Many high school students learn better by doing rather than listening. With that in mind, we’ve compiled 25 hands-on reading activities you can use with virtually any text you teach! From creative writing exercises to group projects, these activities are designed to actively involve students in the reading process, encourage meaningful discussions, and foster a deeper appreciation for literature.

And if you need reading activities for specific books, check out our line of Activity Packs! These ready-to-use reproducible packets contain dozens of activities that help students think critically about the text while learning about literary elements like theme, symbolism, characterization, allusion, and more.


What Do You Think Will Happen?

Ask students to read the blurb on the back of the book and write a short description (one or two paragraphs will suffice) of what they think will happen in the book.

Encourage them to describe their predictions in as much detail as possible. Remind them that their answers don’t have to be entirely serious—especially considering that extrapolating a book's entire plot, with its twists and turns, from a back-of-the-cover blurb is next to impossible.

Plot and Theme

Similar to the previous activity, this one also requires students to speculate about the book. However, in this exercise, you'll present your students with several of the book’s themes and ask them to predict what might happen in the text based on these themes.

Learning About Genre

Tell students the genre of the book they're about to study and ask them to do some research about that genre.

Questions they should consider:

  • How are stories in this genre usually structured?
  • What kinds of stories are usually told by books in this genre? How are they meant to make the reader feel? What subjects and themes do they typically tackle?
  • What are some common features of stories in this genre?

If students have trouble with these questions, have them think about other books they've read. What kinds of stories are told by dystopian novels, such as The Hunger Games or Fahrenheit 451? What about dramatic tragedies, like Oedipus Rex and Macbeth? Comedies, like The Importance of Being Earnest or A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Researching Background Information

For this activity, students should try to discover information about the novel’s background. Did the author write the text in response to another book or a certain event? Has the author given any interviews that might shed some light on the novel's creation? How was the text received by critics?

Learning About the Author's Life

Ask students to research the author's life and write about the events that might have influenced the book's creation. Why might the author have wanted to write this particular book?

Researching Historical Context

Historical context can tell us a lot about what a book is trying to say. For this reading activity, have students research the period of time (variable based on what you know about the book's content and subjects) immediately preceding the book's publication.

At minimum, students should examine the history of the region or country the book is about or takes place in (unless the book takes place in a fictional world, of course). For some books, such as The Kite Runner, students may research multiple countries; The Kite Runner is about Afghanistan, but it's also about the United States's complicated relationship with Afghanistan as well as the Soviet Union's involvement in the region.

During Reading


Ask students to write a letter that relates to the book. Some potential ways students can accomplish this task include:

  • Writing a letter to a character in the novel (students can write as themselves or as another character)
  • Writing a letter to the author asking about some aspect of the book
  • Writing to a friend to share thoughts on or recommend the book

Developing a Timeline

Ask students to organize the major events of the plot, whether it's by drawing a graph, making a plot outline, sketching a storyboard, or a different method.

This is a good activity for students to work on throughout the process of reading the novel. They can start making this timeline when they begin the book and turn it in when they're finished.

Detailing Characterization

Ask students to pick a character and detail that figure’s characterization, explaining how it evolves as the book progresses.

Analyzing Figurative Language

Either choose or ask students to identify passages with figurative language. Then, challenge students to classify each instance of figurative language (simile, metaphor, etc.) and explain its effect on that section of the text. Find a free figurative language journal template for students to use here!

Predicting Future Events

This activity can be done several times throughout the book. Ask students to predict what's going to happen next based on their understanding of what they've read so far. If you want, you can have them reflect on previous predictions and explore what they got right and what they didn't.

Drawing Comics

Ask students to draw short comic strips based on key scenes in the novel. This activity is perfect for engaging students who appreciate a visual approach to learning.

Personal Journaling

Have students keep a journal of their thoughts and feelings as they read the text. Encourage students to be creative with their journal. They can do more than simply write entries; they can also draw illustrations or compose poems—basically, whatever they might best enjoy. Just remind them that their journal entries should always relate in some way to the book!

