Here´s an idea for a filler or a warmer prior to a reading-based activity: it makes use of the popular blogging site WordPress that you already seem to have found your way to!
If you go to the homepage at http://www.wordpress.com, you will find previews of selected WordPress blogs which consist of an image, a title and sometimes a sub-title. The blogs featured encompass a wide range of subject matter from travel to the media, fashion, social issues and commentary on current affairs, so there is certain to be at least one or two posts that would be of interest to your participants. You can also find links to other posts on the same subject as that previewed.
I find that these previews provide an easily accessible entry point to the world of blogging in English. The learners aren´t immediately confronted with long texts usually written for a native-speaker audience, but rather with compact, manageable “soundbites” of written English, which usually contain between two and fifteen words. Of course, reading one of these previews may pique a learner´s interest in the blog post and make them want to read it in full, which is great. Learners at a higher level, by which I mean B2 plus, will, naturally be better-equipped to deal with this material than those at lower levels. I would ask the learners to note down words, phrases or chunks of language which they find “interesting” (leaving them to decide for themselves what their definition of that word is) while they´re reading the blog posts and then share them with the rest of the group.
Returning to the previews themselves, how can we use them as a stimulus and aid to learning?
1. Prediction activities
– Guess the contents of the blog post based on the image, title and sub-title.
– Slowly reveal the three components to the learners: for example, first they see the image, then the title, then the sub-title and see if and how their predictions change. Alternatively, they have to predict what the next component will be, e.g. predict the title based on the image, predict the sub-title based on the title.
2. Matching activity
– Separate the images and text from the previews and then ask the learners to match images with texts. You could show the learners the original complete version first and then see how much they can remember or you can make the activity freer by asking them to match the images to the titles without having seen them beforehand. If you do it the second way ask them to justify their combinations by explaining the link(s) they see between them: it doesn´t really matter if their combinations aren´t not the same as the actual text/image combinations, but you could definitely show them the original afterwards.
3. Production activity
– The learners write a sentence which they think could be a possible first line of the blog post based on the preview. This gets the learners producing some language in response to the stimulus provided by the preview. Afterwards, they could compare their sentences with the real first lines of the blog posts.