Speed Reading

Adapted from Accelerated Reading, a unit developed by Bob Taylor at Carbondale Community High School, circa 1999. I call it Speed Reading because kids confuse it with the Accelerated Reader program from grade & middle-school.

  • The purpose of this unit will be to increase the reading speed of students by engaging students in activities that force them to move their eyes quickly.  At the same time, students should increase their meta-cognitive awareness of the mechanics of reading.
  • Students should increase their overall reading speed by 25%, most will increase by considerably more.
  • Students will become aware of their reading speed and be able to vary their speed depending on the nature of the reading task.

Reading: It is Mental AND Physical:

  • The mental aspect of reading is your brain making meaning based on text and experience.
  • The physical aspect of reading is moving your eyeballs in a series of short stops.
  • Students will divide in pairs and watch how each other’s eyes move during reading. Their eyes move in a choppy, staccato manner; not smoothly & fluidly.
  • Each eyeball is controlled by six muscles.
  • Speed reading doesn’t deal with the mental aspects of reading; it focuses on the physical.  Comprehension is ignored during speed reading.
  • Breaking old habits is difficult & uncomfortable.  We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable for a while.


  • Students will be graphing their progress.  They will get a baseline, average reading speed.
  • They will figure out the number of words on a full page of text in their junk novels:
    # of words in 3 complete lines ÷ 3 = # words per line
    # lines on a page X  # words per line = average Words per Page (WPP).
  • They will write their WPP at the top of graph paper.
  • They will read for 9 minutes at their regular reading speed.
  • They will calculate their average reading speed:
    # pages read (rounded to the nearest 1/2 page) X WPP ÷ 9 minutes read = average Words per Minute (WPM).  It’s like Miles per Hour (MPH) for their eyes!
  • They will chart their average WPM on graph paper.

Breaking Old Habits:

  • Now, students need to read at the pace that I set for them – not their own comfortable averages.
  • They will scan their books at a rate of one page a minute. At successive 15-second intervals I will say “1/4 of the page,” “1/2 of the page,” 3/4 of the page,” and “next page.”  This will occur for the first 3 minutes of “reading.”
  • We’re building eye muscles here, not comprehension. It’s OK for them not to understand what they are reading.  Students should skip their eyes to the portion of the page I say when I say it if they are not there yet.  They should modify their speed to catch up with me.

Increasing Speed:

  • This time they will read at a rate of one page every 40 seconds. Every 10 seconds I will give them 1/4-page prompts to set the pace so they can catch up with me.
  • This will happen for 3 minutes & allows students to build a rhythm as they move their eyes down the page.
  • Students will increase their speed to a page every 30 seconds.  I will give them prompts every 7.5 seconds. Build their rhythm for 3 minutes.
  • Students increase their speed to a page every 15 seconds.  I will give them prompts every 4 seconds. This rhythm should only last about 1 1/2 minutes.
  • Frustration is part of the equation.  I will keep it light by telling jokes and being a coach (like Mickey from Rocky). Timing isn’t exact as long as students are reading significantly faster than they are used to for about 15 minutes total.  Comprehension is not important.

Second Average Reading Speed: The Payoff

  • Students will repeat the procedure for baseline reading which started the activity, but they should read just a little bit faster than they are used to. Repeat the baseline time of 9 minutes.
  • They should maintain comprehension, but push themselves just a little.
  • It’s hard to believe, but 1/2 of the class will at least double their rate on this second reading.
  • Strong readers triple and even quadruple their reading speed.
  • Weak readers increase by 25%.
  • When students chart their second speed on the bar graph,, they are amazed.  We’ve broken their habitual reading pattern by the machinations of forced rate reading.
  • I will accept their amazement with humility.


  • For the next 10-ish days, begin each class with a 9 minute period of speed reading.
  • Students are told to start reading slightly faster than they feel comfortable with.
  • After 3 minutes, I will quietly remind them to go “just a bit faster than you normally read.” They should understand what they are reading, but possibly not in as much detail as they are used to. I will them to increase their speed at the 6 minute mark for the final three minutes of the reading time, again telling them that loss of comprehension is ok.
  • Most students’ rates will drop from their previous day’s “spike,” but it will probably be higher than their initial baseline rate.
  • Most students’ charts will look like stair-steps.  Some will step, then run flat across the page.  If students “plateau,” they are unwilling to lose any comprehension. Or they vocalize and are word-by-word readers.  Give them permission to give up comprehension for a little while. Reminding them that this is primarily a physical activity instead of a mental activity works well.

Final Results:

  • At the end of the unit, students will calculate the percent of increase in speed between their baseline speed and their last day’s speed.
    • Subtract original baseline from newer (presumably higher) regular reading speed.
    • Divide the difference by the original baseline number.
    • If my final regular reading speed was 600 WPM and my original was 400 WPM:
    • 600 – 400 = 200
    • 200 / 400 = 0.5
    • Move the decimal point = 50% increase in my reading speed *yeay*
  • Most will show significant increases.
  • Research implies that if one does this accelerated reading exercise for 20 days straight for about 15 minutes per day, the increase in speed will carry over without a loss of comprehension.
  • Most public-education classes can’t afford 15 minutes per period, so we modify it for 9 minutes at the beginning of class.
  • The goal is to show students they have a range of speeds at which they can read.  Good readers can vary their speed depending on the purpose of reading.