In my previous post I spent a lot of time talking about helping students make good choices in the books they read. To carry this work forward, I teach students about Reading Rates. A Reading Rate is simply the number of words we read per minute.
Read at a Normal Talking Speed
I begin this lesson by asking students to take out the books they chose and their reading journals. I do the same. I tell them that I'm going to show them how to find their Reading Rate for this book. I explain what a Reading Rate is and that we're going to use Reading Rates to make sure we picked a book that is "just right".
I then draw this line graph on the board:
I explain that the average mature reader reads between 200-275 words per minute. Reading 100 words per minute or less means that you're reading too slow. Reading too slow means that we're not understanding what we're reading, and we're having a really hard time paying attention to what we read as well. This means we'll have to do a lot of re-reading.
Reading 300 words per minute or more means that we're reading too fast. When we read too fast, we make a lot of mistakes like zooming through easier words and slowing down or stopping on harder words. This means that we're probably missing something, which is going to affect our understanding as well and we're going to have to do a lot of re-reading to figure out what we missed.
For optimal comprehension, we want to read between 150-200 words per minute . In my class we call this the "Reading Zone" or the "Comprehension Zone". For most of us, this is our normal talking speed. When we read, we want to read at a pace that's comfortable and at a rate where we can read fluently. We also want to read at a speed that allows us to make sense of the words and ideas we're reading. Reading between 150-200 words per minute is where we have optimal comprehension.
Once I've had a chance to explain the graph to my students, I have them copy it down in their reading journals. As we continue to find our Reading Rates for other books we read, we can use this line graph for reference.
Find Your "Reading Zone"
To show students how to find their "Reading Zone", I use the Reading Rate Formula you see below. I tell them that we're going to find out how many words we read per minute for the books we picked out. Finding our "Reading Zone" will help us determine if we have a "just right" book.
I show students how to do step #1 by finding 3 sentences in a row that look like they are about the same length. Usually lines in the middle of a paragraph work best because they are often equal in length. I count the number of words in the first line and write this down for line 1 on the Reading Rate Formula. I do the same for the second and third lines as well. Once I have these numbers, I add them up and divide by 3 to get an average number of words in each line. Then, I have my students do the same, and I walk around the room to make sure they're on the right track.
Our next step is to read for 2 minutes. I open my book where I left off and place a small pencil mark next to this line. I have my students do the same. Then I explain that we're going to read for 2 minutes straight. I remind them this is not a race and that they need to read at their normal pace. I set a timer and when I see everyone's ready, I say, "Go."
When our 2 minutes is up, we make a small mark next to the line where we stopped. I then count the number of lines I read and write this down for step #2. Then I multiply the number of lines I read by the average number of words per line to determine how many words I read in 2 minutes.
My last step in #3 is to take this total number of words I read in 2 minutes and divide by 2 to determine the number of words I read per minute. This is the number I will use for my Reading Rate. Anything that lands near 150-250 words per minute is where I want to be. Once I've figured out my "Reading Zone", I have my students find theirs. Again, I walk around the room to offer help as needed. When everyone has their "Reading Zone" figured out, I write them on the board under a column for 2 minutes. I place question marks next to the rates that are near or below 100 and stars next to those rates that fall between 150-200 words per minute.
To get a more accurate rate, we then read for 5 minutes and use the Reading Rate Formula in the same way. Again, students need to fall between 150-250 wpm. We share our rates, and I write them on the board under a column called 5 minute Reading Rate. We then make comparisons between these two numbers and talk about those rates that are questionable. For the most part, these numbers shouldn't be too far off. I'll then give students more reading time so I can walk around and talk to students on an individual basis to make sure their book is "just right". Students who have low reading rates of 100 or less must change books.
Monitoring Reading Rates
By using Reading Rates, I can "guide" students into books that they can read easily and comfortably. From now on, I ask that they find and keep track of their "Reading Zone" for each book they read. This allows us to determine whether or not they're choosing books that are too easy, too hard, or "just right".
Reading Rates are not only great insurance for making sure a kid is reading a book on his/her level, they're one of many ways I measure student progress. If students choose books where their Reading Rates begin to decrease with each book they read, this shows me they're choosing harder books to read. As long as they stay between 150-200 words per minute, I know they're within the optimal comprehension range.
For many students, finding a "Reading Zone" for each book they read takes some getting used to. With practice, students begin to see this as a powerful tool that allows them to make better choices in the books they read. Choices that will set them up for successful reading experiences.
For more on Reading Rates see: READING ALLOWED: Making Sure the First "R" Comes First.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.