Comparing Characters

Ask students to compare and contrast two characters from the text. How do these characters act? How do they talk? How do they treat the people around them?

This is a great springboard for discussions about characterization as a literary technique—why authors create foil characters, what characters reveal about themes, the author's personal outlook, and more.

Live Debate

Divide your class into two groups. Have each group nominate a speaker. Then, give the teams something about the book to debate. You can assign a topic, allow students to choose from a list of topics, or collaborate with them on a topic.

Have your students work in their groups to come up with discussion points in favor of their side. You might want to tell your students to consider potential arguments the other side will make so they can formulate ways to refute those arguments. Students should also be asked to support their arguments with evidence from the text. Then, allow the speakers to make their points and refute the other group's points.

You may want to take notes on effective points that both sides make during the debate. Then, you can do a short post-debate breakdown and explain what each side did well.

This activity may take a couple of class periods. After all, students need time to collaborate and find evidence in the text to support their points. It might be a good idea to set up internet discussion boards for both teams so they can give one another ideas and support outside of the classroom.

Creating Found Poems

Ask students to take a look at one page of the text and create a poem using only the words on that page. Encourage them to make the poem relate to the text in a meaningful way. Need inspiration? Use our free lesson plan for writing found poetry using Elie Wiesel’s Night as a guide!

Writing as a Character

Have students attempt to write in the voice of a character from the text. They can write in whatever format (a poem, letter, journal, etc.) they feel most comfortable with, but their pieces should relate to the text.

Performing a Scene

Have students each take on the role of a character and act out a scene from the text. With dialogue-heavy scenes, encourage students to read their lines with the emotions the characters are feeling. This activity can help students review the events of the text and better understand character motivation.

Analyzing Conflicts

Have students examine a point of conflict within the text, whether between two or more characters, a character and society, or a character and nature. Any of the classic types of conflict help us think about literature on a deeper level. After choosing a conflict, ask students to identify the key features of that conflict. Some analysis questions may include:

  • Is the conflict external or internal?
  • Who is the protagonist and who (or what) is the antagonist?
  • How is the conflict resolved?

Writing a Newspaper Article

Ask students to write a newspaper article about an event from the text. If students have never written in the style of a newspaper article before, you may want to bring in a newspaper or direct them to news articles on the web so they can have examples to emulate. Encourage them to think about their audience as they write; if this were a real news story, what would be most important for readers to know?


Talk About Similar Stories

One way to examine works of literature is to compare them to other stories that tackle similar subjects or themes. Lead a class discussion about stories your students have encountered that share similarities with the text they just finished reading. They can discuss works in mediums other than books—such as movies, music, and TV shows. Drawing as many meaningful connections as possible should be the goal.

Create a Movie Trailer

Have students work in small groups to create short “movie trailers” for the book, whether that’s using relevant images set to music, clipping together scenes from existing movies, or acting out the scenes themselves. When producing their trailers, students should highlight the book’s most important moments, characters, visual motifs, and more.

Creating the trailers can be as simple as using a smartphone and free software such as Microsoft’s Video Editor or Apple’s iMovie, depending on what resources are available to you and your students. Your students may upload their finished products to YouTube or save them on a computer.

Write a Different Ending

Ask students to write a different ending for the book. Ideally, this ending will still be plausible based on the events of the text.

Design a New Cover

Have students come up with a new design for the book's cover. They can do this by drawing, painting, or using image-editing software such as Photoshop—whatever they're most comfortable with. Of course, if they create a digital design, you'll need a way of displaying it in the classroom (provided you want students to show their work to the rest of the class).

Write a Review

Ask students to write a review of the book. What are the book's strengths and weaknesses? How successful is the author in addressing the main point? Is the work largely original or highly derivative of other works? Is the message the book conveys valuable? Students can attempt to answer these and other questions in their reviews.

You may wish to show them professional reviews (such as those from The New York Times) as examples. You might want to explain the difference between a review and a book report, especially if they've only ever written the latter.