Speed Reading Hacks!

For the first time, maybe ever, I can’t keep up with my reading.

My stack of novels grows, but I don’t speed read these. I savor every word. Reading for information is different, I can adjust my rate to match the material, and routinely do so. I find myself reading a mixture of info-text online, newpapers and books. I don’t use a Kindle. Just never wanted to. Always liked the feel of a book in my hands, pictures, the miracle of what lies in between the covers.

I also spend time popping onto Twitter, teacher and leadership chats, reading blogs, checking my emails, reading links to various research sites, both good and not so good. My two Facebook pages are time intensive. Besides cat videos, I scour a lot of relevant research on various things I’m interested in.

We spend time working with kiddos on their reading fluency, but I’m thinking now that we all could stand a refresher course, mini-lesson Twitter style, how to pick up our own pace, to meet vast needs, keeping current in our minute to minute changing world. The future is now. What works for kids, works for us too, so use these reminders for your students or yourself. You might enjoy online or old fashioned personal charting of your increased speeds, by following one or more of these success secrets.


What do you already know? What do you want to know? After you confirm your learning, you’ll want to know more. This is just a snapshop glance at closely connected subjects of fluency, rate and speed reading. So many definitions of fluency, starting with “automaticity’, automatically knowing a word.

As we advance in literacy, so much more to know about which words have most meaning, signposts and signals, etc., but more in our next post. Let’s just get started.

A “good reader” is flexible, matching reading skills, purpose and rate to read fluently. Intonation, phrasing and emotion, are also important. However, improvement in the physical, mechanical aspects of reading make a huge difference. This includes rate, rhythm, shortening time of each eye “stop”, and increasing the width of vision span per eye stop.

Way back in 1879, A French researcher, Javal noticed a student’s eyes don’t move smoothly along a line of print; insted they make a number of starts and stops every line. These are called “saccadic movements”. Although these eye stops only last one-fourth to one-half of a second, the pauses are real and easily noticed. Meaning is made during these stops, the pauses that inform. Too many eye stops, however and speed and comprehension are affected.

Everyone can improve reading speed skills once the fundamental building blocks are mastered. You can watch your students while they read, or catch this for yourself. You watch, or someone else watches.Observing the number of stops along a line helps us move our eyes faster, taking in more information at each eye stop, phrase, a complete sentence, or later a paragrah.

A certified Hynpotherapist and NLP (neurolinguistics, peak performance) practitioner, at one time I studied “Photo Reading. “Ostensibly, by altering our ‘state’, through a kind of self-hypnosis, we could photograph an entire page at one time. I was never able to do this, athough I was reading remarkably faster.

Speed readers greatly exceed 900 words a minute, by skipping words, lines and whole blocks of print. We really don’t need to read that fast, do we? Reading in which all words are read can’t be done much faster than 800-900 words a minute. This is supported by the fact that the shortest possible fixation when reading two to three words, is at least a fifth to a quarter of a second in duration. This would mean that a ten word line woud be read in two thirds of a second!

For our purposes, picking up our pace or rate by reading in phrases, whole lines and paragraphs is enough, don’t you agree?

Hack That Reading Speed

1. Observe your student’s (or your) reading along a line of print, online, or textual, noticing the number of eye stops, or fixations. Your goal is to lengthen the span and lessen the number of stops. Dividing the number of fixations by words read is the “index of recognition span”, or amount seen per fixation.

2. Eliminate back skipping, or “regressions”. It slows down reading rate and lessens comprehension. Use a metronome to pace, or tap a pencil to set a rate or rhythm. Recording reading is very helpful. Partner reading also works well. Forward and backward motion reduces speed as much as 30-50 percent.

3. If your student labors with reading, has trouble tracking print, makes continuous errors, reads one word or one syllable at a time, mechanics becomes a top priority. Do Echo Reading, (Reading under one’s breath, along with student) Repeated readings, (150-180 words), three times, two minute increments. Graphing is successful to show progress. National Reading Panel (NRP) strongly endorsed this strategy. I think the reason why, the process of “overlearning” kicks in big time.

4. Use easier, familiar reading material, books and tech. Why teach at the frustration level?

5. Go back to phonemic awareness and phonics, if needed, to fill gaps. End letter by letter, word by word reading. Watch speed zoom!

6. Sub-vocalizing, saying each word out loud slows down reading. Actually, whether orally or silently. Encourage using eyes only, without moving head, or mouth.

7. “Retellings” not only encourge comprehension, but boost fluency. The more famiiar with material, the faster the reading. Use small chunks of two or three paragraps to a whole page.

8. Hold the book or tablet up at a 45 degree angle, instead of down on desk. This helps eyes take in more print at a time, and there are frequently less eye stops and regressions.

9. Give skimming and scanning special attention. When skimming to survey material in the preview, notice headings, first and last sentences, etc. Great time for a full Book Walk for preview.

10. Let your eyes run down the middle of the page to gain an overview, stopping once or twice on the line. This is called “Super dipping”.

11. Focus on the white spaces between the lines, rather than the lines themselves. This is called subliminal reading, or “reading for concept” (reading between the lines). Brain-based.

12. Or, focus right above the line of print. “Tangerine effect” refers to softening your gaze. You will be amazed how fast and how much you recall.

13. Practice “Tri Focus” Read it Fast. Set up a practice sheet with three columns, asteriks across and down page. Student “reads the stars”, then apply strategy to reading material with student reading larger span based on a tri focus of three columns, as practiced.

14. Scanning for specific information. Use “Crisscross method.” Scan from top right corner to bottom left corner, then glance at top left and scan to bottom right of page.

15. Familiarity with proper phrasing. Provide written selection,/ telling student to insert vertical lines between words/ to highlight proper phrasing.

Perception as basis of speedier reading:

Perceptual means the number of letters your eyes can perceive and understand in a single sweep. The greater the span of perception, the more you can read in a single glance. Most readers have a perception span of about 20 letters, about four words. We can do better, necessary in the world of STEAM.

Final tips:

Practice rapid page turning, when applicable. Skip the little words. Stay away from the margins. Rate is determined by purpose.

No doubt about it. If we are going to keep up in life today, we have to enhance our own reading speed skills. Volume of media, documents, contracts, environmental print alone is staggering, at least to me.

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita

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