Cold reading


This is a great reading activity I have done with my advanced and proficient students and without a doubt one of my most memorable activities. Unfortunately the activity doesn’t work with just any class. You have to make sure the group is just right; ideally the students are relatively new and aged 15-24.

Level: C1

Time: 60 minutes


  1. To read a description of one’s personality and decide how accurate the description is.
  2. To read a description of another student’s personality and try to identify who the student is.


  1. Personality reading PDF (adapted), one per student (Source:


Stage 1:

  1. A week or two before the class tell students you would like to try something different with them. It works better if you revise personality adjectives before the class too.
  2. Ask each student to take a piece of paper and draw an outline of their hand, write their date and time of birth at the top of the page and a name of an object that is not immediately recognized as theirs.  When the students have finished ask them to fold the papers, mix them up and hand them to you.
  3. Tell students you are now going to try and write a description of their personality based solely on the information they have provided. Tell students you will try and be as specific as possible and that it will take quite a long time for you to finish all the descriptions so they must be patient. The first time I did this activity my students waited a month for me to “complete” the descriptions and couldn’t wait for me to finish.

Stage 2:

  1. Print Personality Reading PDF and make as many copies as there are students in your class. The readings are all exactly the same so sometimes I change the font and the colour to confuse the students slightly if the happen to sit next to each other and see another classmate’s reading.
  2. Before you hand the students the papers tell them you have tried very, very, very hard to be specific and you would like them to read the descriptions carefully and to honestly tell you at the end how accurate they think you were.
  3. Sit the students as far away from each other as possible and tell them to use their phones/dictionaries to check the meaning of new words.
  4. When the students have finished give each student a post it note and anonymously ask them to rate the accuracy of the description (1%-100%). You don’t want the students to be influenced by others when the rate their description.
  5. Collect the post it notes.
  6. Now ask the students to mix all the descriptions and try to identify the classmates based on the description they now have.
  7. After a few minutes students will look confused. Ask them to shuffle the papers again until pretty soon they will realize all the descriptions are exactly the same.
  8. Students’ reactions to this experiment are priceless and I have even had one student return to my school a year later asking for a copy of the reading.
  9. Explain to students that it is a technique called cold reading and it is often used by psychics and astrologists. At the end show students the following video:

Related posts:

Who are you?

Interactive reading class

Interactive reading class


The following lesson plan works well with all levels and topics and students could be given as much autonomy as the teacher wishes them to have. Also there are plenty of opportunities for input and feedback. I love the fact this activity involves every single student. I encourage you all to give it a try.


  • Choose an exam text you want students to read. In my class last week I chose a text about a scientific approach to modern art (CAE 1 Use of English and Reading, part 7)
  • Ask students to read the text quietly and ignore the questions for the time being
  • Time students while they are reading, but not to put pressure on them but rather to give them an idea of how much time they need (give students 10 minutes to read the text, most students are ready after 8 minutes though)
  • Put students in pairs. Ask them to compare their view of modern art with the ideas expressed in the text
  • In the same pairs, ask students to tell each other which text they didn’t understand (students often choose different texts which results in them explaining the texts to each other)
  • In the same pairs students decide which out of four texts would be the easiest to summarize and consequently summarize it to each other
  • Get feedback
  • In their pairs, ask them to write 4 comprehension questions (one per text) for the other teams. Make sure the students come up with the questions together, which forces them to negotiate the meaning of the text yet again and facilitate understanding
  • Make sure they each have a copy of the questions as they will be moving around
  • The pairs now split and form new pairs
  • In their new pairs, they must answer/ask each other’s questions
  • Students return to their original pairs and now individually answer the questions in the text book
  • Students compare in pairs, in threes and then as a whole class
  • Do not provide correct answers until they are able to provide you with one set of answers. By this point the students are usually so involved in the text they are hardly ever willing to give up
  • Check answers and get feedback


HOMEWORK: students choose 8 verb phrases from the text that they would like to incorporate into their vocabulary and prepare questions for an interview with a modern artist of their choice (it forces them to use the words in a new context). Next class: journalist (student A) and an artist (student B) work together and both get an opportunity to recycle vocabulary from the previous class.