the different uses of conjunctions – I usually have a variety of example conjunctions and ask students to match the conjunctions with the usage (additional, result, reason, etc.). I then ask students to compare what they have matched with other students or groups, before introducing the academic reading. You can also download the worksheet below.

I then choose a suitable article to introduce to my EAP learners and remove all the conjunctions that are usually embedded within the text. Students then read the text in small groups adding appropriate conjunctions to the text. Once completed, organise one group with another group to compare their use of conjunctions before finally revealing the original, unaltered text.

This will aid students to develop awareness on how conjunctions can be used within academic text and also provide them with the greater confidence that they need.

5. Article Analysis

When people read an academic text, it is important for them to have access to the main ideas and to share this with other people. Furthermore, skimming academic text is a skill that EAP teachers need to develop with their learners, and this practical reading idea develops EAP learner confidence in preparing them for summarising key information. Before EAP learners summarise the entirety of the article, I like to take a step back so that they are able to look at the main information from an article.

The main areas that students need to focus on, prior to taking overall notes about the article, is to focus on particular sections within an article:

  • Author(s) information
  • Date of publication
  • Title
  • Abstract / Summary
  • Introduction
  • Main Body
  • Conclusion
  • Graphics / Illustrations
  1. I ask students to complete the first part by adding information such name of the author(s), date of publication, etc. on the worksheet. (5 minutes)
  2. Next, I prompt students to read the introduction and conclusion in detail, and to spend a bit of time highlighting any keywords or words which are repeated. (15 minutes)
  3. The next step is to ask students to write a brief summary (one or two sentences) after reading the introduction and conclusion. (5 minutes)
  4. Once students have completed this, I ask students to read the first sentence and final sentence of all other paragraphs and to make a note of the key idea from each corresponding section. Again, students can write a brief summary for each paragraph. (10+ minutes)
  5. The final step for students is to make a note about any graphic or illustration which is used within the article and to write a brief summary on the worksheet. (5+ minutes)

During the completion of the task, I ask students to work individually and time each stage of the activity, while encouraging students to complete a worksheet (please see above).

Once students have completed the stages above, I pair students to compare their notes with their worksheet so that they can discuss any areas which they are unfamiliar with. The final step for this activity is to give students an academic article for homework, and a worksheet so that they can apply the same process again when self-studying. You can get students to bring their completed worksheets (by using the recommended stages above) into class, as well as their article to compare the following day.

6. Important Numbers

Another activity that I have used for reading, especially for preparing students for IELTS examinations, requires very little preparation – which is a bonus. This is also a wonderful task to develop learner skimming techniques. If you are unsure what skimming involves, it is the process of looking for particular information as quickly as possible.

Scanning for specific information is available on the UEfAP website

I look at an academic article and try to locate relevant numbers within it, such as dates, percentages or years. Once I have made a note of the relevant numbers within the article, I create a brief table and ask students to skim read until they have found the relevant number. They also need to summarise the importance of that number. This activity is usually completed individually before students compare their answers with each other. However, you can make the task a little more interesting by placing the article on one wall of the classroom and students have to work in pairs.

One student finding relevant information while another student making a note of this – similar to a running dictation task. The student who has to write down the information is sitting down with the worksheet, while the other has to go up to the text on the wall, source the relevance of the number, then return to their classmate and report back. The student sitting then has to write this down and then, once everyone has finished, the teacher can share the answers to the class. You could also make it a little more competitive by adding a time limit.

Additional Reading

If you enjoyed this post and found the activities of use, then I would recommend that you consider purchasing the book “Academic Writing” by Bailey for more ideas and activities for EAP students. If you also have any suggestions for developing EAP student reading, then please feel free to share the ideas in the comments below.


  1. Pete

    Great advice Sketch, some awesome ideas. I also like the absent abstracts one, challenging but very useful. I use that scanning task (stats one) a bit, and snuck it into a coursebook recently too.
    So glad that you’re enjoying all things EAP. I’ll join you one day hopefully – be great to work with you again 🙂

    • Martin Sketchley

      Thank you Pete. I really enjoy EAP and have definitely rediscovered my passion of language learning and education by specialising. The majority of students are incredibly self-motivated and it is so rewarding to see their progress. It would be great to meet up in the future and possibly work with you. Good luck with the new term.

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