English Reading: 10 Passages for English Learners





Copyright 2015 Justin Eigo. Shakespir Edition. All Rights Reserved.





Author’s note


1. How dogs became our best friends


2. A trip to Madagascar


3. Advice for new parents


4. Hoverboards


5. The story of chocolate


6. Fauxhawks and mohawks


7. Banana slugs


8. Mexico’s Day of the Dead


9. Celebrating Halloween


10. Is there life on Mars?


Author’s bio


Notes on difficulty level


Design and image credits


Author’s note


Please enjoy my English reading passages. Use them to improve your English, study for tests, or learn about the world! I wrote them especially for intermediate English learners at a range of skill levels.


After each passage, you’ll find questions in the style of TOEIC, TOEFL, Center Test, Eiken, and other popular English tests. The answers follow on the next page.


You can use the study questions to test your English reading skills or simply enjoy the passages – the choice is yours!


Use the reviews to let me know what you think. I’m happy to add new features in future editions of this book.


Thank you for reading,


Dr. Justin Eigo


1. How dogs became our best friends


There is a common English saying that dogs are “man’s best friend.” Perhaps this is because dogs have been part of our lives for 15,000 years. However, today’s pets are different from the very first dogs. These animals probably looked and acted much more like wolves.



Dogs have changed quite a bit since then. Today, dogs come in many shapes and sizes. Some dogs, like Chihuahuas, can fit in peoples’ hands. Others, like Great Danes, grow 85 centimeters tall. Dogs do many things that people did not imagine 15,000 years ago. For example, dogs protect airports, farms, and our homes. They also help people who cannot see or hear. In many developed countries, dogs live inside peoples’ homes. They are often treated like friends or family members.


We let dogs live with us, because they understand us. In fact, they understand us much better than other animals—even apes or monkeys, which are closely related to people. Dogs can tell how we are feeling from the sounds of our voices and the looks on our faces. They also know how to ask us for food. If they want to go outside, they know to bark and wag their tails. Many dogs like to play catch or other games. They also learn tricks like shaking hands. The very first dogs certainly didn’t do all of these things. Today’s dogs have had 15,000 years to get to know us!


Scientists believe dogs took the first step. Our ancestors were good hunters. So they sometimes had extra food or parts of animals they did not want. Dogs therefore had very good reasons to become friends with us. When dogs acted friendly, people let them eat their extra food. When they weren’t friendly, people chased them away. So the friendliest dogs were able to live near human communities. This made it easier for them to get food and survive. Later, people probably found baby dogs. By raising puppies and feeding them, they grew more used to having dogs near their homes.


Over many years, dogs became less like wolves or wild dogs. It’s hard to believe, but dogs changed to look cuter. Dogs look like puppies for much longer than wolves. Wolf puppies have big ears and like to play. But adult wolves do not. On the other hand, adult dogs have cute, baby-like features like big ears and enjoy playing games. By looking like puppies, adult dogs get people to treat them kindly. Baby animals often have big eyes and ears. Their feet are often too big for their bodies. These baby-like features have helped dogs live close to us.


Dogs’ bodies made another important change. Close to 10,000 years ago, dogs began eating grains like rice and wheat. Their stomachs changed so they could process these foods. This change was very important, because people began living in small farming villages and growing these foods about 10,000 years ago. So dogs changed as we changed our societies and ways of getting food. As we made further changes, dogs continued to change, too. For example, dogs began eating corn and potatoes when we began growing those foods.


These changes in dogs’ looks and behavior show we “co-evolved.” In other words, dogs and people grew and changed together over the last 15,000 years. No other animal has done this. Although apes, monkeys, and similar animals are more closely related to us than dogs, we do not usually live with them. So dogs are much better at understanding us. We also know how to communicate with each other. As a result, we depend on each other. This is probably why dogs are called “man’s best friend.”




1 Based on information in Paragraph 3, which of the following shows how well dogs understand us?

A They tell us what they need.

B They share their food with us.

C They are closely related to people.

D They play with toys we give them.


2 According to Paragraph 4, how did our friendship with dogs probably begin?

A They helped us become better hunters.

B We started keeping baby dogs as pets.

C They saw we had extra food.

D We taught them simple tricks.


3 Based on Paragraph 5, what is true about wolves?

A Wolf puppies play less than dog puppies.

B Wolves lose their baby-like features before dogs.

C Wolf puppies eat just as much as adult dogs.

D Wolves usually have bigger feet than dogs.


4 In Paragraph 6, changes in ____ resulted from the rise of small farming communities.

A dogs’ eating

B how we treat dogs

C dogs’ work

D what dogs look like


5 Why does the author conclude dogs are “man’s best friend?”

A They can’t live unless we feed them.

B Dogs are very playful animals.

C People don’t understand each other.

D We often help each other.




1 A

2 C

3 B

4 A

5 D


2. A trip to Madagascar


Madagascar is one of the most unique places in the world. It is near Africa in the Indian Ocean. The island has been separate from the African mainland for 160 million years. So its plants and animals developed on their own. For this reason, they are very different from those just a few hundred kilometers away in the African country of Mozambique.



People travel from everywhere to see the rainforests and beaches of Madagascar. Measuring 1,600 kilometers long and 600 kilometers wide, it is the world’s fourth largest island. Pirates used to hide on small islands like Sainte Marie near the main island. Today, these small islands have beautiful beaches and resorts for tourists. Most of the rain falls on Madagascar’s east coast. The island’s central and western areas are much drier. As a result, the east coast is green and lush. It is covered in rainforests and nature reserves.


