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Should I Teach Reading Speed Strategies?

May 27, 2012

The other day I worked with my students on techniques they can use to improve their reading rates.  I use a strategy from Neil Anderson’s  book on reading instruction, Anderson, N. (1999). Exploring second language reading: issues and strategies. Heinle & Heinle. 53-56. 

We studied a text, Houses Around the World, from English for Everyone with reading comprehension and vocabulary work.  After that, I showed them how to use the text to work toward improving their reading speed.  I used a timer,, and had the students read as far as they could in four minutes and if they finished before four minutes to write down their time.  We did this twice. 

From this, I gave them some guidelines for choosing a reading to practice with on their own.  The reading should be easy in that they have already done the hard work of vocabulary study, should be interesting to them, and should be something they can read in three to four minutes. They can use the timer on their phones to practice and practice will take about ten to fifteen minutes at one sitting. I do some version of this activity with almost every reading class I teach because reading research supports the connection between reading speed and reading comprehension.

However, I reflected that I just attended a conference on ESL teaching, the Sunshine State TESOL conference, the Florida state conference, and no one in the sessions I attended mentioned reading rate.  Now this is obviously not representative of all presentation since I did not attend many K-12 presentations nor presentations focused on reading specifically. Today, I got out my copy of From Reader to Reading Teacher, by Abersold and Field ( Cambridge, 1997), and found no mention of building reading rate.  I use a textbook, Reading for Results, 11th edition (Wadsworth, 2011), a college preparation book, and the instructor’s manual mentions in a strategy advice to vary the speed of reading depending on the difficulty. However, the author gives no suggestions on how to teach these strategies in a manual expressly for new and inexperienced teachers.

This brings me to wonder if more explicit instruction of reading rates and improving reading speed needs to be done.  I consider it important enough to do it, obviously, but I wonder if other teachers think it necessary or important.  If they do, how do they go about it?


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