Reading Comprehension Lesson Plans  

These reading comprehension lesson plans give your intermediate ESL students a fresh look at history and science. They provide background knowledge as well as extra practice with key vocabulary.

photo of 2 students reading (& one also writing) with text: A fresh look at science, ELA, & history topics for ESL students (grade 5 up)

The lessons feature a variety of activities, from discussions to worksheets, writing, and a webquest.

Several lesson packets look at how diseases have affected world (and American) history. They consider the ways diseases have led to scientific breakthroughs.

Others discuss whales and climate change, teen sleep, and motivation.

The Word Detective packet uses excerpts from Poe, Treasure Island, and more. They help students practice reading comp skills like inferences and context clues.

The lesson plans include comprehension, critical thinking, and close reading questions.

(You can learn more about important reading skills to teach in Improve Your Reading SkillsReading Comprehension Strategies, and Reading for Specific Purposes.)

Jump directly to the lesson plans:

Free Reading Comprehension Lesson Plans

You can buy all the other lesson plans from my TPT store, or click the link at the end of each lesson packet to go directly to its own TPT page.

Word Detectives

Word Detective Bundle (includes Word Detectives as well as the Prefix, Root, and Suffix packets from Root, Prefix, and Suffix Worksheets)

Medical Mysteries (the packets below include parts of this comprehensive packet)

The Impact of Disease on History

Disease Detectives Webquest

The Mystery of Scurvy

Note: You will need Adobe or another pdf reader to read these pdfs. If you do not have Adobe Reader you can download it, free, here.

Free Reading Comprehension Lesson Plans

(If you don't need lesson plans but want interesting reading materials with comprehension questions, see Reading Comprehension Worksheets. The free worksheets are near the top of that page. The page also offers packets like the ones on the bottom of this page but without the lesson plans and other support for teachers.)

A Lesson on Teen Sleep

cover of the Teen Sleep pdf

In this short lesson students

  • watch a short TED Ed video about the value of sleep, 
  • read a PBS article about sleep and the teenage brain, 
  • & answer comprehension questions 

(The questions can also serve as an anticipation guide. Use them to arouse student interest and check the accuracy of their current ideas.)

Students also complete a crossword puzzle based on video and article vocabulary.

The materials are easy enough for most English language learners to follow. 6 pages. Right click to download it.

 Whales & Climate Change: Victims or Heroes? 

whale silhouette

This is an hour-long lesson for intermediates or high-beginners. It  includes

  • preliminary vocabulary and scaffolding, 
  • an article on the potential impacts of climate change on whales 
  • part of a second article on ways they reduce it,
  • & a worksheet with reading comp questions.

Lesson Plan on Motivation

This 1 1/2-2 hour lesson practices both reading and listening comprehension, using a TED talk on Motivation. (You can find an interactive version of the questions on A Comprehension Test. The detailed lesson plan is at ESL Lesson Plan on Motivation.)

After warm-up and vocabulary exercises, students watch the video and read its transcript. Answer any questions, then give them 12 comprehension questions. (Point out this is good practice for major tests they will need to take later.)

You can download this lesson as a pdf by right-clicking here. Get the warm-up survey and vocabulary matching pdf here and the comprehension test pdf here. 

Word Detectives

cover of Word Detectives

These lessons introduce English learners to reading comprehension skills and some academic vocabulary. They work for middle or high school intermediate-level ELLs or mixed classes (native speakers and ELLs). 

Common Core Standards addressed: CCRA R-1,2, & 3—especially in the yellow fever reading and activities. The summary activity also addresses RH.6-8.2 & RH 9-10.2. CCSS.ELA-Literacy L6.4A-B, 6.6, 7.4A-B, 7.6, 8.4A-B, 8.6, 9-10.4A-B, 9-10.6—in the context clue and root and affix lessons.


* 5 detailed lesson plans

* an introduction to detective work and inferences using a retelling of Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue. (I included the original excerpt near the end of the pdf. That way, you could ask students with higher-level English to read Poe's own words instead of a summary.)

* ‘Be a Word Detective’ categorizing and gap-fill practice and its answer key

* a discussion of the Scientific Method. (+ vocabulary explanations, a short quiz and an answer key-- 4 pages total)

*An Investigations Crossword and game ideas for practicing academic vocabulary.

* "Solving the Mystery of Yellow Fever": scanning, close reading, summarizing, and a time-line 

* a two-page excerpt from Treasure Island with a worksheet on context clues-- 4 pages with the answer key. (For students with more limited English, there's a shorter version.)

* practice with roots, prefixes, and suffixes

* Word Detective Quiz 

You can also get this packet (at a big discount) as part of the Word Detective bundle value pack below. (It also has more extensive root and affix practice.)

Check Out These Reviews by Other Teachers

You can see reviews from some of the teachers who have used it on Teachers Pay Teachers, or just buy "Word Detectives" directly from that page for $9.50. 

Word Detective Value Bundle

The Word Detective Bundle includes

  • the Word Detectives packet above, 
  • the Word-Building Suffix, Roots, and Common Prefix packets listed on Prefix and Suffix Worksheets.  (It includes practice with cognates for Spanish-speakers and several games.) 

The bundle gives you a lot of flexibility. Most activities after the first week will fit into 15 minutes or less. (A few need half an hour.) 

