How to teach your students to read at 600 words per minute – Part 4

Let the student drive

It is important to let your student be the person interacting with the device during practice sessions. The ability to control when speech starts and stops will empower your student to stay engaged with the exercise.

Focus exclusively on auditory skills

While your student is actively learning to increase their reading speed it is important to only allow them to use their hearing when practicing that skill. After they’ve achieved their maximum auditory reading speed, it is perfectly acceptable for them to use residual vision to read certain types of content that are highly visual such as equations or images. However, while learning to increase their auditory reading speed residual vision will only distract your student from fully engaging with the auditory mode of perception.

How do you make sure your student is only using their hearing during practice sessions? If they are using VoiceOver on an iOS device, turn on the screen curtain. If they are using a desktop computer with a standalone display, power off the display. Another option is to physically block the student’s line of sight by covering the screen.

View auditory reading as a physical skill

The methods we use to increase reading speed are similar to the methods that are used by athletes and performing artists. That’s because auditory reading is more a physical skill than a rational skill. In other words, do not think about auditory reading as a logic problem or a computational problem. 

Increasing auditory reading speed is similar to:

  • Learning to ride a bicycle.
  • Learning to dance.
  • Learning to play the piano.
  • Building muscle strength through weight training.
  • Decreasing the time required to run a mile.
  • Learning a kata in Karate.

Regular practice

Learning any skill requires regular practice over an extended period of time. I suggest that your student deliberately practice improving their reading speed for about 15 minutes at least three times per week. In addition, your student should be using a comfortable speed to read for work or pleasure on a daily basis. That daily reading speed should be increased gradually over time.

Use interval training methods

Athletes use interval training methods to increase their speed and endurance. The methodology of interval training is variation in the intensity of effort during training. For example, rather than running five miles at a constant speed, an interval workout breaks the five miles into intervals and requires the runner to vary their speed throughout the workout. The variation may range from a full sprint all the way down to walking. The variation of intensity provokes the physiological changes that enable the runner to run faster for longer periods of time.

Your student can also use interval training to increase their reading speed and endurance. Here’s a sample workout: 

  1. Select a paragraph that contains 5-10 sentences of medium length and copy the paragraph into a separate document.
  2. Read the paragraph at the student’s normal speed.
  3. Increase the speed by one unit (whatever that may be in the tool being used) and read the same paragraph again.
  4. Pause for 10-20 seconds of silence.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the speech is completely unintelligible or the speed of the tool is maximized.
  6. Now, reduce the speed by one unit and read the same paragraph again.
  7. Pause for 10-20 seconds of silence.
  8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 until the speed is one unit above where it was at the beginning of this exercise.

After performing this exercise, your student should be able to use the new slightly elevated speed to read an entire piece of content (typically 500-1,000 words). The exposure to the higher speeds changes her perception of the new slightly elevated speed. This is a short-term effect. However, performing this exercise several times per week will provoke the physiological changes required to permanently increase their daily auditory reading speed over a period of months.

Use repetition with the same content 

I think reusing content in multiple practice sessions is helpful. If nothing else, it will help your student feel comfortable with the content simply because they have heard it before. However, it is also important to introduce new content on a regular basis. So, find a happy medium between new and existing content during practice sessions. 

Use games to improve attention

Your student needs to learn how to focus their attention on the words being read over an extended period of time. Obviously, you could just tell the student to focus their attention, but that  is like telling an athlete to run faster … it’s easier said than done. So, create little games or challenges that require the student to focus their attention. For example, challenge the student to knock on the desk at the end of every sentence. Or, challenge the student to count the number of times a particular word appears in a passage.

Keep a log

Make sure you record every practice session. Include a description of the content that was used, details of the exercises such as the speeds used during the session, and observations of your students behavior during the session. Use the log to demonstrate progress and motivate your student.

Final thoughts 

I lost the ability to read print visually in 2002. That’s when I began to deliberately increase my auditory reading speed using the methods described above. As my auditory reading speed increased, strange things began to happen. For example, at the end of a presentation or performance I started to clap before everyone else in the audience. Or, when a presenter said something funny I was the first person in the audience to laugh.

At first, these changes startled me and rattled my self-confidence. These behaviors were completely contrary to the tactics I used to blend into the crowd as a person with low vision. However, over time I figured out that the deliberate effort to increase my reading speed had positive side effects. I started walking faster, talking faster, thinking faster, and responding to stimuli faster.

In short, I was “switched on”. That’s my term for blind people, or all people for that matter, who figure out how to overcome perceptual barriers and operate their brain at its full capacity. That’s my goal for your students. I want them to be switched on. I hope this series helps them do it. 

600 Words Per Minute Series




Posted by Jessica McDowellMar 02, 2019

Thank you so much for this series. I have two students at the moment who I am working with specifically on increasing reading speed with text-to-speech (TTS) after seeing your initial articles.


With your latest posts, I will be redesigning parts of my lessons with students. One 6th grader who is a visual learner and strong reader has never been interested in listening instead of reading visually. We loaded The Phantom Tollbooth into Voice Dream Reader and found a baseline of 220 wpm with iOS Alex. When we started reading, I had him turn the iPad screen away and I was impressed at how he just sat back, closed his eyes and completely followed the story. Since I wasn’t asking him to do content reading with text-to-speech and all he needed to do was listen to a good book, he had no complaints at all. We are bumping up the speed incrementally. I will introduce an “interval training workout” and some games and we can end our sessions just enjoying our book. 


Another student is reading at 335 wpm with iOS Fred. I have a difficult time catching certain words with the Fred voice but that is his preference and doesn’t seem to impact his comprehension. This student is older and has more experience with TTS but he mainly opts to read books with Learning Ally human narration and reads most class content off a screen. I think he will enjoy game challenges.


I am working on getting the districts to load the students’ preferred paid voices within Voice Dream; in-app purchases are always tricky on devices managed by districts. I have loaded paid voices onto my iPad so that students can get more than a short sample of the premium voices. Are there voices you encourage because they are more clear at faster speeds?


Thank you for this series. It is very helpful to have a road map on how to teach and encourage this important skill.