Visitors often split their time between the island’s beach resorts and its strange and beautiful plants and animals. These include bright red frogs, giant moths and other insects, and lemurs, which are related to monkeys. Many people enjoy Madagascar’s baobab trees. The trees grow up to 30 meters tall. They can survive in areas with little water, because they store up to 100,000 liters of water inside! These unique trees used to be surrounded by thick forests. Now they stand alone near grass, low bushes, and farmlands. Madagascar hopes to protect them, since they are threatened by tree cutting and farming.


About 90% of Madagascar’s animals are not found anywhere else. This includes lemurs. Scientists believe the first lemurs came to Madagascar 65 million years ago. There are now about 100 types, but there used to be many more. Some were as big as gorillas and weighed 400 kilograms. Madagascar’s lemurs are now much smaller. The smallest is Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur. It weighs just 30 grams! Tourists enjoy photographing rare lemurs like the silky sifaka. These have beautiful, long white coats. There are only 2,000 silky sifakas left. They all live in northern Madagascar.



The island’s mix of cultures is as unique as its plants and animals. The first residents traveled by boat from all the way from Southeast Asia 2,000 years ago. Arab merchants visited the island in the 600s. People moved from southeastern Africa in 1000. So people in Madagascar have both Indonesian and African features. The country’s first language, Malagasy, is related to Southeast Asian languages. Since France once controlled Madagascar, its second language is French.


Madagascar is very far from Asia, Europe, or the Americas. It is 9,041 kilometers from London, 11,450 kilometers from Tokyo, and 16,438 kilometers from Mexico City. Nevertheless, there are non-stop flights from Bangkok, Thailand; Paris, France; Nairobi, Kenya; and Johannesburg, South Africa. You can also get there from nearby islands like Mauritius and the Seychelles. Although Madagascar is less popular than Mauritius or the Seychelles, close to 200,000 tourists a year visit. Many come to see the island’s plants and animals. Although Madagascar’s not the easiest place in the world to visit, it’s much easier now than it was 2,000 years ago.




1 According to the passage, why are Madagascar’s plants and animals so unusual?

A Madagascar’s weather is different from weather elsewhere.

B The island was separate from other areas for 160 million years.

C There are many unusual plants and animals in eastern Africa.

D The country’s forests and other land areas are also strange.


2 Based on the information in Paragraph 2, ____ are the wettest parts of Madagascar.

A the small islands

B the western areas

C the central regions

D the eastern coasts


3 According to Paragraph 3, why can baobab trees survive in very dry areas?

A They are very tall.

B They find wet areas underground.

C They hold lots of water.

D They do not have other plants nearby.


4 Paragraph 4 suggests that Madagascar’s lemurs used to ____.

A be larger

B have longer coats

C be smaller

D look more similar


5 Where did the island’s earliest inhabitants come from?

A Africa

B Arab countries

C Asia

D France




1 B

2 D

3 C

4 A

5 C


3. Advice for new parents


Many couples visit parenting websites when they are first planning to have a baby. These tell them about things they will need, such as cribs, diapers, strollers, toys, and baby clothes. They also tell them about the changes their baby will go through. This helps new parents know when to visit a doctor. The websites also have tips for helping babies learn language and other important skills. They also include social networking features. These allow new parents to ask each other questions. This helps them learn how other parents solve common problems.



Parenting websites also have advice about the pressures of being a new parent. Many people worry their lives will change too much after their children are born. They worry about losing touch with friends or giving up fun activities that make them happy. Some couples also worry that their relationship will change. Many new parents say it is more difficult to spend time together. This is especially true when both parents have full-time jobs.


That is why people suggest regular “date nights” when new parents can be alone together. For example, they can go out for dinner while a babysitter watches their child. A “date night” once a week helps new parents feel close. Another popular suggestion is a “babymoon,” or a vacation before a baby is born. “Babymoon” is a combination of the English words “baby” and “honeymoon,” which is a trip taken by couples just after they are married.


Many experts suggest that new parents take turns watching their baby. For example, a husband might stay home with the baby while his wife goes to a yoga class. The next night, the wife might stay home while the husband plays basketball with his friends. Taking turns also helps new parents sleep. This is very important, since newborn babies wake up several times a night. They need to be fed, and their diapers need to be changed often. Especially at first, many new parents wake up together. But taking turns is easier. It also lets new parents get badly needed rest.


Taking turns teaches new parents to work together and share responsibilities. So it really helps their relationship. Parenthood involves big life changes. Sharing responsibilities makes these easier to handle. When both parents have full-time jobs, it is often the only choice. Raising a child is a serious commitment that lasts for many years. Even after their children become adults, parents sometimes help them go to college, buy houses, and start careers. By working together from the beginning, parents are better able to help their children for many years to come.


Many young couples worry about the challenges of new parenthood. They often feel alone, especially if their own parents are not nearby to help. By talking to other new parents, they worry less about being a perfect parent. They also learn how to handle their new responsibilities. Along with advice about raising children, many parenting websites have advice about something that is just as important. Staying happy—and having a happy marriage—also helps their children. So new parents must take time for themselves. They should also spend time alone with their wives or husbands.




