Decoding words with ease would logically mean that children can read more text in a shorter amount of time. The ability to take in more words would then, theoretically, lead to the greater absorption of information. Yet, there are children who can easily decode words but can only comprehend a basic level of the textual meaning. There are also students who can read quickly and understand everything they read.
Reading speed is denoted by words read per minute. The average reading speed increases with grade level. Parents of children who are slow readers might be interested in how to increase reading speed to ensure their child is…up to speed.
But how crucial is reading speed? Are there ways to increase reading speed? Can slower readers be successful? Here’s what parents should know about words per minute, fluency and if speed is the road to reading success.
Literacy Expert: Reading Speed Might be a Symptom
There are data points for almost every educational benchmark. One way that educators might be measuring a student’s proficiency and fluency is by measuring the number of words a student can read per minute. So why is this important?
Reading speed might simply be one way for teachers to measure how well a child can decode words. But the importance of reading speed also could be a pressure point that doesn’t hold as much meaning when taken alone. According to reading expert Timothy Shanahan, reading speed may simply be a symptom of another problem. That is, while reading slower might not be a problem for all readers, some students might read slower because of issues related to decoding.
In addition, there might not be an accurate measure of a problematic slow reading speed. In other words, there isn’t a clearly defined words-per-minute measurement that has been shown to impact comprehension. Shanahan notes that this measurement could, hypothetically, be 30 words per minute, as this would mean that it would take a child two seconds to decode each word.
“Instead of trying to teach students to read faster, it is essential to make certain that they are able to decode easily and continuously, and to maintain their concentration,” Shanahan wrote.
What is the Average Reading Speed by Grade Level
Parents might be focused on encouraging their child to hit benchmarks. Yet, the definition of slower reading speed might still be debatable. However, there are still published data points related to the number of words per minute that a child in each grade will read. Data for reading speed is often presented as either a single number or a number range per grade level.
Reading A-Z offers a data table to help parents understand the range associated with each grade level. The site also breaks down the numbers throughout the year (so Fall, winter, spring). There are different tests that can measure reading fluency rates. By the end of each grade level, here’s the typical target range for readers (per Rasinski):
- First Grade: 30 to 90 words per minute
- Second Grade: 70 to 130 words per minute
- Third Grade: 80 to 140 words per minute
- Fourth Grade: 90 to 140 words per minute
- Fifth Grade: 100 to 150 words per minute
- Sixth Grade: 110 to 160 words per minute
There is overlap between grades related to the average words per minute. In addition, the range for other tests may differ.
By the time a student reaches the age of 18 (or college), the expected reading speed is about 280 words per minute.
Speed Reading vs. Reading Speed
Shanahan mentioned speed reading in his article and his experience with the class. He noted that the class didn’t increase his speed and explained that it focused more on scanning through the text. This probably isn’t the goal that parents have in mind when they want their child to read faster.
Parents also likely don’t want their child to read so fast that their brain can’t comprehend the ideas because it’s so focused on speeding up the process. Yet, parents do want their child to be able to easily decode text and understand what they read.
There are ways to help children become more fluent readers, and these exercises also could help them read a little faster, too. Some children, though, might need more time to think about text. And some passages may be more difficult to read than others…depending on content.
Practicing could help children develop fluency. One exercise that parents can use to help children boost their speed is to encourage their child to read a passage out loud. Parents set a timer for a minute and encourage children to read the passage. Parents will need to keep track of any mistakes during the exercise. Words that are mispronounced are counted off of the final words per minute tabulation. At the end of the minute, parents need to count up all the words the child reads correctly for their final ‘words per minute’ rate.
Sounds complicated? Parents also could take an easier approach. Encourage children to read aloud every day. This can help them hear their pronunciations and parents also could offer help. Practicing also can help children gain confidence.
There are unique ways to encourage children to read aloud, too. Some animal shelters invite children to read to the animals. Why? As many shelters note, pets won’t correct mistakes. Children can read to the animals without fear of judgment or embarrassment. This environment might help them feel more secure and confident. Plus, the animals receive attention. There may be a cost associated with these programs, though.
Children also can read aloud to younger siblings. Reading aloud to a younger brother and sister can introduce younger children to new stories while allowing the older sibling to practice reading. Again, younger siblings likely won’t judge.
Slow Reading and Decoding Issues
Slow reading rates could be associated with decoding issues. Children who struggle to pronounce words would obviously need to read slower as they work to decode each word in the text. When parents are reading with children, they may notice that their child is struggling to decipher the text.
Children might be identified by the school with reading struggles, or they might be diagnosed with a learning disorder (from a specialist). Some children might receive more intervention in the classroom, while others could be offered more intense reading assistance by a specialist at the school. Others, though, might not be far enough behind to qualify for additional help.
If parents notice that their child is struggling to read and is really having difficulty decoding grade-level text, the school might be the first contact. Parents might be told that their child is reading below grade level or the teacher might have additional data to share.
Whether or not a child receives additional help at school could depend on a number of factors. Parents might choose to help their child at home. Tutors, reading intervention programs and reading apps could help children with reading struggles.
There are many programs that parents can use to help children at home. Readability provides a comprehensive approach to reading; the program helps children with both fluency and comprehension. Lessons require children to read aloud, and the program includes a built-in AI tutor that helps children if they struggle with pronunciation. The tutor will also ask questions at the end of each story to gauge comprehension.
Readability provides parents with a snapshot of their child’s reading data via a Parent Dashboard. Only parents have access to this section, and it includes a child’s reading rate (words per minute), their reading level and their time on the program. Parents also can compile all this reading data into a report that can be sent to the child’s school or teacher.
Not every program will be the perfect fit for each child. But parents can try out Readability at no cost for a week to better understand the features and capabilities. Sign up today!