Ear to Ear Reading ESL Teaching Activity

ESL Students Reading on a Bench Books

Duration: 5-10 minutes

Type: Pairs/Small Group

This activity was inspired by Valentina Gonzalez. She has a great article on how to organize this activity on her site. You can check it out here.

What you will need:

  • A Text for Students to Read – Each person in a group needs to have the same text.
  • Desks, Mats, Space for Students to Sit Next to Each Other


In pairs or small groups of 3, students take turns reading sentences or paragraphs from a text to each other. I’ll say this below, but it stands mentioning again that reading Round Robin style in class is a very inefficient way for students to practice reading. This method is so much more preferable.

How to Organize:

  1. Since the goal of this activity is to improve “automaticity, fluency and intonation,” it may be helpful to read through the text as a read aloud, modeling the automaticity, fluency and intonation you would like students to achieve.
  2. Put students in pairs or small groups of 3. Valentina recommends assigning them to their groups rather than letting them choose for themselves. She says, “Newcomers and students who have difficulty building relationships often feel anxiety when asked to FIND a partner.” 
  3. Organize students’ desks or mats so that students are sitting next to each other but facing opposite directions. This helps put their mouths facing directly at their partner’s ear ?.
  4. Weaker readers can take turns reading sentences from the text. Stronger readers can take turns reading paragraphs.
  5. If students complete the passage before others have finished, they can read the passage through again.
  6. Optional: You can set students the challenge of reading the text with automaticity, fluency, and intonation. They practice together, and, when they feel they are ready, they attempt the passage for the teacher who tells them they have passed the challenge or need to keep practicing and try again.


  • One of the most common problems I see when observing classes is the use of Round Robin reading. Round Robin reading is a very low-engagement activity: Very few students are participating at a given time. It also bores most students out of their minds, puts unneeded pressure on weaker readers and usually lulls the teacher into a droopy state of disengagement. Ear to ear reading and other activities listed here are far more preferable.

Have you tried this activity? How did it go? Leave your comments below!

2 thoughts on “Ear to Ear Reading ESL Teaching Activity”

  1. Awesome article, John. I agree with your points regarding Round Robin or Popcorn Reading. Thank you for sharing this!

Comments are closed.

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