1 What is mentioned in Paragraph 2 as a common worry of new parents?

A Having to give up things they enjoy

B Not being able to succeed at work

C Dealing with their babies’ health problems

D Not spending enough time with their children


2 According to Paragraph 3, a “babymoon” is closest in meaning to ____.

A a trip taken just after a baby is born

B time spent alone by a new mother or father

C time spent together every week by new parents

D a vacation before becoming a parent


3 In Paragraph 3, which of the following is described as a benefit of “date nights?”

A Getting a really good night of sleep

B Helping the new parents’ marriage

C Talking more about childcare issues

D Having time for individual activities


4 Based on the advice in Paragraph 4, which of the following is an example of how parents should work together?

A Waking up together to feed their baby

B Letting each other sleep late once a week

C Saving money by not using babysitters

D Changing diapers quickly for health reasons


5 Which of the following statements best reflects the passage’s advice for new parents?

A Take lots of photographs as your new baby grows up.

B Try to give your child everything he or she needs.

C Let your child learn from friends his or her own age.

D Don’t forget your own needs after becoming a parent.




1 A

2 D

3 B

4 B

5 D


4. Hoverboards


Hoverboards are a popular new way to get around. They first appeared at a fair for new technology in China in 2014. By the summer of 2015, musicians, athletes, and other celebrities had them. By the fall, hoverboards were a common sight in many world cities. Some cities, like London, New York, Shanghai, and Toronto, do not allow hoverboards on roads or sidewalks. But many people ignore those laws and ride anyway. Hoverboards are perfectly legal in many other parts of the world.



Despite their name, hoverboards cannot really fly. They can’t even “hover” several centimeters above roads or sidewalks. Instead, they roll along them. So hoverboards have wheels like skateboards or scooters. Some models have one wheel that’s about 15-20 centimeters tall. Other models have two smaller wheels that are connected by a wide board. Riders stand on this board.


Both types of hoverboards are “self-balancing.” This means that they adjust to how riders shift their bodies. To move forward, riders lean forward. The board adjusts so they don’t fall. To move backward, riders lean back. To turn left or right, they lean where they want to go. Hoverboards use electric motors. Most have top speeds of about 15 kilometers per hour. But some faster models travel 25 kilometers per hour.


Hoverboards are really popular with U.S. college students. Many universities have large campuses, so hoverboards help students get around. It might take 15 minutes for a student to walk to class from her apartment. But it might only take 5 minutes by hoverboard. Cars and motorcycles are usually not allowed on campus. So many students have bikes or skateboards. Now some of them have hoverboards instead. At many universities, students can ride hoverboards in the same areas where they ride bicycles and skateboards.



Although today’s hoverboards cannot really fly, this may soon change. Right now, several companies are working on boards that “hover” a few centimeters over the ground. For example, two companies recently invented hoverboards with powerful magnets just like high-speed “maglev” trains. These magnetic hoverboards only work in skating parks with strong magnets. In these parks, the hoverboards float just above the ground. The ride is very smooth, since they do not have wheels!


Other companies have created hoverboards that use powerful jets of water. These can fly high above the ocean and reach speeds of 37 kilometers per hour. Also, an inventor from Canada recently created a hoverboard that uses rotors kind of like a helicopter. This hoverboard can actually fly. It is a flat metal platform with eight rotors. The inventor flew it 5 meters above a lake for a distance of 275 meters. It is a test model, so it is not for sale. But his flying machine is a promising invention that suggests the hoverboards we’ll see in the next 20 years.


Perhaps the hoverboards of the future will fly high above the ground like in science fiction movies and comic books. Long before then, however, we will see many more fun inventions like the magnetic hoverboards, the ocean hoverboards, and the flying machine from Canada!




1 In Paragraph 2, the word “hover” is closest in meaning to ____.

A rolling on a road or sidewalk

B flying in the sky like an airplane

C being self-balancing

D staying off the ground


2 According to Paragraph 3, what are “self-balancing” hoverboards?

A Boards that do not have riders

B Boards that fall very easily

C Boards that have only one wheel

D Boards that adjust so riders don’t fall


3 Based on the information in Paragraph 4, why are hoverboards so popular at universities?

A They use less energy than cars or motorbikes.

B They help students travel long distances quickly.

C They are popular with athletes and musicians.

D They are more fun than bicycles or skateboards.


4 Which of the following is true of the Canadian hoverboard described in Paragraph 6?

A It cannot be used outside of special skating parks.

B It flies at the same height as magnetic hoverboards.

C It is not yet available for people to buy.

D It cannot get wet, unlike ocean hoverboards.


5 What is the main purpose of the passage?

A Discussing the shortcomings of current hoverboards

B Describing hoverboards and similar inventions

C Asking hoverboard companies to improve their products

D Explaining why cities have laws against hoverboards





1 D

2 D

3 B

4 C

5 B


5. The story of chocolate


Chocolate comes in all shapes and sizes. There are candy bars, cakes, ice cream, hearts for Valentine’s Day, and even giant chocolate rabbits for Easter. People who really love chocolate are sometimes called “chocoholics.” Many people don’t know chocolate was first enjoyed almost 4,000 years ago in Central America. In fact, the word “chocolate” comes from the word “xocoatl” in the Aztec language. The Aztecs controlled much of present-day Mexico during the 1400s and early 1500s.



Recently, scientists found small amounts of chocolate on jars made in Mexico around 1900 BCE. People first made chocolate from the beans of the cacao tree, which grows in Central America. But the first chocoholics did not eat chocolate. Instead, they drank it. Early chocolate drinks were not sweetened like hot chocolate or chocolate milk. So they were bitterer than most chocolate drinks today. In fact, the word “xocoatl” means “bitter water.” Sometimes, these drinks were fermented like wine and beer.


