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.

Vocabulary (and) Spelling City

Vocabulary and Spelling City is a fabulous site! I’ve been using it with my beginning class recently. I have a premium membership, so when I create a spelling list for my class, all the activities are available to my students. However, as a student, you can create your own list by typing the words you want to learn into the yellow notepad on the home page. Then SpellingCity will model the words’ pronunciation, spell the words aloud for you, and create spelling tests and vocabulary, writing, spelling, and alphabetizing games as well as printable handwriting exercises, The games vary from very easy (e.g., Missing Letter) to more difficult (e.g., Sentence Unscramble). Feedback is immediate. You can play the games over and over again until you really know those words. If you want, you can use Find a List to search for my spelling lists under the username nliakos; but remember, they are for beginners, so depending on your level, they might not be very useful to you.

Watch the video “Getting Started” on this page of the website to see how you can create your own spelling lists or use some of the many lists in Teacher Resources, such as  capitonyms (words that change their meaning when they are capitalized, like turkey/Turkey), compound words, or (for advanced students) analogies.

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.

Online Dictation Practice

Listen and Write is a site which offers spoken texts at various levels, many of them from VOA Special English, so they are very clear and don’t use much difficult vocabulary.  You select a text and listen to it.  At any time, you can start typing what you hear in the box.  The program checks each word individually, and it won’t let you proceed if the word is not correct.  There is a “Hint” button, but when I tried it out, it didn’t just give me a hint; it provided the whole word.  Therefore, before you hit the “Hint” button, give it your best shot–what have you got to lose?

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!

      Absolutely Intercultural!

      “Absolutely Intercultural!” is a wonderful ESL podcast created by Anne Fox and Laurent Borgmann.  Winner of Edublogs’ 2006 Award for Best Audio and/or Video Blog, “Absolutely Intercultural!” has been on the web since March 2006.   Topics include things like how holidays are celebrated in various countries, how music can connect people of different cultures,  cultural aspects of blogs, and much, much more.  Everyone is sure to find something that will interest him or her.  Each podcast is accompanied by a text post summarizing the topics discussed on the show, but there are no transcripts, so understanding the shows will be challenging for those with less than intermediate proficiency in listening.

      You can subscribe to the show through iTunes or RSS feed (you’ll need an account with an aggregator such as Bloglines, Google, My Yahoo (In Yahoo Services, choose Feed Alerts), or Live Bookmarks, but these are free) or simply check it out at your leisure on the web.  New shows are posted every other Friday.

      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!