Reading comprehension tasks equal a text (of varying length) and then questions, right?

What about if you start with the questions, and have no text prepared? Maybe something like this:

  • Tell your students they are going to do a reading comprehension and that you’re going to tell them the questions
  • Dictate your questions (between 5 and 8 questions is probably sufficient – see below for my example) and ask your students to write them down
  • They can then check the questions with each other, and if you want you can write up or project accurate versions
  • At this point, put on your best actor’s hat, rifle through your papers, and tell the students that, oh dear, you have forgotten the reading text
  • But the students will write the answers anyway. Ask them to make up the answers (and they can be as silly as they like). Set a time limit for this (5 minutes, for example)

  • When your students have written something for each question, put them into pairs or groups of 3
  • Ask your students to choose the best answers, and then to write the story to link their answers together
  • Finally, stick on the wall and let your students decide which is best!


Open questions are best. Yes/No questions will not work so well at the answer-writing stage.

You can use the questions to feed in any particular structures you want to look at with your students (for example, ‘would like to’ – What would David like to do in the future?)


Walton on further ideas for adapting/extending the idea above: Reverse Reading Comprehension

The post was kindly shared both by Simon Thomas on his ELT News feed, and Eva posted it on the Teaching English Facebook Page – Thanks both!!

Meanwhile, Naomi Epstein shared this Enthusiatic Comment on her blog Visualising Ideas

Anna has also shared her experience of using the activity in her Moments from an unplugged day

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47 Responses to Reverse reading comprehension – lesson activity

  1. Soo says:

    Fantastic idea! Thanks! @soo59

  2. Tyson says:

    That’s a great way to go about a writing activity, Mike. I love that the character is introduced in the questions and they lead the students well into the plot, but allowing them to have great divergence too.

    What’s great too is that after all stories are completed, edited and rewritten, they could be redistributed to groups and used as a reading activity again. And how interesting that students would already have an expectation as to the answer from the stories they wrote.

    Even further, having an actual story in the first place from which these questions originally did come could add an extra element of reading comprehension (and fun) for students in determining from which story (students or original) was the original.


  3. Guido says:

    …and what did Guido write in the comments section?

  4. Sabridv says:

    Just loved the idea! =) Thanks for sharing!

  5. Alan Tait says:

    Brilliant! Consider it stolen.

    • admin says:

      Haha! Fine with me, Alan. Remember that there is nothing new under the sun. I think the idea for this activity first came to me after a staff training session on teaching writing.

      Mike =)

  6. Lena says:

    It’s great! I use a similar activity from “Reward” resource pack “A Romantic Meeting”, and it becomes the hit for me every year, though I don’t stick to the same activities (trying to find something new every time) this one is successfully registered in my repertoire.

    • admin says:

      Hi Lena,

      Totally agree with what you say about not sticking to the same activities time and again, but having a set of things you can do easily and (generally) work well is great. This is the second time I have done this activity, and it worked a lot better this time.

      Mike =)

  7. CoffeeAddict says:

    Beg, Borrow and Steal – always a winner strategy for good teachers! Since you put it here for all to find, I consider this borrowing ;-) Plus, I’m adding your blog to my list of blogs I like. I’m happy to have found yours!

    • admin says:

      Totally agree, Karin. Nice to see you here – I took a look at your latest about experimenting with Glogster. Wishing you the best in your blogging future!

      Mike =)

  8. Ann says:

    Loved this activity – which Eva Büyüksimkeşyan kindly linked to on the TeachingEnglish facebook page

    You might like to check there for any comments.

    Feel free to post there yourself when you have anything you’d like to share.



    • admin says:

      Many thanks, Ann. I’ll be sure to check the TE Facebook Page often for links, and if I have anything to share I’ll definitely post it there.

      Mike =)

  9. What a fantastic idea / activity Mike! I will use it soon – but I’m sure it’s going to be a hit! Thanks for sharing!

  10. kylie says:

    Really enjoyed this post! Thanks a lot! Just added you to my list of blogs on my sidebar. Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Thanks Kylie!

      Will check out your blog – seems like there’s a wave of Turkey-based bloggers following the blogathon, which is really cool. Seems to have reinvigorated blogworld a bit. Wish you the best with it.

      Mike =)

  11. This is a wonderful activity! I have often used a similar activity as a reading comprehension activity ( showing the pupils how much information they have about the text by reading the questions), but have never tried it as a writing activity that can lead to a different kind of reading activity!
    Very helpful indeed!

    • admin says:

      Thanks, Naomi.

      I found there to be a nice amount of interest by the time of the reading stage of this lesson – perhaps stemming from the fact that the texts were all learner-produced. I was pleasantly surprised, as this is a group that is usually really lethargic and it’s difficult to get them going on almost any task.

      Mike =)

  12. Josh Round says:

    Simple, yet brilliant!
    Thanks Mike for sharing!

  13. I echo the comments above. It’s a winner! (LOL)

  14. Anna says:

    Love this idea Mike! Planning to try it out tomorrow and passed it round the staff room to much delight after the photocopier/printer failed us today!!

    Thank you :-)

  15. Glenn Hubbard says:

    Marvellous idea. Thanks for sharing.

  16. admin says:

    Josh, Brad, Anna, Glenn, thanks all!

    Your comments are motivation to this blogger! Glad you liked the idea and if you try it out… let me know how it goes!

