Detective Reading

Detective Reading is a simple reading exercise to give your students practice in intensive reading. The students will check for details and clues in the text to answer several questions.


Find a text which is of suitable length and level for your class. It can be as long or short as you need, but the class should be able to understand much of it and (if necessary) use dictionaries or other methods to understand it all.

You need to present the whole text to the class. You can do this in different ways, dictation, OHP, simple photocopied pages, etc.

The next preparatory step is to write a number of statements on the text. These should be of 3 different sorts:

  1. Statements which can be verified by looking at the text.
  2. Statements which can be verified by information inferred from the text (but which aren’t directly confirmed in the text).
  3. Statements which have nothing to do with the text.

You should prepare as many questions as you can of the three different kinds and write them in a random list (mixing up the types of questions).

The example below shows a sample text and these kinds of statements in action.

Running the Activity

Divide the class into small groups or pairs and give each a copy of the text. They can then go through together and read it. As this is happening go around the class and check in. This part of the activity is not meant to last long, a few minutes at most and the idea here is for the class to simply become familiar, in their own way, with the outline of the text.

Here is an example text.

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘And what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

The next stage is to go through the statements with the class. This can either be done as a class or by letting the groups work on them by themselves and then coming together as a class and checking answers, discussing ideas and so on. The statements on the text above could include:

  1. Alice was with her sister.
  2. Alice is a girl.
  3. Alice has a brother.

The first statement is a definite true and can be answered simply by quoting the text.

The next statement, however, is not so easy to answer. It is sure that Alice is female (hence the use of the feminine pronoun she when referring to her) but she may well be a young girl or an older woman.

The final statement cannot be answered either way from the text.

As you can see, the debate comes in this exercise when statements are ambiguous or need detective work to either identify them as true or false.

Useful Links

Reading‏‎ Skills in TEFL– a general look at reading with a TEFL class.

Reading Comprehension‏‎ – the best approaches to get your class understanding when reading.

Reading for Pleasure‏‎ – trying out more extensive reading with a class.

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Posted in Lesson Plans & Activities.

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