Reading for Fun, Reading for Exams

Illustration from the The Anti-bully Squad by Rick Sampedro. ©Helbling Languages

Illustration from the The Anti-bully Squad by Rick Sampedro. ©Helbling Languages

Exams – school exams, language exams, entrance exams – are getting closer, and most students become more interested in language learning. How many students  ask you about the secrets of exam preparation? How many ask you how they can get better at writing and how they can expand their vocabulary in time for the exams?

Most teachers will agree that reading has a major role in successful exam preparation. And at the same time most teachers (and students) agree that students need some fun reading time, too. So reading mustn’t be overlooked or left behind because of lack of time and pressure to cover  exam topics. To prevent this from happening how can we plan ahead to include extensive reading in our exam preparation courses?

At the beginning of a course you can start a personalised ‘book club’ for your students.  Choose a set of titles that cover the topics that your students are most interested in. Ask your students to choose a number of books they would like to add to their exam preparation course packet.

If you are already in the middle or towards the end of the course, you can still include readers. By this stage your students have either  already got quite far with the exam syllabus or mastered a good exam technique and so may be getting bored with the same monotonous exam tasks.

Tell them that you would like them to do some more work but that it is going to be more entertaining. You can explain  that reading these novels, graphic stories or short stories will help them practise what they learn during the lessons, and reading for fun will help them consolidate new vocabulary. Tell them to use readers when they don’t feel like doing the course book exercises but still want to get in a good amount of language practice in their day.

Some tips:

1 Try to maintain the fun factor in readers as much as possible. If we treat graded readers as exam tasks and focus too much on multiple choice or true/false comprehension activities, they easily lose their appeal.

2 Offer books that are within your students’ reading comfort zone. Exam reading tasks might be more challenging, but when you start using readers during the course, make sure that these extensive reading texts are entertaining and that the reading experience is positive.

3 Let your students choose the themes and the titles they would like to read. Reading for pleasure comes with the freedom of choice.

4 Always chat about what they have read. Ask them what they liked or didn’t like about the story. Ask them if they have learnt any new expressions, and talk about how easy or hard it was to read the book. Use our reflection boxes to talk about the story.


Reflection boxes from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. ©Helbling Languages

You can read about the levels of our readers in Reading Matters, our guide to using graded readers:

Helbling Readers Structures and Grades. Reading Matters by Alan Pulverness. ©Helbling Languages

Helbling Readers Structures and Grades. Reading Matters by Alan Pulverness. ©Helbling Languages

Here are some posts on how graded readers can help you combine different language skills:

Use our Book Club Role cards to help your students talk about various aspects of the story they’ve read. These are not exam-style activities, but they help them concentrate on vocabulary development without being tested.

Use our Reading Timers as bookmarks. Tell your students that they can challenge themselves by using them, but you are not going to be assessing them based on how much they read.

For fun interactive activities, visit our Educational Platform, e-zone:

You can download free worksheets for our readers from our website. These worksheets contain exam-style activities based on the readers, and they focus on different skills.

Some of our activities in the readers and on e-zone are exam-style, too. You will find KET/PET-style exit tests, just look for the K or P symbol.

You can browse the Helbling Readers catalogue for titles.

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