Repeated Readings Revisited
by Angela Weeks, revised by Jan Polkinghorne Oct 08

Published in speld (sa) newsletter Spring 2001

Developing reading fluency is vital to becoming an efficient reader. To read fluently, students need to be able to decode words automatically. An effective method of achieving this is that of repeated readings, which as its name implies requires a student to read a chosen passage several times until a satisfactory level of fluency is reached. Passages need to be short to begin with (up to 50 words) and to increase in length gradually. Passages also need to be of an appropriate level and the well-tried rule of thumb that a passage is too hard if the student has difficulty reading more than one in every ten words may be used as a guide. One of the reading programs in popular use in our schools is a system called Rainbow Reading which is based on re-reading passages to improve fluency and accuracy.

Studies reported by Samuels (1979) in which slow learners practised reading a passage until an 85 word per minute target was reached indicated that

  • as reading speed increased, word recognition errors decreased
  • the initial speed of reading each new passage was faster than initial speed on the previous passage
  • the number of rereadings needed to reach the target speed decreased as the student continued the technique
  • students' comprehension of the text increased with their level of automaticity in word recognition.

Similar results have been achieved with poor readers and students with specific learning disabilities (Dahl, 1979; Fuchs, 1993).

To encourage independence, this technique can be used with audio support from a recorder or computer playing a sound file or using a text to speech program. The free programs such as Natural Reader or Word Talk, which is a free add on for MS Word (both available free from the web) work well for this. In this scenario, the student reads the passage silently while listening to the recorded narration or the text to speech several times. When the audio support is no longer needed the student practises reading the story without help. The Literacy Planet online literacy program uses the repeated reading method in their reading activities.

This technique also lends itself to small group and pair work with students of similar ability who can help each other or have a cross-age tutor to support them.

For students with learning disabilities, rereading any passage may need to become a habit since their attention during the first reading will be focussed on word recognition. On subsequent readings as less attention is needed for decoding, more attention becomes available for comprehension. Once a student is able to read the words in a text automatically, they can give their full attention to understanding what it is about. An added bonus with this technique is that students who would normally falter over their reading can, after rehearsal, read with fluency and thereby get the feel of what it is like to be a good reader.

I believe that it is important for the student to take responsibility for reaching the target speed and to practise and time themselves before asking an adult to record their speed and number of recognition errors, and to discuss the text with them. My only concern with this method is that beginning readers with few words in their book may rely on remembering the words by heart rather than looking at each word. This practice often represents a stage in the development of reading for younger students but it should not be allowed to continue at the expense of the development of decoding skills. While repeated reading is an important method for increasing reading fluency, and to some extent, reading accuracy, it is not a method for teaching all beginning reading skills. Rather its value is as an adjunct to a developmental reading program.

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