The more you read, the better you become at reading. Pretty obvious, right? But the wonderful thing about reading in a foreign language is that not only will you gradually improve your reading speed and comprehension, but you’ll also learn new vocabulary and grammar patterns. Moreover, reading will indirectly improve your other language skills, like writing and even speaking and listening. Finally, you may learn something new through the language – the content of what you read!
It’s not surprising then that when my students ask me about one thing they can do in their own time to improve their English language skills, I often tell them – READ.
But what if you can’t get to a library or bookstore? What if you don’t have money to spend on books? What if you don’t know what books are at a good level for you? What if you move around a lot and don’t want to carry any books or other printed material? Don’t worry, because in this post I’ll share with you 10 online reading resources that you can start using today, for free.
There are MANY sources of online reading materials for learning English available on the Internet, but many of them are not free, are not easy to use, don’t include a large range of levels, are too difficult, etc. So, in this video I’m only going to talk about a few. These are not necessarily the best for YOU, but they are websites that either I as a teacher or my students have used with success.
Keep in mind that new resources are being developed for learners all the time, so don’t be afraid to search for new materials or learning platforms on your own! In fact, if you already know of any great reading practice websites that I don’t mention here, please comment below!
OK, my first resource is called Readtheory – a completely free, online reading practice platform that gives you an extensive (or very big) library of reading passages with comprehension questions that are exactly at your reading level. Readtheory was actually designed for native speakers up to grade 12 of high school in the United States, but it’s also great for people learning English as a second or foreign language.
After creating an account, you take a placement test that takes about 20 minutes, depending on your reading ability. Based on your test results, Readtheory places you into a level, and it will give you reading passages that are suitable for you. After every passage you read, you must try to correctly answer several multiple-choice questions. When you finish a set with a reading a question, the system shows you the answers and explains why you may have made a mistake. If you continual to do well on the questions, Readtheory will raise your level automatically and reward you with a badge.
The Readtheory platform is easy to use and tells you how you’re doing with progress statistics. You’ll get interesting reading materials at your reading level that’ll challenge you. Not only will you try to understand what you are reading, but you’ll also have to try to think critically about it. The platform is mobile and of course you can practice whenever it’s convenient for you. There’s a lot of reading content on Readtheory and the library is constantly getting bigger.
I use Readtheory in my English Language classes as a teacher, too. There’s a section in Readtheory where you can invite a teacher to follow you. Then the teacher will be able to view your progress, too.
Readtheory and the next 5 systems below all use a popular method in American schools of measuring a learner’s ability to read called a Lexile level. The lowest Lexile level is 5L, and the highest is 2000L. The higher your Lexile level, the better your reading ability is. If your level is below 5L then you are a beginning reader in this system, or BR. If you start using Readtheory, you’ll soon come to learn your own Lexile level. This knowledge is useful if you want to start using the next 5 online reading resources below.
Like Readtheory, Commonlit is a reading website for native English speakers who are learning to read in their own language, but it’s also good for you. This site is used by teachers, but independent English language learners can also use it. If your teacher has an account, she or he can give you one, too. Then you’ll get access to translations, audio, a highlighting tool for annotations, and answer keys.
However, you can still use basic functions of the system if you do not have an account. It is much easier to use on your own if you know your own Lexile level. This way you can choose reading passages that are right for you. At first, you can only see the levels according to the American school grade system, but once you click on a grade you will also see the Lexile level of each passage.
Similar to Commonlit, Readworks has passages that are put into groups according to Lexile vocabulary levels, too. The passages come with detailed lessons and resources for teaching the text. These resources are created for teachers, but it’s possible for you to use them for self-study, too. The website includes a large collection of nonfiction and literary articles integrated with reading comprehension and vocabulary support.
Like with Commonlit, you can shadow read while you listen to audio and hover your mouse over more difficult text to get definitions and see illustrations. There are questions you can answer about the reading, too. Most lessons are best only for up to grade 6 in the American system, so they are great for learners at beginner reading levels. Since the site is made for native speakers, some of the topics might seem a bit childish for adult learners, but there are some passages and resources for higher grades as well. Unfortunately, you will also need to be invited by a teacher with an account if you want to access all the functions.