The Toltec, Maya, and Aztec peoples all loved chocolate. They believed chocolate was the food of the gods. So they used it for religious purposes. Powerful Mayans were buried with bowls of chocolate to use after death. Cacao beans were also traded like money. According to an Aztec document, one bean could be traded for a tamale, which is a Mexican food. 100 beans could be traded for a turkey. According to some stories, an Aztec king served chocolate to the Spanish explorer, Hernando Cortes, in 1519.


At first, Spanish explorers did not like the taste of chocolate. But some tried mixing it with sugar or honey. This made the drink sweet and less bitter. By the late 1500s, chocolate drinks were popular with Spanish kings, queens, and royalty. By the late 1600s, businesses in many European cities sold chocolate drinks. But chocolate remained very expensive until the 1800s. For example, a chocolate store opened in London, England, in 1657. It sold a pound of chocolate for 10 to 15 shillings. At the time, this was enough money to buy more than 100 regular dinners.


Today, chocolate is much easier to find. It is grown in Central and South America. It is also grown in Southeast Asia and West African countries like the Ivory Coast. Each year, the world produces close to 4 billion kilograms of chocolate. So people eat lots more of it. Europeans eat the most chocolate per person. For years, the world’s top chocolate eating country has been Switzerland. In 2012, the average Swiss person ate 12 kilograms of chocolate.


But tastes are changing. People in the United States and many European countries are now eating less chocolate than they did 10 years ago. However, dark chocolate is more popular. Dark chocolate is stronger tasting, since it has less milk and sugar. It is also healthy. Several studies have shown eating small amounts of dark chocolate can lower your blood pressure, reduce stress, and stop certain diseases.


People in Brazil, China, India, Russia, and Turkey are eating lots more chocolate than they did 10 years ago. Chocolate lovers in these countries will probably invent new treats and uses for chocolate. This is similar to Spanish explorers adding honey to Aztec chocolate drinks. The 4,000-year history of chocolate shows chocoholics always want to try new things.




1 According to the passage, where does the word “chocolate” come from?

A An Aztec word meaning “bitter water”

B A Spanish word meaning “sweet water”

C A Spanish word meaning “bitter water”

D An Aztec word meaning “sweet water”


2 According to information in Paragraph 3, which of the following was NOT a likely use for chocolate in Central America?

A A drink for religious ceremonies

B A way to buy other items

C A food eaten daily in large quantities

D A special treat for honored guests


3 Based on Paragraph 4, chocolate ____ after the 1800s.

A remained too expensive for most people

B spread from Spain to other European countries

C was used to make candy bars and cakes

D became more widely available


4 According to the passage, what is true about recent trends in chocolate eating?

A People are eating more of it in Turkey but less in the United States.

B People in developing countries prefer chocolate with milk and sugar.

C People in Switzerland eat less chocolate than people in Brazil.

D People in European countries are eating less dark chocolate.


5 Why are the Spanish explorers mentioned again in Paragraph 7?

A The Spanish explorers did not enjoy chocolate at first.

B They show how different cultures changed chocolate.

C Their chocolate drinks will be popular in new countries.

D People in Spanish-speaking countries eat more chocolate.




1 A

2 C

3 D

4 A

5 B


6. Fauxhawks and mohawks



“Fauxhawks” were first worn by men in London, England, during the late 1990s. They were most popular in a neighborhood called Hoxton. So the hairstyle was called the “Hoxton fin.” In the early 2000s, soccer stars, actors, and other celebrities began to style their hair in fauxhawks, too. That’s when they became popular outside of England. Although Hoxton fins were first worn by young men at dance clubs and bars, fauxhawks are now worn by people from all walks of life. These include office workers, short-haired women, children, and even babies!


Fauxhawks are common because they are easy to style. First, your hair has to be short on the sides and longer on top. After taking a shower, dry your hair slightly with a towel. Using hair gel or a similar styling product, lift the hair at the top of your head so it’s pointing straight up. Then push the hair at the sides of your head forward. Finally, push the hair at the top of your head together in the middle to create a spike or “fin” at the top. You may have to add styling products or use hairspray so your hair will stand straight up.


There are lots of similar hairstyles. All include short hair on the sides of the head and longer hair on top. These hairstyles are fun and playful. But sometimes they require a lot of work. Many are based on a hairstyle called the mohawk. Mohawks look a lot like fauxhawks, except the hair at the sides of the head is shaved or cut very short. Mohawks are sometimes much longer at the top, and people use styling products to make them stand up straight. Fauxhawks get their name from the word “faux,” which means fake, and part of the word, “mohawk.”


Mohawks became very popular with fans of punk rock music in the 1970s in cities like London and New York. Punk music was loud and angry, and its fans wanted to be unlike other people. They often wore torn clothing and lots of earrings and other jewelry. Fans of punk wore tall mohawks in lots of different colors. Some mohawks were blue. Others were red, green, or other bright colors. Mohawks were usually not accepted in schools or offices. Even today, they are unusual in formal settings like weddings and job interviews.



The mohawk haircut is named for Native American people called the Mohawks. However, the Mohawk people actually wore their hair differently. Mohawk men removed hair from most of their heads. They left a very small square of hair at the top and back of their heads. On the other hand, the Pawnee, which are another Native American people, styled their hair like modern “mohawks.” So it would be more accurate to name the hairstyle after the Pawnee.


This hairstyle was common in other parts of the world. For example, archaeologists discovered that ancient people in Ireland, North Africa, and Russia wore hairstyles similar to mohawks. They also found the body of an Irish man who lived 2,000 years ago. His body was well-preserved, because it had fallen into a pool of mud. He used sap, or a sticky liquid from trees, to make his hair stand up straight. This was an ancient form of hair gel!


