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improving reading speed and comprehension

Updated on September 09, 2011

Reading. Such a great amount of knowledge is imparted through books. More than that, a great part of our self-image is based off of how we compare our beauty and intelligence with those around us. If you have a hard time reading or understanding what your read, then your self-image will suffer. It's a vicious cycle. The less comfortable you are reading will lead to your reading less and less; this will only aggravate your discomfort with reading further. There are many ways to strengthen your reading comprehension and the speed you can absorb the information from the words on the page, it just takes a little bit of effort. I'm an avid reader. I like to joke that if I don't have at least two new books waiting to be read then I begin jonsing for new ones. When I moved recently, we had to have plumber's and electricians come in to make some necessary changes. While they worked, I began unpacking my books, after a while of stacking the books alphabetically on my kitchen floor, I realized I had an audience. The electricians and plumbers stood gaping at my piles of books (there were over 12 boxes). One of the plumbers asked if I had really read all of those books; to which I replied, most I've read more than twice. Another asked me how many books I read in a week, I explained I read one to two books a day. They actually looked a little appalled. Now that I'm homeschooling my boys, and teaching them to read, I'm working at developing their strength for comprehension, which I had to develop on my own over the years. It wasn't something taught to me in a classroom, more I learned it through trial and error. This allowed me to take almost double the amount of classes I could take in college, more than my friends were taking, and still graduate deans list. Further, reading is my one vice, my true passion. It allows me to escape from reality after a stressful day, it gives me the opportunity to expand my mind with more knowledge, it offers romance, tragedy, friendship and betrayal...all without risking my own heart in the process. Here are my tips for teaching reading comprehension and speed as well as developing your own: 1) Letter Recognition. I personally don't understand how many teachers teach letter sounds just by saying "B says Buh". This doesn't 'mean' anything to children or adults learning to read. Instead you should always think of new knowledge through associations. If you associate new information with something familiar to you, then you'll have a greater chance of remembering it and understanding it...essentially rendering this new information, not new at all. For instance. Instead of saying "B says Buh" one should say "B, B-B-Ball" everyone knows what a ball is, we can picture a ball in our minds, we can even feel a ball in our hands. This way when confronted with an unfamiliar word, and we break it down into letter, that visual of a ball will relax our mind allowing us to move onto the other letters or concepts. This new type of learning is especially important for those with a learning disability like Dyslexia. Essentially, having dyslexia means there is a break in the information stream. When seeing a letter the sound of that letter does not echo around in their head. But, recognition of anything, letters included, is a visual memory. Therefore, when faced with the shape of the letter 'B' it is helpful for one to have the familiar image of a 'ball' immediately enter their mind. According to MindPrime Inc, "Mental imaging helps to strengthen the ability to remember visual patterns." A pattern of letters is just a word, a pattern of words is just a paragraph, etc. Being able to comfortably remember and recognize these would greatly benefit the reading comprehension for one with a learning disability. 2) Word Recognition. For most who are learning to read. Once an understanding of letter sounds has been achieved, the next step is putting those sounds together to create a word. For instance, the sight of the word BAT would be sounded out with "B-A-T." This seems the simplest way of teaching one to read, but in reality is slows reading comprehension immeasurably. There are a few 'core' groupings in the English language, "At," "IN," "ING," "ON," for example. So, if one were to memorize and recognize these core groupings than learning to read more complex words would be faster. Further, understanding how to break a word down is also important. This will speed the comprehension as well. For instance, 7659832 - it is very difficult to remember this series of numbers. 765-9832 - now it is much easier to remember as it resembles a phone number, of which we have seen many in our lifetimes. The reason for this is comfortability with familiarity. Just as learning to associate the ball with the letter B would allow someone to learn the sound faster, so to would learning to break a word into it's familiar parts. If a reader has spent some time memorizing core groupings, then they can break a word down into these parts. The mind can panic when faced with the unfamiliar, it begins to run in circles, with a reader 'hearing' the words being sounded out in their mind...eventually they might or might not figure it out. Alternatively, if they can break it down, into familiar groupings it's just a matter of putting them together again... BATON = BAT - TON = B-"AT", T-"ON" BAT-TON is breaking the word down into it's syllables; "AT", "ON" are the main groupings...once the word is broken into syllables it becomes easy to recognize the word is just a grouping of each Core and a letter..easy as pie to put together after that. Eventually, these Core Groupings will stand out to the reader, making recognition and understanding even quicker. Therefore, understanding syllables and the groupings are an amazing tool to comprehending and speeding that comprehension. 