In this post I’m going to tell you everything I’ve learned about speed reading, how I implement a free speed reading ‘course’ for my children and list as many awesome resources as I can.
My honors thesis: an introduction to speed reading
In my last year of college, I wrote a senior’s honors thesis. It was the longest thing I had ever written. It took forever but I finally handed it in for review, all 60 or so pages of it. There were three professors on my board. Two of them I knew pretty well and one of the professors I was only acquainted with. I met with each professor to get ‘feedback’ about my thesis. You had to revise it based on professor feedback before the final presentation. When I went into the office of the last professor he told me that he hadn’t read my paper. He asks for the copy that I brought with me. At this point (almost instantly) I’m not too amused. I assumed I would need to leave and come back. But Dr. Fisher motions for me to sit down and picks up my thesis. He starts flipping through it. A few minutes later he sets it down, turns to me, and starts asking me questions.
That was the first time I became aware of speed reading. Truly aware. It is one of those things that gets brought up every now and then. I always thought to myself, that would be cool to know how to do. I didn’t realize just how beneficial speed reading was until that final office visit of my college career. I asked Dr. Fisher how he learned to read that quickly. He told me he took a speed reading course when he turned 20. He said that is about as late as you can wait and still hope to learn how to speed read effectively. That was a bummer, but I haven’t stopped trying to learn. And, most importantly, as a homeschooler I’m able to implement this into my children’s learning.
Imagine being able to get through a book 2-5 times faster and still enjoy it and retain the information. What I’m imagining right now is that I could spend that saved time reading more books! I desperately wish someone would have introduced me to speed reading at a younger age, but it’s not too late to get your kids involved.
What is speed reading?
In case you still don’t know what I’m talking about, speed reading is a collection of techniques that are used to increase the rate at which an individual is able to read. So, you read faster. Having the ability to read extremely quickly is a valuable skill. As a result, many classes, books, courses, and videos have been released that ‘teach’ you how to speed read most effectively.
Speed reading methods
There are a number of common methods and techniques for speed reading. The first big hindrance to our reading speed is the fact that we usually say words aloud in our head. We have an internal monolog that acts like a governor on our brain’s engine. This method is called minimizing subvocalization.
Another speed reading method is chunking. It is a psychology term that refers to the process of understanding the whole through a connection of many pieces. Basically, that means that when you read a paragraph you can comprehend the meaning by grouping words together.
Some other speed reading techniques
There are other common techniques for increasing reading speed. Many people find it beneficial to trace each line with a pen. Keeping a pen or highlighter or ruler moving at a steady rate across the page prevents us from pausing. We usually have internal monologs that are ongoing, and forcing ourselves to move at a quicker rate and not pause over certain words is a great easy way to practice reading.
Many people use their index finger to steadily trace each line. My youngest likes to use a bookmark turned horizontally.
I’ll get to the free speed reading tools that I actually use in a little bit. First I want to finish with the basics about speed reading.
The average reading speed
Most people read at an average speed of around 200 words per minute (WPM). The elite 1% of readers are around or above 1,000 WPM with high comprehension levels.
The average comprehension rate of the average 200 WPM reader is around 60%. Those crazy fast readers at 1,000% are actually able to hit close to 85% comprehension.
It is very important to maintain your reading comprehension when you practice reading faster. Here is an in-depth research PDF (from Carnegie Mellon) that describes how increases in speed can challenge comprehension. The Study of the Eye Fixations and Comprehension of Speed Readers shows that the more complex the content, the more difficult it is to comprehend. [additional source]
Forbes says that if you can read at least 600 WPM you are getting ‘left behind.’
Reading speeds at developmental levels
Staples conducted this study where they recorded the average reading speeds for different populations. These populations were in a wide spectrum of ages so that each stage of educational development was included. The following numbers are all averages.
- Your average 3rd grader will read at 150 WPM.
- 8th-grade students read at 250 WPM
- The average adult reads at 300 WPM
- The college student reads at 450 WPM
- A “high-level executive” can hit 575 WPM
- An average college professor (not mine) reads at 675 WPM
- A true speed reader can hit 1,500 WPM – that’s nuts and about the rate at which my professor read
- WORLD CHAMPION 4,700 WPM
The huge allure once you understand the human reading potential is the amount of time you could save by reading faster. The speed reader (not the world champ) reads five times faster than the average adult. Start doing the math. If you read 10 posts by homeschool bloggers each day, that are each around 500 words it will take you 16+ minutes (not including navigation) to finish reading. If you are at the level of a college student, you will need 11+ minutes. But if you are a speed reader, you’ll be able to finish these in 3+ minutes.
Getting your kids excited about speed reading
This is not hard at all to do. In the next section, there are a few tools linked for testing your reading speed. My kids loved seeing how many WPM they could read. It is easy to make this into a fun ‘competition,’ but be careful that you make sure they are not sacrificing comprehension. It is very easy to start blowing through documents just to say you finished the quickest.
