Reading Comprehension Questions on a Speech About Success

Practice answering reading comprehension questions based on a thought-provoking speech on the meaning of success.

a photo of Niagara Falls (important in the first story Lewis tells.)Niagara Falls

What do you consider a successful life? Compare your thinking with Marc Lewis's in a commencement address (graduation speech) in 2000.

This speech is comparatively easy reading, with few academic or uncommon words. (Check the pictures of you are uncertain about the meaning of ‘tightrope’ or ‘wheelbarrow.’ They are both important for understanding the story he tells.)

A transcript of the speech is here. (It is possibly not the full speech, as that has now been removed from the University of Texas site that had it, but it does tell the stories.) 

a drawing of a man walkiing on a tightrope.

Lewis tells three true stories that combine to make an important point about life.   He tells about the acrobat Blondin crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

After he had crossed many times, he asked the crowd if they thought he could cross pushing a wheelbarrow. They shouted 'Yes!'

pictuure of a wheelbarrow (a handcart for moving heavy objects or materials.

Then Blondin asked one man in the crowd. He was quite sure Blondin could do it. So Blondin told him to "Get in the wheelbarrow" to be pushed across.

Lewis also tells a childhood bet he made with two friends about who would be most successful.  He describes how their ideas of success had changed by the time the bet ended 38 years later.,

The third story tells about how Eddie the Eagle saw his participation in an Olympic ski jump as a success, though many people considered it a failure.

Reading Comprehension Questions

Choose the best answer for each question based on Lewis's commencement address. Then press the right arrow to move to the next question. 


More Questions to Think, Talk, or Write About

Do you have a friend to practice English with? You could discuss this speech and these questions together. If you need to practice essay writing, you could use one of these questions as an essay prompt. 

-- Have you ever had to “climb in the wheelbarrow” and do something you were afraid of in order to get what you wanted or do what you needed to do? Tell what happened. Was it worth it?

-- Do you agree that Lucky Eddie was successful in life? Cite evidence from  the story to back up your position.

-- What does success mean to you? What goals in life do you most want to achieve? Do you expect your ideas about success to change as you go through different experiences?

-- Discuss at least one idea in this talk that has changed the way you look at success or think about life. (If your thinking did not change at all, why not? Do you disagree with everything you have read and heard, or did you already feel that way?)

For similar thoughts and links to other commencement addresses that consider the meaning of success and failure, see Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Graduation Speech and Learning from Failure. For practice with success-related vocabulary, see Words for Success and the Vocabulary for Achievement.

The content of those pages, this quiz, and more is also available as a pdf packet for classroom use at the bottom of Academic Vocabulary Worksheets.

Home> Comprehension Exercises> Reading Comprehension Questions.

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