To read and how to read? That is the question! - 10 sites to boost your students' reading skills

Tampering with the famous Shakespearean quote I feel that many of you may agree with me that trying to teach reading to students, in a world that students do not read anymore, may turn out to be a very challenging venture! Because the sad truth is that most students do not like reading, either because they don't know what to read, or because they don't know how to read or even because they read for the wrong purpose!

So, it is widely accepted that students do not generally read long texts. They read in the social media. Bits and pieces- short posts, messages, comments, twits. They read, yes, but do they do any serious reading, even in L1? And how can we, teachers of English, expect them to not only cope with long reading texts in a foreign language  but also do tasks on these texts, under these circumstances? It must sound crazy to them! "It is often difficult to convince students of English as a foreign language that texts in English can be understood even though there are vocabulary items and stuctures the students have never seen before. But this is the case, not only for non-native speakers, but also for speakers of English as a first language." (J. Harmer, 191)

Taking all these under consideration, reading is a skill that should be taught from an early age and it should also be practised- a lot! Because, as with all skills, the more you practise, the more efficient you become. A very important factor to encourage students to read something is to arouse their interest and give them a purpose to read. Because in real life we rarely read something without a purpose. Reading always serves a purpose, whether our students realize it or not. We read to gain information, to find out about other people's views, we read about travels and places we've never been to, we read for pleasure-just because "reading takes you places". So it's imperative to first teach our students to recognise the reason they are reading for. Not all texts will be interesting, not all of them will be easy, but we have to read each one of them for the purpose they were written. For this reason the pre-reading or lead-in stage is very important!

No matter what approach we decide to follow as teachers,  the pre-reading stage must always be the first step. Because we have to make our students interested in what they are going to read. We can ask them to predict what the text is going to be about by reading the title, looking at the pictures that may accompany it, stating their personal experience-if any- on the subject matter or just applying their knowledge of the world to relate to the subject matter, ask them to guess some relevant vocabulary that may appear in the text, anything that can help them be more prepared for what is going to follow. If there is little they know about the subject matter, you can ask them to think about what they would like to know about it and then when they read,check if their questions were answered.

Then of course, we can go on with teaching different strategies for reading, scanning, that is reading to extract specific information, skimming, that is reading for general understanding, reading for gist, that is reading for the main idea, or reading for detailed comprehension , which may not be so often but it may still be the case. Of course, all these strategies being taught does not mean students will develop a love for reading. They may just improve their reading skills for the exams. Thus, if you are interested, as an educator,  in raising readers and not only train your students to tackle a reading exam, you may need to think of other ways to deal with reading in your classroom.

Reading may become a daily or weekly routine for pleasure. You may read a funny story to your students to make them relax and have fun. You may read a poem you like. You may read a mystery story and ask them to solve the mystery. You may ask them to bring their own favourite stories to read in class. Finally, you may have a reading club, but keep it as simple as possible, for students to participate with joy and not see it as just another activity they have to do. Of course, you can also talk to them about the benefits of reading in the long run, depending on their age. Or even show them the following table if you think it will help.
                                         (Source: )

There are many sites for developing reading skills, but I will mention here the ones I have managed to look into a little closer.

1. Storyplace
A preschool activity library, with online stories, online activities, videos and take home activities. Easy and fun!

2. Breaking News English
Easy English news materials, according to level. It also provides a techinque to improve your reading speed. There are also other things like mini lessons, dictation and speed listening.

3. Books that grow
This is not a free site but it is quite interesting, as it offers many classic books written at different reading levels and it very easy for the teacher to organise and monitor the reading activity of their students. There also other features such as predict, summarise etc. for each book. So, if you are interested in organising a reading class more systematicaly this may be of use to you!

4. Dreamreader
This offers free online english reading practice for learners. Categories include easy English-pictograms, interesting English, fun English, practical English and academic English.

5. The Reading Agency
This is a site with tips on how to set up your own reading club and encourage reading for pleasure. There are many downloadable resources for young children, teens and adults.

6. Pernille Ripp's blog
This is an inspiring blog for those who wish to help their students develop a love for reading. It contains lots of advice and ideas for student engagement, global collaboration etc.

7. Reading Rockets
This site has it all. Ideas and advice on teaching reading, helping struggling students, many reading topics, children's books and authors and lots of research, guides and resources.

8. Whooo is reading
A site that promises improvement in reading comprehension through graphic organizers, differentiated activities and questions that address key reading strategies.

9. Storynory
This site features a collection of original, fairytales, and classic children's stories, which students can listen to. The text is also included in the site. You can also download the story or leave a reply or comment as to whether you liked the story or not.It also contains translation of texts into different languages.

10. Readtheory
A free site with easy reading comprehension activities and a record of each student's progress.

Last but not least, a bonus for teachers and students, is a site for a new way of choosing your next book. You can choose from different combinations of factors to find the book that closely matches your needs. Which book ) has lists according to style, guest lists, or the option to create your own lists. There is also a section for children and schools called Bookflavour.

If after all these your students are not convinced about the benefits of reading, this infographic may be illustrative of them. What reading does to your brain and body:
( Source:
You can find more infographics that promote reading here.

REFERENCES for further reading:

1. The Practice of English Language Teaching, Jeremy Harmer, Longman, Cambridge,1991

2. The New Yorker- Books smell like old people: Do teens read seriously anymore?

3. KQED-Mindshift: Steps for cultivating a love of reading in young children