Some Good Websites for Reading Practice

There are several related websites that offer short stories and articles for extensive reading practice:

For each short reading passage, there are some simple exercises (such as cloze–fill in the blank–and scrambled sentences).  After you try the exercise, click on CHECK to see if your answers are correct or not. If you don’t know the answer, click on HINT.

English Online has longer factual articles which intermediate students can practice reading. At the end of each article, there is a list of words which learners might not know, with simple definitions. You can choose from many different topics, such as Travel, People, Government and Politics, or Environment, or read articles about current events (News Articles). You are bound to find something to interest you here!

American Stories for English Learners features the written text and an accompanying audio recording of 57 short stories by famous American writers such as O. Henry, Mark Twain, and Jack London. The stories are simplified for English language learners, but you will probably need at least a low intermediate proficiency to enjoy them. The audio recordings feature slow, careful speech.

Reading Aloud on Voxopop

Chinswing has now become Voxopop!  “Perspective,” a Japanese user who has started several different conversations, has now begun several threads for reading aloud which are wonderful for improving your listening, speaking, and reading skills!  The first one I found is devoted to short stories by O. HenryO. Henry, whose real name was William Sidney Porter, lived at the turn of the 20th century and wrote many wonderful stories about people in New York City.  The first story in the thread is one of my favorites, “The Last Leaf.”  It is about two young artists, Sue and Johnsy, who live together in New York.  Johnsy is dying of pneumonia, and she has decided that when the last ivy leaf on the wall outside her window falls, she will die.  The story of how Johnsy survives will bring tears to your eyes.

At the beginning of each short story in the thread, there is a link to the story on the web.  Each participant in the thread reads a few paragraphs of the story.  You can read along as you listen to English learners from many different countries read aloud.  O. Henry’s vocabulary is challenging, so this thread is best for advanced learners, who will find plenty of challenging new words in the stories.

Perspective has another thread dedicated to the short stories of Oscar Wilde, Angl0-Irish author and playwright of the Victorian age. Wilde’s language is easier than O. Henry’s, so intermediate learners may prefer this thread.

The most recent read-aloud thread begun by Perspective is English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs.  These stories also feature easier language than the O. Henry stories, but many of the words are archaic (old and no longer used in modern English), and there is non-standard grammar in the speech of the characters.

Reading and listening to literature is a great way to expand your vocabulary and hone your listening skills.  You can also contribute to the threads by reading a part of a story.  If you are an English learner, I’d recommend that you look up any unfamiliar vocabulary first to get the correct pronunciation.  Then practice reading the passage you have chosen a few times before you record it.  Speak clearly and with feeling!  Reading aloud is wonderful speaking practice.

Double Entry Reading Journal

Keeping a double-entry reading journal is a great way to improve your reading skills while increasing fluency and accuracy in your writing. When I have my students keep these journals, I collect and respond to their entries, correcting their grammar and spelling and answering their questions; but even if you don’t have anyone respond to your entries, this is a great way to improve your English.

Here’s what to do:

    • As you read, mark any passages (of any length) which interest you, puzzle you, please you, or displease you in some way. Copy them out word for word. This forces you to slow down and notice the details you normally don’t pay attention to when you are reading, such as punctuation, capitalization, grammatical structure, and spelling.
    • Beneath the copied passage, write your comments, questions, interpretations, thoughts, or ideas about the passage. What you write can be either longer or shorter than the passage you copied. This develops your writing fluency and forces you to express your thoughts about what you read.
    • You can either hand-write your journal or type it on a computer, but don’t photocopy or scan the text you select. The act of copying, while tedious, will actually help improve your writing, while scanning or photocopying will have no effect on your writing.

      That’s all there is to it!

      Tip: Remember that different kinds of writing (academic papers or articles, newspaper articles, fiction, poetry…) have different rules. In particular, modern fiction (both novels and short stories) tolerates a lot of rule-breaking, such as sentence fragments. Dialog is written to reflect the way characters actually speak, which may be ungrammatical, and writers sometimes misspell words to represent regional pronunciations. If you need to write for academic or professional purposes, it is probably wiser to choose passages without much dialog!

      Open Yale Courses

      Yale University, one of America’s premier universities, has just uploaded seven entire introductory undergraduate courses to the web! The seven courses are in English (modern poetry), philosophy (death), astronomy (issues in astrophysics), political science (introduction to political philosophy), physics (fundamentals of physics), religious studies (the Old Testament), and psychology (introduction to psychology). Each course includes a syllabus, reading assignments, zip files of course pages and video and audio downloads of lectures together with complete lecture transcripts. It is this feature that is exciting for students who wish to practice academic listening and/or note-taking. Unlike the “canned” lectures in typical ESL listening/note-taking textbooks, which are scripted and read and do not include natural lecture language with its frequent pausing, repetition and rephrasing, these are authentic, full-length college lectures, and each lecture is part of an authentic, full-length college course. (If you complete the whole course, you will not receive any college credit–but you will definitely learn a lot!) Click here to explore the Open Yale Courses site or to get started.

      ESL Blues

      ESL Blues‘ main page has lots of quizzes and exercises for low-to-high intermediate level students. Most of them concern grammar, but there are some links to reading and vocabulary exercises and quizzes as well. There is also a section called “Common Errors Explained” which focuses on topics like do vs. make and adjectives ending in -ed and -ing, which even advanced students still struggle with.  The quizzes supply the correct answers if you make a mistake; sometimes, you are given the rule as well. My personal favorites are the “double quizzes,” which combine grammar quizzes and trivia quizzes. Do you want to know which English king died on the toilet? Take the first Pot Luck double quiz and find out!

      Reading for Pleasure

      Reading is the best way to improve many things: reading comprehension and speed, certainly, but also grammar and vocabulary. If you read modern novels with a lot of dialog, it also helps you improve your speaking. If you “read” audio books, you can even improve your listening by reading! (If you live in the U.S., it is best to borrow audio books from the public library; the ones that you can buy in a bookstore are usually abridged, or shortened, versions of the paper books, so if you are reading as you listen, you may get confused when the audio book skips something.)

      You can read anything that interests you: newspapers, magazines, novels, short stories, graphic novels, children’s and young adult books, biographies, history and other nonfiction, and websites are all good! If you start something but find it too difficult or boring, stop and choose something else. Remember, this is reading for pleasure. If it isn’t pleasant, don’t do it.

      Your reading material should not have so much new vocabulary that you need a dictionary to understand every sentence or paragraph or page. If you have to look up too many words, reading will not be a pleasure, and you will not want to continue doing it. Choose materials that are easy enough for you to understand the main ideas without your dictionary, but which have some words that you don’t know. You will begin to learn these new words naturally, even if you don’t look them up in the dictionary, as you encounter them in different contexts. It’s okay to use your dictionary occasionally, but it’s not necessary. You are not going to take a test on what you read, so if you don’t understand every detail, it doesn’t matter. Remember: this is reading for pleasure.

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