Mohawks, fauxhawks, and even hair gel have long histories. Although we often think today’s styles are new, people have styled their hair for thousands of years. We have little information about the first humans 200,000 years ago. But it’s likely they invented new hairstyles, clothing, and ways of adorning themselves. At dance clubs in Hoxton in the 1990s, punk rock concerts in the 1970s, and Ireland 2,000 years ago, this is a basic part of human nature. As we adorn ourselves, we often take inspiration from the past. This is clear from fauxhawks and mohawks.




1 Based on the information in Paragraph 2, in what order do you style a fauxhawk?

A Lift up the hair in the center of your head -> Push the hair on the sides of your head forward -> Push the hair on top of your head into a fin -> Apply hair gel

B Apply hair gel -> Push the hair on the sides of your head forward -> Push the hair on top of your head into a fin -> Lift up the hair in the center of your head

C Lift up the hair in the center of your head -> Push the hair on the sides of your head forward -> Apply hair gel -> Push the hair on top of your head into a fin

D Apply hair gel -> Lift up the hair in the center of your head -> Push the hair on the sides of your head forward -> Push the hair on top of your head into a fin


2 According to Paragraph 3, what’s the difference between a fauxhawk and a mohawk?

A A mohawk is shorter on top.

B A fauxhawk is longer on the sides.

C A mohawk is easier to take care of.

D A fauxhawk needs more styling products.


3 Which of the following can be inferred from Paragraph 4 about mohawks?

A People wore them to look different from others.

B They were only popular with office workers.

C People usually tried them just once or twice.

D They can be styled to look like normal haircuts.


4 Why does Paragraph 4 suggest that mohawks are incorrectly named?

A The hairstyle was worn by another Native American people.

B Mohawks were known for more than just their hair.

C Pawnees showed the hairstyle to the Mohawk people.

D Many Native American cultures had similar haircuts.


5 Paragraph 7 supports which of the following statements about hairstyles?

A Most hairstyles aren’t really new, except for the fauxhawk.

B Mohawks have inspired many of today’s popular hairstyles.

C Many modern hairstyles have been tried before by other cultures.

D Early humans did not have time to worry about hairstyles.




1 D

2 B

3 A

4 A

5 C


7. Banana slugs


A strange creature lives in the forests of western Canada and the United States. It is a slow-moving, slimy creature that looks just like a piece of fruit. This creature is called the banana slug. Banana slugs are bright yellow, and they live in the Pacific Northwest. They grow up to 25 centimeters long. Like other slugs, they have long, soft bodies and prefer wet climates.



Banana slugs are very slimy. This means that they are covered in a sticky, slippery liquid. This helps them crawl over leaves, dead trees, rocks, and other objects. Thanks to their slime, they can even climb walls and stick to ceilings. It also helps them stay wet. Getting too dry is a big problem for slugs of any kind. When the forests get too dry, banana slugs “estivate.” They roll themselves up in their slime with leaves and dirt. Then they go to sleep. After it rains or the soil gets wet enough, they wake up again.


Their slime also protects them from other animals. Like other slugs, banana slugs move very slowly. They crawl along the ground at speeds of just 10 meters per hour. So they are very easy to catch! Their slime tastes very bad to other animals, and it makes them feel strange. So it helps to protect banana slugs. Nevertheless, some animals have found ways to remove the slime. For example, raccoons, ducks, and certain snakes roll banana slugs in dirt before eating them. The slime does not always protect banana slugs, but it’s a pretty good defense!


Banana slugs have many other unique qualities. They have four tentacles, which are like the soft arms of octopuses or squids. The upper two tentacles, called “eyestalks,” sense light or movements. The bottom two tentacles help them feel and smell. Their tentacles help banana slugs travel around the forest, find food, and find other banana slugs. If a banana slug loses one of its tentacles, it can grow it back. So this is another defense against larger, faster animals that try to eat banana slugs.


These strange creatures play an important role in forests. Banana slugs eat leaves, dead plants, and other detritus on the ground. In turn, they create chemicals that enrich the soil. This helps new plants grow. In addition, they pick up plant seeds and spread them around the forest. This helps plants grow in new parts of the forest. For banana slugs, mushrooms are a special treat. Just as they do with plant seeds, banana slugs spread mushroom spores to other parts of the forest. Depending on what they eat or how dry they are, banana slugs can sometimes change color. Sometimes, banana slugs are green, brown, or tan. One type of banana slug has black spots. So these animals have different colors just like bananas!


Scientists are very interested in banana slugs because of their slime. The slime has many benefits for slugs. Now scientists are trying to find new uses for slime, too. For example, they created a greenhouse with walls that stay wet just like slug slime. Slug slime absorbs up to 100 times its weight in water. Scientists are also creating robots that move just like slugs. These robots can climb walls and ceilings and travel on lots of different surfaces, including glass. Although people do not like to touch slimy creatures like banana slugs, scientists are learning a lot from them.





1 The word “estivate” in Paragraph 2 is closest in meaning to ____.

A resting for a little

B hiding from animals

C finding water

D getting too dry


2 Based on the information in Paragraph 3, how are certain animals able to eat banana slugs?

A They eat the slugs with their slime.

B They wait for their slime to dry out.

C They roll the slugs in slimy leaves.

D They cover their slime in dirt.


3 According to Paragraph 4, what is true about the banana slugs’ tentacles?

A The top tentacles smell, and the bottom tentacles see.

B The right tentacles see, and the left tentacles smell.

C The top tentacles see, and the bottom tentacles smell.