4) Word Blocks. While early stages of reading are based off of letter-to-letter, or Core Groupings, as we advance we start to group words we recognize in a sentence together making Word Blocks. A common mistake with traditional speed reading is to skip over those individual words you don't immediately recognize. Meaning, you only read the word groupings you know and move onto the next word grouping. The obvious problem with this is you miss what may have initially seemed like an unimportant detail, and thus have to go back to re-read. This makes the Comprehension with Speed reading somewhat low. For instance, The girl twirled the baton - with word blocking in speed reading I would see 'girl, baton' and move on. This leaves to many holes for my comfort. Did she steal the baton? Is she hugging the baton? You don't really have an understanding of the point the author was trying to make. Instead of just reading word blocks I use a certain amount of inference. Meaning, all writing follows a pattern. Depending on the information you are reading (fiction, non-fiction, manual, text book, etc) and the authors own personal style, you can read the groupings and then infer what the overall meaning of the sentence/paragraph would be. The writer may follow a chronological time line, they may follow a cause and effect plot, what ever the pattern you can safely assume where the author is going. So with the above sentence "The girl twirled the baton" I would read in my mind, "girl played with the baton" exactly she was playing with it mostly likely isn't important to the point of the story. But the fact that she had a baton and was playing with it, must be important for some reason or the author wouldn't have included it. So, how do you learn to infer? Well, after reading and reading, you'll begin to recognize different patterns and styles. Also if you think about the point of the story, what is the author trying to say or teach, you'll have a clearer picture of what is important and what is filler. 3) Speed. Beginning with word blocking, much like a speed reader, you'll learn to use your Peripheral vision. Traditional speed readers' eyes will jump across the page from Word Block to Word Block, skipping over all the other words entirely. If at the end of a page or chapter, and the speed reader realizes they didn't understand the point, they would go back to re-read adding in more Word Blocks than they had initially read. Using peripheral reading takes a little practice, but comes much more naturally, in my opinion, than traditional speed reading. Peripheral/Focal Blocking, will allow me to focus my sight on the word block (called the focus block), but the corners of my eyes are on the next grouping of word blocks (called the peripheral block). If the focus block doesn't flow naturally into the information from the peripheral block than I know right then to read more carefully. Taking a look at the two patterns below, you'll see how traditional word blocking can be a detriment and the Peripheral/Focal Blocking can make a clearer picture. Full paragraph in a crime story: The young girl twirled her baton while waiting for the bus. She didn't notice the tall, dark man staring at her. When a twig snapped behind her, she was startled into dropping her baton. There was no time to scream, she was too afraid to fight. One moment she was playing, the next, gone. Speed Word Blocking would change the paragraph into this: Girl, baton. Tall, dark man. twig snapped, startled, scream. Playing, gone. You can see how the speed reader might think the girl had the change to scream, and wonder what happened to the baton. If those points were important later in the story, like a "detective stared avidly at the abandoned baton", which the speed reader would see, "detective, baton," the reader might wonder how a detective came upon the baton, and how the girl lost it, forcing them to re-read the same basic, information. A Focal/Peripheral Word Blocking (WB) reader would see this: Focal WB: Girl, baton. Peripheral WB: waiting, bus; Focal WB: Tall, dark man Peripheral WB: staring, her; Focal WB: twig snapped, startled, scream. Peripheral WB: behind, dropped baton Focal WB: Playing, Gone Peripheral WB: one moment, next As you can see, it's still quicker than reading all the words, and still clearer than traditional WB. Sure there may be times you need to re-read the information, but they are far fewer than traditional WB. Further, I use these Focal/Peripheral WB's to have the running images in my mind, like a movie of what I'm reading...generally you can tell what someone is going to say next or what is going to happen next, which would allow you to skip several paragraphs/pages, speeding the reading even further without detracting from the understanding of the material. Resources: MindPrime Inc,, Crawford, Tx, 76638. MindPrime and IdeaChain are registered tradmarks of Mindprime, Inc. info at


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