    Mike =)

  17. […] had my first chance to try Mike Harrison’s Reverse Reading Comprehension Strategy today, with “a twist” and it was a big […]

  18. […] I did mine, which you can see below, using Wordle. The word questions is pretty big, which means it shows up frequently on the blog at the moment. What could this mean? (Actually it’s probably something to do with me mentioning questions a lot in this post) […]

  19. Mike!
    This is brilliant! Simply love this idea :)
    Will try it out asap and let you know how it went!

    • admin says:

      Ta Anita! Nice to see you here – been a while eh? Hope Pamplona is still treating you well.

      Do let us know how it goes – this is the moment the blog went mad, most views in a day, most views for a lesson idea… seemed to strike a chord.

      Mike =)

  20. […] Reading Comprehension This reverse reading activity by Mike Harrison looks really interesting. The idea is that you have students write questions for […]

  21. […] Reverse reading comprehension – lesson activity — www … […]

  22. Dale says:

    Hi, better late than never hey?

    I tried this activity today with a class of intermediate teenagers (ages 14-16). I was chatting to another teacher about the course book in our staff room and he responded “there are some awful texts like THAT one that don’t interest learners at all”. So I had a closer look and it seemed pretty darn vapid in all honesty. There was however a good story behind it and the questions were perfect for reverse reading.

    The questions were

    1 What was unusual about the sea that day?
    2. What did they do when they saw the first wave?
    3. What did the first wave do?
    4. Why were they lucky?
    5. What did the second enormous wave do?
    6. What did they see from the roof?
    7. Who were they rescued by?

    These seemed to make the good basis for a story.

    The questions went down really well and two groups wrote their final versions on the board. I had looked at the next exercise in the book and it was practising synonym recognition in a text, so I wrote a list of synonyms on the board (mainly phrasal verbs – they are Italians and rely on Latin-based verbs) and asked them to find them. At first they had a little difficulty, finding only two or three. I then underlined where the remaining synonyms were and they matched them to the corresponding words.

    I then elicited and added some other collocations to the phrasal verbs (e.g. have a look at the view, have a look at what’s on television, have a look on the internet).

    Students then read the text and compared the similarities and differences of the two. For homework they are going to answer the questions and do the following exercise.

    I asked them after about what they thought and they said they found it much more interesting and the final text didn’t seem boring at all.

    I wonder how you could use reverse reading to create student generated texts to practise reading sub-skills in a way that keeps students motivated and engaged in what they are doing?

    Cheers for the idea Mike!

    • admin says:

      Sounds like an excellent application of the idea, Dale. Thank you very much for sharing it here. Adam’s post also dealt with the activity by using an actual text (in your case, the questions), and I think this is a very good thing to do. The interest in comparing the student and student-book texts provides more opportunity to mine the language, to insert other vocab and functions (comparing the texts) as well as making the final reading of the course book text a lot more motivating and meaningful.

      In particular, I like the last comment you make. I think tackling texts like this provides an opportunity to instill a questioning nature when reading. After all, even if only subconsciously, we ALWAYS ask questions of what we read – is it true, is the source reliable or not, do I actually like reading it, am I learning anything from it, will it get any better if I carry on, etc. – so I agree that there may be scope for working on a whole range of skills with this activity. Too often, reading comprehension activities are about reading for gist or detail. There’s so much more we could (and should) be doing when educating about reading.



  23. Simon Thomas says:

    Hi Mike

    Just wanted to say thanks very much for this great lesson idea! Walton just reminded me of it in a comment on my own blog (I thought of a possible variation whereby each group of students choose a different genre to write their text in; as an extension project, they could help each other find out about famous English-language authors, stories or themes within their chosen genre, which they can then share with other groups, or which could be turned into a poster or online gallery – I reckon this might work better with teens or younger learners, though – what do you reckon?)

    Best wishes, and many thanks once again!


  24. […] Reverse reading comprehension – It seems you lot out there like flipping your comprehension activities on their heads and turning it into a fun, funny creative writing lesson. One of the most commented on and views posts on my blog. Goes to show how sometimes simple ideas catch on and inspire others. Do check out all the comments and follow up blogs to this one – a lot of creative adaptation to be found. […]

  25. Leo says:

    Just echoing the comments above, wanted to say what a brilliantly original idea. I stumbled upon it thanks to the mention in Simon Thomas’s blog.

  26. […] that offer wonderful ideas to use in class. Take Mike Harrison’s post on “Reverse Reading Comprehension” as an example. I’ve found my colleagues here to be very interested in this strategy, once we […]

  27. Chris Wilson says:

    I just came here after reading Naomi’s post and I really like the idea for this activity. I can’t wait to try it out. Thanks Mike :)

  28. […] grammar, register or vocabulary as it arises.Note: This lesson recipe is based quite closely on Mike J Harrison’s excellent Reverse Reading idea. I’ve just changed the context slightly and added a few ideas for possible follow-ups, so all […]

  29. Simon Thomas says:

    Hi Mike

    Just to let you know, further to my comment above, I’ve played with your reverse reading idea just a little, and added my own version of it to my website, here. Of course, I’ve credited you with the idea (along with a link to this page on your blog); however, it is rather closely based on your work here, so please let me know if you’re unhappy with a version appearing on my site and I’ll remove the post, or change the activity leading to the follow-up tasks.

    All best wishes, and thanks once again for sharing this excellent idea


    • admin says:

      Hi Simon,

      Thanks for the comment again. I will be sure to check out how you’ve adapted it.

      Please, I do this to share, so would never ask anyone to take it down. Thank you for the credit (although I must admit, the idea as posted here was lifted from a staff training event I attended a good few years ago!)



  30. Thanks for your ideas. it’s a very good activity to build up stories. At the end you can make your students compare their story with the story you chose the text from and create a discussion.

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