You can use it to teach context clues, word decoding, and over 30 important academic words. (Most are practiced 6-8 times-- enough for a student to fix them in long-term memory.) 


• 4 pages of teaching notes for the Word Detective bundle

• Word Detectives packet. Readings, worksheets for vocabulary and context clues, and quizzes-- about 1 week

• Word-Building Suffix packet: worksheets and suffix practice, 2-3 days

• Common Prefixes packet: prefix examples and practice, 2 days

• Roots Practice +. Greek and Latin roots, games, and cognate practice. 15 minutes to 1/2 hour over 8 days-- with review games later.

• a sample vocabulary notebook template for students to use to design their own

• new material including a Word Detective crossword and review/quiz plus their answers

It’s a great introduction to academic vocabulary, word decoding, and using context clues.

The combined contents add up to $26. With the bundle discount (included) you can download this for your classes now for $19.50. (That's over 20% off the cost of the individual packets.)

You can read teacher reviews and buy this bundle for $19.50 on Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT). 

Note: If you would like copies to share, or multiple licences please see the TPT link above.) Multiple licenses are 1/2 price each.

Medical Mysteries: Reading Comprehension Lesson Plans

cover of the Medical Mysteries readings, worksheets, and webquest packet, with title, question marks, and pictures of bacteria & a microscope

Medical Mysteries is a one to two-week reading comprehension lesson plan unit.

It looks at efforts to understand and control the big diseases that have changed history.

It includes several reading selections with comp. questions, a webquest, and links to videos & other resources. 

It tells the human stories behind medical progress. 

Recommended for intermediate or advanced ESL students from middle school to adult. 


          pg. 3-7 Teaching Notes & Lesson Plans: 

  • suggestions for timing, 
  • an introductory question handout for students, 
  • links to excellent short videos on several diseases, 
  • & optional writing activities.

Main hand-outs:

·         pg.8-10 The Impact of Disease on History (3 page article/reading)

          pg. 11 Reading Comp Questions

·         pg. 12 Crossword

·         pg. 13-14 Yellow Fever (article-- 1 page + with Questions on the 2nd page)

·         p. 15-17 Disease Detectives Webquest. (It includes instructions & three links for each of 11 scientists. Student groups each choose one to investigate and then introduce to the rest of the class.) 

·         pg. 18-19 Scurvy and Sailing Ships (2 page article)

·         pg. 20 Questions    

          pg. 21 Looking Back. (optional questions handout for a class discussion or individual evaluation of student learning.)

4 Answer keys (grouped together since you may not need to print these—or only print one copy of each.) pg.22-25 (Impact Comp, Crossword, Yellow Fever, & Scurvy)

·         pg. 26-27 Bibliography and Credits

These lessons address Common Core standards RI.7.1, RI.8.1, CCRA.SL.2, RH.6-8.1, 6-8.3, & 6-8.7, RST 6-8.4 and 9-10.4.

See teacher reviews or buy it for $8.00 on the Medical Mysteries page on Teachers Pay Teachers.

The Impact of Disease on History

cover for "The Impact of Disease on History" pdf.

This is a shorter version of Medical Mysteries, above.

It’s an introduction to the diseases that made scientific research both urgent and difficult.

It includes two articles: The Impact of Disease and the Mystery of Yellow Fever. It also has lesson notes, a glossary, comprehension questions & answers, and video & resource links.

It also includes the optional "Looking Back" summary activity.

It does not include Medical Mysteries’ cooperative learning  or its article on scurvy.

Buy The Impact of Disease on TPT for just $5.25.

Disease Detectives Webquest

Disease Detectives Webquest (pdf) cover.

This is another selection from Medical Mysteries, designed for cooperative learning. Like the packets above, it's for middle or high school. It will work for classes with ELLs above the beginner level.

It has lesson plans for a 3(-4) day investigation of the way scientists learned to control some of the worst epidemic diseases.

Day 1 introduces epidemic diseases and research. It has 2 short videos and a reading selection on the search for ways to control yellow fever.

Day 2-3 gives instructions for a webquest. Small groups of students investigate and make a presentation on a specific scientist. (They can start with three provided links their choice among 11 scientists.)

Suggested doctors and scientists include Edward Jenner, Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, John Snow, Jonas Salk, and six others. Most will be familiar to students from the videos. There are also brief notes on each on the introductory page.

The lesson finishes with some suggested discussion questions. These can help students think critically about what they have learned.  

There are nine pages of content (12 including cover, 1 answer key, and credits). It addresses several Common Core Standards: CCSS.ELA-Literacy R1, R9, SL1b, SL4 and/or 5.

See a teacher rating or buy this webquest at Teachers Pay Teachers for just $4.00.

The Mystery of Scurvy

cover for "The Mystery of Scurvy."

This is also taken from the Medical Mysteries packet.

It is a single two-page article about the difficult search for the cause of scurvy. Also included:

  • comprehension questions 
  • links to videos on the search for causes and cures of other deficiency diseases.

(With cover, teaching notes, comp questions and answer key it's 6 pages.)

The Mystery of Scurvy is $2.00 on TPT.

See also the "Words for Success" packet in Academic Vocabulary Worksheets. It links to an outstanding commencement address on the meaning of success. There's a two-page reading comprehension worksheet on that speech. It also includes practice with goal-setting and success-related vocabulary.

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