Students in Charge: Ideas for Reading and Listening Activities

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Recently, I did a small experiment with my students. Instead of me assigning reading and listening tasks, I asked them to read an article and watch a YouTube video, and then make their own questions as if they were teachers. The results and feedback were quite astonishing.


I asked students from my morning class (Reading and Writing) to read an article about scams taken directly from CBC News. I organized a Google Doc with a table with student names. The Google Doc was then shared with all the students so that they could work on the article and add their questions to the row labeled with their names. The students were only allowed to make wh-questions based on the article so that they had to come up with quality questions instead of only asking “Is this true or false?”. The students needed to make at least five questions. After they finished the question-making process, the students were asked to work on the questions made by their classmates. When they finished all the tasks, the students were asked to verbally share their experience and feelings about the question-writing and question-answering. They explicitly expressed the interest in doing this again. Here is some feedback from the students about making questions:

  1. Writing questions helped them understand the structure of the article better.
  2. Writing questions helped them better understand the gist and the details of the article.
  3. It was easier for them to spot details that they rarely paid attention to.

Regarding answering each other’s questions, they indicated that it was difficult and easy at the same time:

  1. It was easy to answer those questions because they now understood the “motive” behind the questions. They knew why their classmates asked such questions and where they could find them.
  2. It was difficult to answer those questions because they had different perspectives. Sometimes they found the questions very surprising as they hadn’t thought about “asking questions like that”.

After completing a couple of the reading activities this way, some of the students said to me that now they are not afraid of reading “super long” articles because they know what questions they should ask and how they should answer them. They said this to me: “I know the secret of how they make reading questions now.”


Now, we come to my afternoon class (Speaking and Listening). We repeated the same process, but with listening. The students were assigned a Google Doc with a YouTube video (2 minutes long) link about ‘How to Return Amazon Items’. Each of them again found a table labeled with their names. The students were asked to make at least five wh-questions and were allowed to watch the video as many times as they wanted as long as they finished everything within 10 minutes. After they finished their question writing, the students were assigned to answer their classmates’ questions. However, this time, they could not control the video. I played the video three times for them to complete the questions made by their classmates. Here is some feedback from them regarding writing questions:

  1. It was very difficult to create questions because “You have to understand the video”. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to make any meaningful questions.
  2. It was surprisingly good for them to understand the video as they had to pay extra attention to how the speaker presented the ideas.
  3. It also helped with their speaking as they were trying to learn some presentation skills by making “meaningful” questions.

When it comes to answering their classmates’ questions, their reactions were insightful:

  1. It was more difficult than making questions because they had to figure out why their classmates asked such questions and where they could locate the answer to it.
  2. It was more difficult to understand the questions than the content of the video as some of the questions “did not make sense”, according to some of the students. They provided their feedback on how to make the questions better.
  3. It almost felt like a new listening to them when answering the questions. They felt like they were watching a different video from the one they had used when making the listening questions.

Similarly, they enjoyed doing such activities as they had to “really pay attention to the listening material.” They discovered how to follow the signal words and some of the structural phrases to find out what they needed for question making. Now they know what to expect when they listen to authentic materials: Follow the structure and the questions.

Overall, it was a successful and fun experiment with my students. They all really loved it (or at least claimed to). Positive feedback and reactions to such activities make me think about how I can be more creative and make bolder choices that allow my students to “control” the class.

Have you done a similar activity?

NOTE: I teach intermediate levels. If you would like to try this activity, you can use an article from a textbook or any ESL teaching material. Instead of using the questions given in the materials, you can ask your students to create the questions. This also applies to listening. 

Hello, my name is Bei Zhang. I am delighted to be part of the team to share my ideas and experience. I am currently working at Huron University College as an English Language Learning specialist. My job there is to help international students with their academic English language skills. I also teach ESL and LINC at Thames Valley District School Board, and ESL at London Language Institute, a private language school in London. I graduated in 2018 with a master’s degree in Education Studies from Western University, focused on applied linguistics and teacher education. I also have a background in human resources management. I hope that my unique perspective of teaching ESL in different educational systems can benefit the TESL Ontario Blog and our members.


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