Great Idea: DARTs

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What are DARTs?

‘DARTs’ stands for Directed Activities Related to Text. When working with a text, DARTs provide an alternative to traditional comprehension questions as a way of assessing and encouraging understanding. There are two main types of DARTs:

1. DARTs using modified texts:

These are DARTs where the teacher has modified the original text, e.g. by taking out words, phrases or sentences or by cutting the text into segments. This works particularly well for EAL learners when the activities highlight a specific feature of English (e.g. modal verbs). Examples of the kind of activities learners would carry out with a modified text are:

  • Gap-filling - missing words, phrases or sentences
  • Sequencing – words, sentences or short paragraphs
  • Grouping segments of text according to categories
  • Completing a table, grid, flow chart, etc.
  • Labelling a diagram
  • Predicting – writing the next step or an end to the text

2. DARTs using unmodified texts:

These are DARTs where the teacher provides a copy of the original text, so the learner can annotate or manipulate it. Typical activities using unmodified texts would be:

  • Underlining or highlighting particular sections of text (descriptive language, nouns, connectives, topic sentences, etc.)
  • Breaking the text into chunks and devise a heading for each chunk
  • Using the information in the text to draw a table, diagram, flow chart, etc.
  • Devising questions about the texts for another learner to answer

Examples of activities

DARTs can be used in any subject, with any age group and with any type of text. They are particularly useful for learners who are at the Early Acquisition and Developing Competence stages of English language proficiency.

1. True/false: True/false activities can be used with any type of text, fiction or non-fiction, original or simplified. This can be a list of statements where the learner just needs to put a tick or a cross, or cards to sort into two groups. E.g. in Holes by Louis Sachar DARTs learners are given a set of cards to sort into true and false statements.

2. Changing text into a flow diagram: Using the information in a text to fill in a flow diagram can be a useful way of helping learners see how it is structured. For an example see the DARTs activities in Of Mice and Men part 5 where learners are asked to turn a simplified version of the fifth section of the book into a flow diagram.

3. Sequencing: Two sequencing activities are, one where learners have to put sentences in order to create a text, and another where they have to unscramble jumbled up sentences.

How DARTs work

  • DARTs are appropriate for fiction or non-fiction texts and can be used to check the learner has understood the main points of a specific topic
  • They can provide an opportunity to go beyond the literal and look at meaning that is implied in the text rather than overtly stated, and support learners with learning how to reconstruct and interrogate texts
  • DARTs activities that are useful to help learners to see how a text is structured include:
    • Blanking out words (e.g. nouns, verbs, every tenth word) for learners to decide what to put in (also known as cloze procedure)
    • Asking learners to think of a sub-heading for each paragraph to show they have understood its meaning
    • Writing labels or annotations for a diagram
  • DARTs activities that help learners analyse information include:
    • Highlighting key words in a text
    • Using different colours to highlight different characters’ views; or speech and action ready for converting into a play script
    • Recasting information using graphic organisers, for example: tables, Venn diagrams, hierarchy pyramids, life cycles, tree diagrams
    • Transforming text into other formats, e.g. letter, instructions, diary, article, advert, web page, storyboard
  • Many DARTs activities can either be done by a learner working independently or carried out in a pair or small group

Top tip: As well as being useful for independent learning, DARTs can also be carried out by pairs or small groups of learners and this turns them into active, collaborative learning situations giving opportunities for exploratory talk.

Why are DARTs a Great Idea for EAL learners?

Research into reading, e.g. Holden 2004, indicates that it provides a gateway into personal, social and economic development. It has been suggested that literacy will become increasingly important as the 21st century progresses (Moore et al 1999).

It is often possible to complete a comprehension task on a piece of text without fully grasping its meaning, but using DARTs encourages EAL learners to engage with texts in a way that promotes greater understanding.

The term ‘DARTs’ was popularised by Lunzer and Gardner in the late 1970s and 1980s, and their work on the complexity of understanding a text was influential amongst EAL practitioners (Lunzer and Gardner 1979).

Research suggests that EAL learners often demonstrate good decoding skills in English but score less well on reading comprehension measures (Murphy and Franco 2016). Recent research by Joseph and Nation (2018) found that learners with good reading comprehension skills learn new vocabulary more quickly than those who struggle to understand a text and are more sensitive to context. This suggests that activities that focus on meaning are particularly useful for EAL learners.


Holden, J., 2004, Creative Reading. London: Demos.

Joseph, H. and Nation, K., 2018, Examining incidental word learning during reading in children: the role or context. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 166. 190-211.

Lunzer, G., and Gardner, K. (Eds.) 1979, The Effective Uses of Reading, London: Heinemann.

Moore, D.W., Bean, T.W., Birdyshaw, D. and Rycik, J., 1999, Adolescent Literacy: A position statement, International Reading Association.

Murphy, V. and Franco, D., 2016, Phonics instruction and children with English as an Additional Language, EAL Journal Autumn 2016, 38-42.

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