Free tools for checking reading speed
Before you try to increase your reading speed or your kids, you should probably figure out how quickly you read. There are quite a few free resources online. Staples.com and ReadingSoft.com both have free reading speed checkers. I’ve tried them both. You just click a button to start and click a button when you finish and it spits out how many WPM.
You don’t need to buy a ‘speed reading course’ in order to help your kids learn to read faster. There is one tool in particular that I use.
How to increase reading speed?
I’m going to list the best free speed reading tools I’ve used. Everything in this section is free.
Spreeder has a free app for learning to speed read. There is also a paid version, but you can get the same benefit from the free web-based version. What does Spreeder do? You can copy and paste any document into their free app, set the speed (WPM) at which you want to read, and then Spreeder will display the words one at a time. Give it a try.
Because each word is displayed on by one, your eyes don’t need to scan across the page.
This type of app requires that the text is digitalized so that it can be uploaded or pasted into the app. Some people will say that this isn’t ‘real’ speed reading. But, it cuts my reading time in half and is an absolutely amazing tool for boosting my kids reading. Nowadays just about everything is digital. Articles, books, etc.
From the Amazon reviews of the upgraded version, I read that Chinese texts do not work in the app. I haven’t had any experience with weird characters because all I’ve used is English text. Amazon has a paid Spreeder version and a Spreeder pro version.
This is an even more advanced technology. You can read their own research here. Basically, Spritz combines rapid words with advanced placement. The also highlight a vowel that helps your eye detect the word. ‘Getting’ Spritz is a little bit more complicated. Applications use Spritz technology, so you can’t just ‘get’ Spritz.
Spritz is such novel technology that it was incorporated into the movie, Lucy. I never watched it, but she was some type of super human?
If you want to speed read the internet
There is a free app called Spritzlet that installs onto your web browser. This tool is AWESOME. You can highlight parts of pages or speed read the entire page. I use it all the time. You will have to register, but its 100% free.
Readsy.co is the ultimate free tool for reading PDFs. You can upload PDFs, .txt files, or enter a URL. It still uses Spritz technology.
Free speed reading apps for iOS and Android
Spritz technology has been integrated into two free iPhone and Android apps. Here is the free android app and here is the iOS speed reading app.
These apps are useful for speed reading eBooks!
Free Windows phone speed reading software
Yet another amazing implementation for Spritz is the Tucan reader. Tucan Reader works for reading e-books on Windows Phone 8/10 devices. I cannot say that I have ever used this app – I don’t have a Windows phone. The underlying technology is, of course, the same.
Another free web app for speed reading
ReadSpeeder.com is another similar app. It’s free, but you are required to register an account in order to sign up. If you’re really trying to test out everything then you might want to give it a shot.
Another implementation of Spritz technology is Boba. Boba is a Safari extension for speed reading any web content.
Can these digital tools be applied offline?
The short answer is “yes.” One of the biggest benefits to practicing using these speed reading tools is that we begin to stop using that internal monolog. We get used to processing words at a very fast rate and no longer read auditorily in our heads. We process the information and move on. You probably won’t be able to instantly transfer this skill. But my kids have noticed a difference offline, and extreme benefits online.
Offline speed reading courses
If you want to do things the ‘old fashioned’ way, the Evelyn Wood speed reading courses are a classic. This is the method that my college professor used. The book is generally extremely cheap, you can view it here on Amazon.com, The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program. This program has been around since 1959. I would suggest buying an affordable copy of this to accompany the other free resources.
If you have a bit more money and want to get the full Evelyn Wood course, it is also available on Amazon.
How to teach speed reading?
The title of this article implies that I’ve given you a free course. Well, I sort of already have. Now you just need to piece it together. I start off by teaching the benefits of speed reading. Then I explain how important comprehension is. Then, for fun, we measure the speed at which we are already reading. No matter what that speed is, it’s okay. We all read at different rates. Then I start integrating the free tools. We use so many digital resources that can be used in those free speed reading tools. Not to mention, anything we read online can be converted.
Just keep practicing with these speed reading tools. The goal is to break down that internal monolog and the slow habits we have. When you are consistently practicing with these tools, you’ll be saving time and working toward this goal. When it’s time to pick up a real book, definitely encourage the techniques at the very top of the article. Then, some of you will want to also integrate a few books on speed reading, etc.
Speed Reading Trainer is free on the Google Play store (it does have in-app purchases) and offers some amazing feedback for practicing. It has a nice diagnostic tool included for figuring out your progress.
More resources for teaching your homeschooler how to speed read
I’ve listed a lot of links and resources, but there are still a few other links I think you might find helpful.
The Wikipedia page on Speed Reading. Look at the footnotes if you want more scholarly articles.
Extensive reading: Speed and comprehension. An informative PDF.
You can get a free trial of Legentas.com’s speed reading course. I have never used it and I am in no way affiliated with it.