TweenTribune is a website from the Smithsonian Institute. It was offers reading passages for Lexile levels between 500L and 1600L, so it is more for intermediate English learners and higher. Interestingly, you can often read the same article at different Lexile levels, which might be very useful if you want to talk about something you read with other learners who have a different level of English than you.
If you want access to the quizzes, however, you’ll have to be invited to join by a teacher who has an account, and that account might have to be based in the United States. But you certainly have free access to the readings without an account, often accompanied by a video.
Curriculum Pathways is another free American website that has resources you can search for by content type, and they also have Lexile grade levels so you can find the best resources for your ability. You don’t need to be part of a class or get an invitation from a teacher to use the website, but you do need to sign up – just click the “sign up” link at the top of the homepage.
Each Curriculum Pathways resource has a lesson guide that you can use. These guides are more for teachers than students, but you can use, but they will share the goals of the lesson, necessary materials, and answer keys.
Newslea is a website that provides current event articles at different Lexile reading levels. The website also works with a teacher or class. Like Readtheory, however, you do not need to be invited by a teacher to use it – just sign up by yourself! You can join a teacher’s class at any time later. Newslea has its own YouTube channel with videos that teach you how to use the site.
So far, the sites I have mentioned have all been American reading resources that are designed for native English speakers that you can use, too. The next group of resources focus on your particular needs as a learner of English as a second or foreign language.
Breaking News English
Breaking News English is a website that I have used for many years with my students. The website is constantly changing and is not very beautiful. However, it offers a huge amount of news stories at different levels that you can use for your own self-study. There are currently almost 3000 articles and 7 different levels – something for everyone! There are many different types of activities that you can use with each article, too.
The creator of the website has created an audio recording of every single reading in his lovely British accent as well, so you can practice shadow reading. There is so much to choose from, so be sure to find something to read that really interests you! You can usually find a PDF file to download that contains all the activities and answers for each article.
News in Levels
Yet another news article website you can use is called News in Levels. This site is much newer than Breaking News English, but similar. It provides world news articles at three different reading levels. Each short reading passage is paired with a video, so you can work on your listening skills as well. It also offers a Skype connection options for kids to practice speaking. Similar to other systems, English language learners can use the different levels to track their language learning.
Extensive Reading Central
Extensive Reading Central is another not-for-profit organization. It is dedicated to developing an Extensive Reading approach to foreign and second language learning. What is extensive reading, you ask? Well, click here to find out! The owners want to keep the site as free as possible. As a learner of English, you should take advantage!
Finally, I want to share with you a website created by a teacher in Japan. It’s also perfect for practicing your reading in English. Dreamreader consists of articles you can search for by topic. Each of them has a few multiple-choice comprehension checks for you to gauge your understanding. In the “easy English” section you can find pictogram readings – images with just one or two sentences that are usually quotes from a famous person. A great way to get a quick English lesson into your busy schedule.
OK, so those were 10 websites you can check out if you want to improve your English language reading skills on your own. And here you go, some bonus sites you can check:
- ESL Yes
- Easy Tweets (fun!)
- Depaul’s Reading Passages (nonfiction)
- ESL Lounge (elementary reading section)
- English Online
- Many Things (reading)
- Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Day (archive) (an archive of more advanced readings)
- Xreading (an excellent site for extensive reading – not free)
- Read Oasis (I haven’t used this, but it looks good – not free)
- English E Reader (I haven’t used this, either, but it was recommended…)
Remember that if you do decide to create an account with any website, you’ll probably need to verify your email address with the software. After you first register, you’ll have to click on the verification link in an email that is sent to you. However, if you register using social accounts Google+ or Facebook, this verification is probably not necessary.
Do you use any of these systems I mentioned already? If so, what do you like or not like about them? Also, are there any other reading recourses you like that I didn’t mention? Please share them below!
Remember, to be a good language learner, you should try to be autonomous and self-directed. This means you have to makes efforts to study and practice on your own and make your own decisions on what the best tools for your learning are. Make S.M.A.R.T. goals and practice regularly.
The Lexile Framework mentioned in this above was developed by MetaMetrics©, an educational assessment and research team. It was originally funded by an American organization called the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.