What do you do when you unexpectedly have to stand in for a colleague, and you only learn about it a few minutes prior to the class? Do you have a versatile ‘survival kit’ to use in such a situation? What is it or what does it consist of?

In my case, it’s definitely graded readers. They come in handy whenever I have to cover a lesson, particularly in a group I don’t normally teach.

There are many things you can do with graded readers. This is what I’ve tried so far:

  1. You simply tell the students to read a book of their choice (or the book you give them) and go about your business, such as paperwork walk around the room and monitor. You can ask them to write a review afterwards. The trouble is that you should read the reviews and give some feedback (don’t bother the teacher whose lesson you are covering!). This is time-consuming so think twice. 🙂
  2. You can ask them to read a part of the book and then they should predict what happens next (if they do it in pairs/groups, you’ve just created an opportunity for them to practice speaking). Later or in the next lesson, they finish the book and compare their endings with the real one (more speaking time!).
  3. If you have the recording too, you can play it in class. The students listen (with books closed or opened, depending on what you want them to practice/focus on). There don’t necessarily have to be any tasks. Sometimes we just listen to something for pleasure. Period. However, you can have a short discussion afterwards.
  4. You can play a chapter (books closed) and then the class reads the next chapter (with no audio on). Then you push the play button again (don’t forget to skip the chapter they’ve read silently).
  5. If you only have one copy of the book, you can ask a student to sit at the front with the book opened, and as the class listens, the student puts some useful/unknown language on the board. After some time/ a few pages, it’s another student’s turn. You can discuss the words on the board after each pause or at the end of the lesson.
  6. With Romeo and Juliet, for example, I only have one copy, so I scanned the pages and projected them on the screen as we were listening. It’s a play (very low level), so it was feasible.
  7. Having said that, my favourite graded reader is Survive! It’s very simple in terms of language and you can either use it with small kids, who just enjoy reading it silently or build a nice conversation lesson with an intermediate class.

You are in a small plane, going across the Rocky Mountains. Suddenly, the engine starts to make strange noises… Soon you are alone, in the snow, at the top of a mountain, and it is very, very cold. Can you find your way out of the mountain?


The great thing is that it’s an interactive type of reading. It’s quite similar to what you experience when you play a computer game, which is why it’s so popular, I guess. As you read, your decisions lead to certain consequences and in the end, you either survive or die.

Today, I had to cover a lesson for a colleague of mine and I learned about it a few minutes prior to the class. So, I gave each student a copy of the Survive! book. First, they read it silently completing the tasks. Meanwhile, I put some functional language on the board. When everybody finished, I pretended to be the captain of the plane going across the Rocky Mountains while the students were my crew. Suddenly, the engine started to make strange noises… I asked my crew what we should do. I elicited some answers. After demonstrating the activity with the whole class, I divided them into 3 groups of 4. I told them that they were in their small private planes and that they had to make some decisions again, but now they had to discuss all the pros and cons and agree as a group before taking a step. Surprisingly, it didn’t matter that they had already gone through the whole thing. It panned out really well and some students even turned it into a drama worth filming. 🙂

Meanwhile, I put some more functional language on the board (mainly modals in the past).

Finally (and this was inspired by the Mutiny on the Bounty movie), I asked them to explain/justify their bad choices, in hindsight. They could also say what had gone well and why. This time, I pretended to be a judge. I expected sentences like:

We shouldn’t have turned left. It was a really bad idea. Also, we shouldn’t have eaten the fruit. However, it was clever to go down the mountain because… 

Anyway, I think that as a teacher, I survived too!


About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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