D The right tentacles smell, and the left tentacles see.


4 The word “detritus” in Paragraph 5 is closest in meaning to ____.

A delicious food

B living trees

C plant material

D forest animals


5 According to Paragraph 6, which of the following properties of slime is useful for some buildings?

A Its stickiness

B How it absorbs water

C Its slipperiness

D How it moves




1 A

2 D

3 C

4 C

5 B


8. Mexico’s Day of the Dead


Mexico is known for its colorful Day of the Dead. The holiday is called a de Muertos in Spanish. It invites the dead back to celebrate with the living. Although the holiday honors the dead, it is a happy, festive occasion. There are special foods and unique decorations like marigold flowers, skeletons, and skulls. There is also a Lady of the Dead known as Catrina Calavera. She usually appears as a female skeleton who is elegantly dressed and wearing a hat.



Among the holiday’s most important traditions are altars, called ofrendas in Spanish. The altars include marigold flowers, which are symbols of the dead in Mexico. They also feature candles, skull candy, special bread, bottles of liquor, and toys. Families put photos of dead loved ones on the altars. The families sit by the altars and share stories about them. The stories are often funny. That’s because families hope the dead will return to hear the stories. They want the dead to know people still think about them. For the same reason, families visit the graves of their loved ones and sometimes eat meals there.


Skeletons and skulls are important symbols of the Day of the Dead. So people make brightly colored skulls and paper skeletons. In some Mexican towns and cities, they make large altars or masks and skeletons for parades. The colorful skulls are called calaveras. They are painted and decorated with beads, feathers, aluminum foil, and other bright materials. The skulls are sometimes painted with the names of the dead. Most skulls cannot be eaten. But some are made of edible chocolate or sugar.


Interestingly, the holiday is less important in northern Mexico than in other areas. Cities and towns also have their own traditions. Some towns have dances where people wear brightly colored masks. In other towns, people invite visitors into their homes to see their altars. In some cities, children wear costumes and ask people for candy. The holiday begins on October 31st and lasts through November 2nd. Usually, November 1st is for children who have died, and November 2nd is for adults.


The Day of the Dead was originally celebrated by the Aztecs, who ruled Mexico during the 1400s and 1500s. The Aztecs used to celebrate the holiday during the summer. It lasted for an entire month. The holiday was dedicated to the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl. She was also called “the Lady of the Dead.” Catrina Calavera is modeled after her. After the Spanish took over Mexico, they combined the Aztec holiday with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. These holidays are celebrated by Christians around the world.


The Day of the Dead has many unique traditions. But it is similar to other holidays honoring the dead, such as the Qingming Festival in China. On this holiday, people clean the graves of their ancestors and offer them food, tea, and wine. The holiday also features colorful paper decorations. The Korean holiday of Chuseok is similar. Like the Day of the Dead, it takes place during the fall. So Chuseok is tied to the start of winter and the natural cycles of the earth.


It is interesting that these holidays include meals and celebrations. There is often laughter, dancing, bright decorations, and other signs that life continues. People are not supposed to mourn the dead at these times. Instead, they invite the dead to join their celebrations.




1 In Paragraph 2, marigold flowers are mentioned as ____.

A common plants in Mexico

B decorations for many holidays

C items related to the dead

D symbols of family life


2 Which of the following is NOT mentioned as a way to decorate calaveras in Paragraph 3?

A Feathers

B Chocolate

C Paint

D Paper


3 According to Paragraph 5, what was true about the original holiday celebrated by the Aztecs?

A It did not have a figure like Catrina Calavera.

B It took place during another time of year.

C It was only for people who died in the last year.

D It borrowed traditions from All Souls’ Day.


4 Which of the following features is mentioned as common to the Day of the Dead and the Qingming Festival?

A Food is important to both holidays.

B Both holidays feature colorful paper skeletons.

C Wine is offered to the dead at both holidays.

D Both holidays take place in the fall.


5 What does the passage conclude about holidays honoring the dead?

A They are times when we should mourn our loved ones.

B They focus too much on laughter, eating, and acting happy.

C They honor the dead by letting them celebrate life with us.

D They are not always enjoyed properly by people.




1 C

2 D

3 B

4 A

5 C


9. Celebrating Halloween


Halloween is based on several European holidays honoring the dead. These include Christian holidays and an ancient Irish holiday called Samhain. Today, its religious origins have been largely forgotten. So it is now a secular holiday. Most people celebrate Halloween by dressing in scary costumes, going to parties, or carving pumpkins. They usually don’t think much about its origins or meaning.



Children and adults celebrate Halloween differently. Kids enjoy costumes and trick or treating. Usually, parents buy their children costumes. Sometimes, they help them make a special costume at home. Recently, the most popular costumes have been characters from movies. But there are long-time favorites like dinosaurs, princesses, pirates, witches, superheroes, vampires, cheerleaders, and ninjas.


Once they are wearing costumes, kids go trick or treating. They usually go in groups with their parents. Together, the visit homes in their neighborhoods. At each home with lights or Halloween decorations, the kids stop and ring the doorbell. If someone answers, the kids shout, “Trick or treat!” The person usually gives them candy. By the end of the night, kids have bags filled with many different kinds of candy!


Although trick or treating seems like a modern tradition, it dates back to the 1500s. During Samhain, people wore costumes and traveled from house to house asking for food in Ireland and Scotland. They wore disguises to look like the spirits of the dead. Some people thought the costumes helped them hide from angry spirits, too. By the 1700s, this tradition had changed a little. Then, some Irish and Scottish people dressed up in costumes and played tricks on their neighbors. This older tradition may explain where the phrase, “trick or treat,” came from.



