Improving Children's Reading Skills with Techniques that Work at Home

Improving children's reading skills

Parents can improve the reading skills of their children who are struggling readers and help them become more fluent readers. Research has shown that using techniques like the ones below can lead to a significant increase in word accuracy and comprehension. To be effective, any of these methods needs to be used at least five times a week for several weeks. And reading sessions should last about 10 minutes. These techniques are designed primarily to improve the skills of struggling readers – not seriously disabled readers. They can also be helpful to beginning readers.

The Neurological Impress Method

Background – The Neurological Impress Method (NIM) was first used by Dr. R.G. Heckelman in an experiment in the early 1960s. It is what is now called an assisted reading strategy. Thirty years of studies have shown that NIM is a very effective method of remedial reading instruction for many students, whether they are beginning readers or struggling readers at any grade level. According to Heckelman, progress can be very rapid. Some children advance as much as a grade level after just 2 hours of instruction. And many students are able to read on grade level after using the method for 8 to 12 hours.

NIM does not work with all children. You should know after 4-hours whether your child is responding well to NIM, or another method needs to be tried. Children with serious language or neurological impairments may require additional help before starting to use NIM.

What NIM Can Do

  • Give parents an easy way to improve their children's reading.
  • Deliver rapid progress in a limited amount of time.
  • Offer non-stressful reading instruction.
  • Provide a multi-sensory approach to reading.
  • Increase the reader's attention span.
  • Give exposure to a large number of words including difficult words in each reading session.
  • Provide a model of correct reading, and eliminate many poor reading habits.

Using the Neurological Impress Method

How to Start NIM - Before you begin the first session, explain to your child that you are more concerned with the style of his or her reading than the accuracy. Point out also that will never ask questions about what you have read. And you must never correct or criticize the child's reading during or after a NIM session.

Time - NIM reading sessions should be held on consecutive days for 10 to 15 minutes. Ten minutes is often sufficient for young children and very poor readers. NIM should be used for a total period of 8 to 12 hours. Once children are reading at the level where they are expected to read, very little improvement will take place even with additional NIM sessions.

Material - Start with material that is very easy for your child to handle. This could be first or second grade material even for a child in eighth grade. You don't want, however, to spend too much time on material that is at the lower level of the child's reading ability. For example, Heckelman advises that an eighth grader of average intelligence starting at the first or second grade reading level should be in third grade material by the end of 2 hours and in fifth or sixth grade material after 6 hours, and possibly in seventh or eighth grade material after 12 hours of instruction. If your child's reading problems are not severe, you should try to move rapidly to using material that is on his or her grade level. This will expose your child to more difficult words. Teachers and librarians can assist you in determining the reading level of different materials.

How to use the NIM method

Procedure - To obtain the best results, it is extremely important that you follow the NIM procedure exactly:

  1. Sit your child slightly in front of you so that your voice will be close to his or her right ear.
  2. Hold the reading material jointly with your child.
  3. Vary the reading material to keep your child's interest. Use newspapers, magazines, and works of fiction and nonfiction.
  4. Read the material out loud with your child. At first, you should read a little louder and slightly faster. If your child complains that he or she cannot keep up with you, urge the child to continue and to forget about any mistakes. It may, however, be necessary for you to slow down to a rate that is more comfortable for your child or to repeat sentences and paragraphs several times.
  5. In the first few sessions, you should reread the initial lines or paragraphs several times until your child is reading in a normal fluid fashion. Only 2 to 3 minutes of repetition should be sufficient for most students to feel comfortable with NIM. If your child reads well right away, do not reread the material.
  6. Speed up your reading rate for a few minutes in each session to pull your child to a higher reading rate.
  7. As you read, run your finger under a word as it is spoken. It is quite important that these actions be simultaneous and that your finger move in a smooth fashion. Good readers often look ahead of what they are reading aloud and must be especially careful that their fingers are under the words that are being read aloud. At the end of a line, you must move your finger back swiftly to the beginning of the new line just like a typewriter carriage does at the end of a line.
  8. Your child can take over the finger movement or alternate this task with you after several sessions, if desired. Should your child have difficulty in moving his or her finger to accompany the words, place your hand on the child's finger and guide it until a smooth movement is achieved.
  9. Read as many pages as you can in a session while using the rate and intonation of a fluent reader. As your child begins to master the material and gain confidence, you can read with a softer voice or lag slightly behind the child. Should your child falter, start immediately to read louder and faster.

Handling Problems - Some children need special help before they can effectively begin to use NIM. They may need to repeat phrases within a sentence many times before reading the entire sentence. Then each sentence should be reread several times.

