Professional Development

Preparing learners for reading with Dr. Peter Watkins

Dr. Peter Watkins

Welcome back to Teacher Development Wednesday! As we enter into a new year, here’s a sneak preview of a title which is due out very soon! We’re very excited to present to you the first of 4 weeks focusing on reading skills based on the upcoming title Teaching and Developing Reading Skills by Dr. Peter Watkins.

In the latest in our award-winning Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series, Peter explores the main approaches used in teaching reading and offers us ideas on how to develop a balanced reading programme. Through this balanced approach, we move beyond the typical comprehension-testing approach – an approach which can often deter our learners from reading. This is a terrible shame for, as Peter observes, ‘the magic of reading allows us to witness history as it was being made, be transported to magical worlds, gain new knowledge and stay in touch with loved ones when we are thousands of miles apart.’

In Teaching and Developing Reading Skills, Peter considers the various processes which make up the deceptively simple activity of reading and provides a collection of accessible, generic activities to support and develop learners’ reading skills and strategies. The wide-ranging scope of activities focuses on areas such as promoting reading and developing fluency, to exploiting literary texts, exploiting digital sources, using learner-generated texts, developing critical reading skills and assessing reading.

In this week’s extract taken from the first chapter, Preparing learners for reading, Peter outlines a memory challenge using images where learners guess the content of a text before reading. This challenge not only heightens energy, but also motivates learners to read the text to check whether they guessed correctly. We hope you enjoy trying this activity which can be used with any level of learner, with any kind of text!


1.4 A quick glimpse


Outline Learners guess the content of the text through briefly seeing words and pictures.
Level Any
Time 15 minutes
Focus Previewing a text through images and vocabulary
Preparation Select words and pictures that relate to the text. Include four or five pictures and ten or more words. These words could come directly from the text. An online search for images should make it easy to select appropriate pictures.  Paste the images and write words into a single document (‘information sheet’) that can be easily displayed (or printed).



  • Tell the learners you will show them words and pictures that relate to the text that they are about to read. They will only see the information for 15 seconds. They must try to remember as much as they can in that time.
  • Display the information sheet for 15 seconds.
  • After 15 seconds, divide the class into small groups to discuss what they remember from the sheet.
  • Ask learners to predict what they think the text will be about, based on what they recall.
  • If necessary, display the information again for a further 15 seconds.
  • Invite some of the groups to report their predictions to the class.
  • The first reading task should be to see how accurate the predictions were.



The activity works best if the information sheet can be projected onto a screen for the whole class to see. However, if this is not possible, learners can be given a printed sheet, which they turn over when told to do so.

If a lot of information is included on the information sheet, the time limit can be extended.

It can be a good idea to use different fonts and font sizes for the words to make some items more noticeable than others. This will enhance the discussion of the items (stage 3 above) as some items may be noticed by just one or two people in the group.



The activity should give quite a lot of support for reading through previewing the text content. The very short time limit tends to build energy and excitement, which can be useful before the quieter, individual reading phase.


Throughout this month we’re celebrating the upcoming launch of Dr. Peter Watkins handbook as part of our Cambridge Handbook for Language Teachers series.

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Sarah Longfield
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