Adults usually don’t go trick or treating. Instead, they go to costume parties. If they have children, they go to parties with other parents and their children. If not, they go to parties with people their own age. At many U.S. universities, for example, there are Halloween parties in students’ apartments and dormitories. So students can go to lots of parties on Halloween night. They often stay out very late in their costumes.


Both adults and children like haunted houses. These have many different rooms and hallways. Each room is a little different. Some show frightening scenes from popular horror movies. Others feature ghosts, vampires, serial killers, and monsters. It can take an hour to visit some of the biggest haunted houses. In some haunted houses, visitors must walk barefoot through dark hallways. Sometimes it is totally dark, so they cannot see anything. Actors in costumes scream at them and do other frightening things. These experiences can be very scary, even for adults.


In countries where Halloween is traditionally celebrated, theaters and TV stations also show werewolf, vampire, zombie, and other horror movies. In some U.S. cities, people show horror movies in cemeteries. There are also several popular horror movies that take place on Halloween.


These ways of celebrating Halloween show the holiday is mostly an excuse to have fun. It does not have a deeper meaning for most people. This is especially true in countries where Halloween was not celebrated until recently. Today, you can find Halloween costume parties in cities like Bangkok, Mumbai, Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Particularly outside of Europe and North America, Halloween has recently become a global party night similar to New Year’s Eve.




1 In the passage, which of the following is mentioned as a Halloween activity that kids enjoy?

A Playing tricks on their neighbors

B Making costumes for their parents

C Watching scary movies together

D Going to haunted houses


2 Based on information in Paragraphs 3 and 4, what is true about trick or treating?

A People wore costumes and played tricks in 1500s Ireland.

B Its name probably comes from activities during the 1700s.

C Large groups of children often do it without their parents.

D Costumes from the holiday of Samhain are still popular.


3 According to Paragraph 5, ____ is common to Halloween celebrations at U.S. universities.

A going to many parties in one night

B wearing really strange costumes

C giving fun parties for children

D trick or treating late at night


4 Which of the following is NOT mentioned in Paragraph 6 as a feature of some haunted houses.

A less-scary areas for kids

B areas with complete darkness

C having to walk without shoes

D frightening scenes from movies


5 Which of the sentences below best expresses the essential information in the following sentence? Wrong answers change its meaning.


Particularly outside of Europe and North America, Halloween has recently become a global party night similar to New Year’s Eve.


A Halloween traditions of all kinds are common outside Europe and North America.

B Halloween is more popular than New Year’s outside Europe and North America.

C Halloween is usually celebrated with parties outside Europe and North America.

D Halloween costume parties are different outside Europe and North America.




1 D

2 B

3 A

4 A

5 C


10. Is there life on Mars?


Now is an exciting time for scientists who are searching for life on other worlds. In recent years, scientists have developed new ways to look for worlds similar to Earth. They believe they will soon find planets with comfortable temperatures, rocky soil, water, and air that we can breathe. But these planets are many light years away. So it will be very difficult to visit them without much faster spaceships.



Scientists are also looking for life closer to home. Although they do not expect to find little green men or aliens like in the movies, they think very small forms of life may exist on Mars. Other promising possibilities are oceans on Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Titan. After sending unmanned spaceships to look for life, they hope to send astronauts to see these places, too.


During the 1700s and 1800s, people were even more confident there was life in our solar system. Many scientists of the time believed there were people and animals on Mars and Venus—and even the moon! The people on Mars were called “Martians.” In later science fiction books, the people of Venus were called “Venusians.”


In 1835, a New York newspaper printed articles about amazing new discoveries. The articles described the work of a scientist with a large, powerful telescope in South Africa. The articles claimed he saw lots of strange creatures living on the moon. These included large, horned bears; animals shaped like perfectly round balls; and bat-men and bat-women. Readers believed these stories, and 60,000 copies of the articles were sold. Once the articles’ author admitted the stories were false, this incident became known as “the Moon Hoax.”


As people invented better telescopes, they started to see more details on Mars and other nearby planets. Scientists like Giovanni Schiaparelli of Italy spent many nights looking at Mercury, Venus, and Mars through telescopes. Schiaparelli made detailed maps based on what he thought he saw on Mars. He drew large, beautiful maps with rivers, canals, and large oceans. Building on his work, some other scientists thought there were also plants, warm temperatures, and breathable air. Some even believed alien civilizations had built Mars’ canals.


By the 1890s, scientists knew there was no life on the moon. But some, including Schiaparelli, believed there could be life on Mars. However, other scientists grew less hopeful. By 1910, a few famous scientists wrote articles or books saying there were no rivers or canals on Mars. They also doubted that Mars’ canals were built by alien civilizations. By the early 1960s, most scientists thought there was probably no air, water, or life there.



Scientists confirmed their suspicions in 1965, when the first spaceship visited Mars. As it flew by, the spaceship took 22 photos of the planet’s surface. These showed there were no oceans, no rivers, and no Martians. Although scientists expected this, many people were disappointed. They wanted to believe Mars had living creatures. This was more exciting and mysterious than the truth. Some photographs showed mountains and other features that looked like faces or Egyptian pyramids. So some people continued to believe Mars used to have advanced civilizations.


Despite these disappointments, scientists are now more hopeful about life on Mars. Recently, they discovered water. The water only shows up in a few places on Mars during the warmest parts of the planet’s year. So they did not find large oceans or rivers. But scientists believe there may be more water in other parts of Mars. Where there’s water, there may be life. So they will send spaceships to dig under the soil in these wet areas of Mars. Scientists think this is the best place to find small life forms.


