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Traffic Light Activities to keep the reading process novel

September 17, 2015

When I wrote the Teacher’s Guide for Brandon Brown versus Yucatán, I included a unique during-reading activity for each chapter. I did this because when you are reading a book in one fell swoop and using it as the basis for your class activities for a chunk of several weeks (or longer), you have to inject novelty into every single step of the process: pre-reading, during-reading, and post-reading.

Pre-reading and post-reading activities are easy to find. If you search for “reading activities” on google or Pinterest (or check my reading activities archives), you’ll find zillions. During-reading activities are much harder to come by. It’s difficult to read differently! Difficult, but not impossible. I’ve compiled a list here for you, and I hope that readers will add their own ideas in the comments!

25 reading activities: some that STOP the reading process, others that SLOW the reading process, and others that let you GO and keep reading! Great for language classes.

Disclaimer: Some of these activities include before reading and after reading portions. The qualifying factor for me to add an activity to my list of during-reading options is that it must inject some novelty into the process of reading.


Red light activities significantly interrupt—or STOP—the reading process before picking it back up again.

  • Rewind - This works well if the teacher is reading or if students are listening to an audio book. Every once in awhile, STOP reading and go back to the beginning. By periodically circling back to the beginning of the text, you reinforce students’ understandings of how events, characters, and ideas develop and how they are related to things that came before. “Rewind” can be used in combination with other Red Light activities, since they significantly interrupt the flow of the reading process, and it is beneficial for students to remember how the most recently discussed event fits into the bigger picture.
  • Apples to Apples - Get an apples to apples deck in your target language or, better yet, make one using comprehensible vocabulary (previously acquired structures and cognates). In Apples to Apples, these would be all adjectives, but it is fine to mix adjectives, nouns, and verbs. Give 3-5 cards to each student (no duplicate cards—so if you have 35 students, you need at least 105 cards!). At various points in the text, STOP reading and play a round of “Apples to Apples”. Each student selects the card from their set that best represents the text since the last time that you stopped. Give them some think time to jot down their ideas on a piece of paper so that you can take it up as a formative assessment later on. Then, ask if anyone has a great card that they would like to defend to the group as the word that best represents what has happened in the text since the last stop.
  • Face-off - Pair up students. If desired, label each of the partners with the name of a character from the text; otherwise, the nomenclature “Partner A” and “Partner B” works just fine. Every so often, stop and have students complete a task with their partner. You could have them re-cap the story, explain everything that they know about a character, place, or subject mentioned in the reading, share their opinion about something that just happened, predict what will happen next, have a discussion in character about whatever just happened in the reading, etc. If this is really quick, it might be a yellow light activity…but since two people have to speak…the reading process is pretty interrupted.


Yellow light activities pause the reading process briefly before picking it back up again.

  • Visualize - Every so often, stop reading and ask students to close their eyes. Then, describe the most recent scene—reading from the text but adding in statements to help students visualize what you are reading. For example, “He goes to the beach…Imagine what he is wearing when he goes to the beach. Is it hot? How does he get there? Does he walk? Run? Take a bus? Who does he see on his way? What kinds of plants does he see? How does the ocean sound when he arrives? Does he feel calm? Excited? Tired?” Keep whatever you say comprehensible! After your [short] visualization exercise, have students open their eyes, and continue reading!
  • Written comprehension check - Use for teacher read-aloud or when listening to an audio book. Stop reading every so often and ask a quick question about what was just read to the class. Students respond on individual white boards (or electronically), and everyone reveals their answers at the same time. This is a quick formative assessment for you, the teacher, to check students’ comprehension, and it serves to break the monotony of the reading and train students to listen to understand.
  • Now what?
  • Bleeping Emotions - Use this during a read-aloud in which classmates are following along with their own copies of the text. Begin by brainstorming a list of emotion words or expressions in the target language that students might expect to see in the text. Then, have students take turns reading the text aloud (use any method to switch from reader to reader—just make sure that students know how and when the read-aloud responsibility passes from one student to another). As students read, they have to replace any word that describes the emotions of any character with “BLEEP!” (or whatever noise you want—or you could pass a bell along with the reader to ding when they see an emotion word). If a student accidentally reads one of the emotion words or phrases, classmates can shout out “BLEEP!” right after. Don’t read the emotion afterward; since students are following along, it will receive extra attention in its absence. I love using this activity because it requires readers to think about the meaning of the text instead of just decoding the words, which is common in early second language read-alouds. It also makes for great discussion as students navigate what constitutes an emotion.  Is “being impressed” an emotion? Is liking/not liking something? Saying that something is boring/funny/interesting? Discuss any differences that come up in Spanish.