Recorded books

Background - Talking books have been used for decades by the visually impaired. Now you can purchase tapes of popular literature for both children and adults as well as find them in libraries. Such books can create an interest in reading for young children and struggling readers. Furthermore, many schools have programs that use taped materials, and these programs have been shown to increase the success of beginning and poor readers. You may be able to borrow these tapes from the school.

The recorded books method described here gives parents another way to improve their children's reading skills. Comprehension will improve because the children will not have to spend so much time figuring out each word, causing them to forget what they have read. Hearing material read correctly will help the children learn to read at the correct pace and with good phrasing and expression. Plus, this method develops the children's sight vocabulary. Since children decide how many times they need to listen to a recording before they attempt to read it aloud, they are in charge of their own learning. The primary task of the parent is simply to prepare the recording and to listen to their children read the recorded material to show off the progress they have made.

Using recorded books

Choosing the Material - Parents need to choose materials that are at a slightly higher level of difficulty than what the child can read fluently. The material can be stories that the new or struggling readers would like to read or material from current classroom reading assignments. The higher the interest the child has in the material, the more likely he or she will learn and retain new words. Material is too difficult if your child cannot read it back to you and make less than four errors after the child has listened to the tape two or three times.

Recording the Material - You will want to record stories and books in very small segments. For some children, the appropriate amount of material might only be a few paragraphs. For most, it is appropriate to record from one to five minutes of material. To make it easier for children to listen to a recording several times, record each segment on only one side of a tape. Record at a slow rate using short phrases – but not so slow the material is boring. Be sure to read with enthusiasm. When you come to a word that is probably unfamiliar to your child, you can pause both before and after the word – giving your child more time to study it. Begin each recording by telling the name of the story and the page which is being read. Then pause so the child has ample time to find the correct page, and look at any pictures. Always end each recording by saying, "This is the end of the recording, please rewind the tape." Be sure to label each segment that you record.

Using the Recorded Material - Set aside about 10 minutes a day for your child to listen to recorded material. The child should use earphones, if possible, because it will focus his or her attention more closely on what is being read. If your child easily loses his or her place on a page, the child should use an index card or place a finger under each word as it is read. The child should listen to a segment until he or she is able read it smoothly making no more than two or three errors. Then the child should make a recording of the material or read it to you. While it is not necessary to listen to your child read each recorded segment, most children will want to demonstrate the progress they are making. For this method to work best, it needs to be used four or five times a week and in a structured manner under your supervision.

Variation - You may want your child to listen to the recordings you make or commercial tapes and read along with them as in the NIM method.

Repeated reading

Background - Re-reading material several times is a proven instructional tool that improves the reading of both skilled and struggling readers. It focuses their attention on reading passages rather than single words and emphasizes reading rate. Repeated reading also leads to more fluent and accurate reading, improved comprehension, the use of self-correcting behaviors, and improvement in retelling stories. In repeated reading, children first read material with the assistance of a fluent reader, and then re-read the text alone until they can improve their reading rate.

Using repeated reading

Choosing the Material - The child can pick a story or book that he or she wants to read or material that is being used in his or her classes. Most children choose materials about or slightly below their instructional reading level at school.

Procedure - Most children should work with passages that are from 50 to 100 words in length. Starting with just one paragraph, however, is appropriate for beginning and struggling readers. Have your child read the selected passage to you. Provide help with any words the child does not know. Write down the time that was required to read the material. Then have your child practice re-reading the material without any help for 3- to 4 -minutes. Next, the child is timed as he or she re-reads the passage to you. The same approach is used with the next paragraph or passage. A child should read at least three passages in a repeated reading session. The child's reading rate should show some improvement by the time three or more passages have been read. This method needs to be used at least four times a week.

Variation - Use material of 50 to 200 words that is relatively easy for your child to read. Have the child read along with you or with a recorded tape at a moderate rate. Time how long it takes to read the passage. Then have your child read the same material alone until he or she can read it in the same amount of time. When the child is able to read the material to you in the desired time, repeat the procedure with a new passage. A session should last for at least 10 minutes.

Final advice

Each and every one of these reading methods has been shown to be effective in improving the reading skills of beginning and poor readers. Try NIM first with struggling readers, and remember repeated reading is designed primarily to increase reading speed. In helping your children improve their reading, stick with just one method for several weeks before trying another method. In order to help children who are truly struggling readers, you will need to spend time working with them almost every day for months. To be effective, reading sessions with your children need to be a happy experience.

Above all else, remember to read to your children every day as it is the single most effective way to give them an interest in reading. Be sure to read to them while you are also using the methods described here. And continue reading to your older children as it will expose them to new vocabulary and challenging materials and inspire them to read more on their own.