Scientists no longer expect to find large animals, let alone Martians, in our solar system. But their studies of Earth’s oceans show life can exist in unexpected places. For example, some animals live near hot vents on the ocean floor. These reach 400 degrees Celsius and have no breathable air! As scientists learn about creatures in these areas, they feel more hopeful about life on other planets. We have yet to visit many places on Mars as well as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. So some scientists think we will discover life in our solar system in the next 20 years.




1 According to Paragraph 3, many people believed there was life on ____ during the 1700s and 1800s.

A Venus but not Mars

B the moon and other nearby planets

C the moon but not Venus or Mars

D Venus and Mars but not the moon


2 Which of the following can be inferred about “the Moon Hoax” from Paragraph 4?

A Most readers knew the story was false.

B The author thought the story was true.

C The author knew the story was false.

D Most scientists thought the story was true.


3 Based on information in Paragraph 6, when did scientists first agree there was probably no life on Mars?

A the late 1890s

B 1910

C the early 1960s

D 1965


4 According to the passage, which of the following is NOT a reason why scientists now believe there may be life on other planets in our solar system?

A They recently found water in certain parts of Mars.

B There could be hidden oceans on Mars or Venus.

C We have not explored the moons of Jupiter or Saturn.

D Life exists in some very surprising areas on Earth.


5 What does the passage conclude about the possibility of life on other planets?

A Scientists are more hopeful than they were 300 years ago.

B It’s a little less likely than many scientists believe.

C There could be large animals in hidden areas of other planets.

D We have a good chance of finding small life forms.




1 B

2 C

3 C

4 B

5 D


Author’s bio


Dr. Justin Eigo has been creating English reading and listening comprehension tests and learning materials for more than 15 years. He’s taught English at American universities and worked for educational companies, non-profit organizations, and technology companies in the United States and Asia. He holds a Ph.D. in English literature and lives on the West Coast of the U.S.

Notes on difficulty level


These 10 passages are written for intermediate-level English learners. They are comparable in difficulty level to reading passages in the TOEIC, TOEFL, Eiken, and Center Tests.


The passages have Flesch-Kincaid grade levels ranging from 5.2 to 8.3 and Flesch reading ease scores ranging from 53.9 to 76.7. Most passages average 11 words per sentence. I included two passages (dogs and banana slugs) in the easier range (F-K grade levels of 5.3 and 5.2 respectively). Two (Madagascar and chocolate) are more difficult with F-K grade levels of 8.3 and 8.0 respectively. The remaining passages have F-K grade levels ranging from 6.3 to 7.6. The passages are 514 to 717 words.


Each passage includes 5 questions in the formats of popular reading comprehension tests. Each question includes 4 multiple-choice options and comprehension tasks commonly seen in the tests I’ve mentioned above.


I’ve designed these passages to help you build your English skills in preparation for these tests. The TOEFL test in particular is quite difficult, so these passages can help you build skills and confidence while reading about fun and interesting topics.






Design and image credits


Cover design by Peter Walberg of Walberg Design.


All images are modified from original photographs, which have been licensed or are in the public domain. Credits for the original photos are as follows:


1. Boy with dog: Copyright ots-photo / fotolia

2. Baobab trees: Copyright javarman / PhotoDune; Lemur: Copyright erllre / PhotoDune

3. Young family: Copyright Wavebreakmedia / PhotoDune

4. Hoverboard: [+ Ben Larcey+] via urbanweel.co and StockPholio (Creative Commons-Attribution); Ocean hoverboard: Copyright Mrakor / fotolia

5. Chocolates: Copyright pincasso / PhotoDune

6. Boy with fauxhawk: Copyright Jaimie Duplass / fotolia; Man with mohawk: Copyright XiXin Xing / PhotoDune

7. Banana slug: [+ David Sifry+] via StockPholio (Creative Commons-Attribution)

8. Day of the Dead: Copyright agcuesta / iStock

9. Baby in dinosaur costume: Copyright leungchopan / PhotoDune; Girl in witch costume: Copyright supparsorn / fotolia

10. Mars surface: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell University / Arizona State University; Mars rover Curiosity: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS





English Reading: 10 Passages for English Learners

English Reading includes 10 passages with study questions for TOEIC, TOEFL, Center Test, and other reading tests. Build confidence in your English while reading about fun and interesting topics like: • The surprising history of chocolate • Hoverboards and skateboards of the future • Madagascar’s fascinating wildlife • Fauxhawk and mohawk hairstyles • Common worries of new parents • How people and dogs first made friends • Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations • The search for life on Mars The passages are designed for intermediate-level English learners. Each passage includes 5 multiple-choice reading comprehension questions. These are exactly the same as the questions you'll find in TOEIC, TOEFL, Center Test, Eiken, and other popular tests. So they’re perfect for building your skills and confidence while you study for these tests. You can use the study questions to test your English reading skills or simply enjoy the passages – the choice is yours! Dr. Justin Eigo has been creating English tests and other learning materials for more than 15 years. He's taught English at American universities and worked for educational companies, non-profit organizations, and technology companies in the United States and Asia. He holds a Ph.D. in English literature and lives on the West Coast of the U.S.

  • ISBN: 9781311474216
  • Author: Justin Eigo
  • Published: 2015-12-09 06:05:33
  • Words: 8860
English Reading: 10 Passages for English Learners English Reading: 10 Passages for English Learners