Green light activities are done while reading is GOing on.

  • I heard it!
  • Grab and go
  • Sound effects read-aloud
  • Readers Theater
  • Simultaneous Acting
  • Murals- Give students a blank piece of paper, and have them illustrate the text by creating a mural. Or, have the class make a cooperative mural on the board. You could also have students pass their murals periodically to a student sitting next to them so that you end up with a full class set of cooperative murals.
  • AnnotationsWhile students read, have them annotate the text (this can be done on photocopies that you can make legally if you own copies for each student in the class, or you can use sticky notes, or you can have students make digital annotations on an electronic version of the text—again, as long as you have legal permission to use an electronic version of the text!). The annotations that I have students make are pictured in this post. Most often, I have students make note of the funniest part, the most surprising part, the most important part, their favorite part, a part they don't understand well, and something that they want to investigate further.  
  • Where do they go?I looooove using this activity from Cynthia Hitz!!! Perfect for any text in which the characters go to a lot of different places (the border-crossing chapter in Esperanza comes to mind!).
  • Read aloud tag - One student reads the text aloud, and whenever she or he wants to be done, she or he simply states the name of another student in the class and says, “Tag, you’re it!” (one way to say this in Spanish is, “¡Tú la llevas!…and here is a great, comprehensible video with tons of repetitions of “Tú la llevas” to watch before you play for the first time).
  • 5WH - Have students listen for the answers to the questions, “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” “Why?” and “How?” as they read. They should be listening for the main idea answers to those questions—as if they were going to write a summary of the whole chapter; not just small events that happen within it. Begin by having them divide their paper into six boxes and writing one of the six question words at the top of each. As the teacher reads aloud (or they listen to someone else or they read on their own), they must write down anything that they think could be the main idea answer to each question. For example, if the chapter is describing a character’s mother for awhile, they might write down “the mother” in the “Who?” box (in the target language!). But then it might start talking about the character’s father, so they would add “the father” to the box. At the end of the chapter or text, give students a few minutes to go back and circle the best “main idea” answer to each question in each box. Then, have them write a summary paragraph of the reading using the answers that they selected to the questions. Compare what different students write!
  • Spiderweb - While students listen to someone else read (teacher, classmate, audio book), have them create a plot web in the target language or in English (teacher’s choice—or you could choose to let each student choose for him/herself!). You might want to model this for students before you let them loose to do it on their own for the first time. A “web” is different than a timeline; so students should end up with a page of information that is connected. If they start with a character in the center, different events in which that character participates will spin off of it, but so will other characters that have relationships with the initial character, and those characters’ webs might connect back to the original character’s web when they participate in events together.
  • Word Graph - Have students graph (create a bar graph using graph paper) or tally each time that they hear a target structure. Choose 5ish words for students to listen for.
  • Venn Diagram - Before reading, give students two concepts, characters, or events to compare and contrast using a Venn Diagram. As they read (or listen to someone else read), they must fill in anything that they read or hear that characterizes one or both of the assigned concepts, characters, or events.
  • Strip BINGO - Yes, I love this game. Click here to learn how to play. Instead of playing with single words or short phrases, I think it’s fun to put some “scrambled” sentences or sentences with missing words so that students have to listen and think critically about what they have in front of them.
  • BINGO - To save yourself the trouble of creating 35 unique boards, I recommend giving students a list of options and having them create their own boards. (Or you could input the options on this site, separated by commas, and it will automatically generate different boards for you--just make sure that you don't include commas within any of the text that is supposed to go in the boxes.) In each box, you could put a word or phrase, an event, a question (students mark the question when they hear the answer to the question read), or even a very short scrambled sentence.
  • Sequencing - To keep this as a during-reading activity, I think that it is best to give students a “bank” of events to choose from. You could project a list or give students cards or strips of paper with the events written on them to manipulate. Usually, I summarize a string of events or paraphrase single events so that students cannot simply match the sounds they hear to words on the page; it forces them to practice thinking critically about what they are hearing. I want them to comprehend the input that they receive (hear or read); not just decode it! You can also include some trickster events—things that didn’t happen in the text—to make it a little more challenging.
  • Word cloud - Give students a word cloud of the text. As they listen to it read by someone (live or audio book), they just need to cross off any words that they hear.
  • Before/During/After asking questions - Have students make a 3x3 grid. In the first column, they should write three questions that they have about the text before reading it. While they read it or hear it read to them, they should fill in three questions that they have about the text during reading. Once the reading is finished, they must add three questions that they are left with upon completion of the text.

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