Ssh! Silent reading

Speed-reading coupled with good comprehension are markers of proficient reading. This can be taught to children when they are very young. One effective method is ‘silent reading’. It requires the effort, concentration and patience of both students and teachers.

When my daughter was three-and-a-half, she would pick up books and keep flipping through pretending to read even when the book had absolutely no pictures. I never pushed her to read and hence was amazed at her patience in looking through printed words which made no sense to her. I would call her and give her a book with a lot of pictures and tell her, “Look through this. It will be more interesting.” She would refuse to do so. She would stubbornly say, “I can read.”

When she really learnt reading and took to it, it was simply amazing! She could read faster than any other child of her age. The pretensions that she had gone through while looking through books had boosted her self-image as a reader. Children who are familiar with printed matter start reading earlier and are more assured. It is good to let children simply flip through books, newspapers, magazine, etc. They are less puzzled by printed matter and can easily identify letters of the alphabet.

Another important pointer for parents and teachers to improve their children’s reading is to teach them the art of silent reading. As a teacher of English, for the past several years, I have felt that the habit of children to indulge in loud reading should be slowly discouraged. Children should be weaned from loud reading by the time they reach the 5th grade. When children read aloud, they pay more attention to their voice and their way of reading than to the comprehension of the reading matter. If an adult is supervising and the child is corrected too often, her self-confidence and self-esteem are largely undermined.

While teaching reading to 5th graders, the class I often teach, I encouraged silent reading. It is advisable to formulate a few rules and write them on the blackboard for children to follow. I would religiously write the rules on the board everytime I gave them a reading comprehension test. The children almost knew every rule by heart and would repeat it as I wrote on the board. “Ma’am, we know!”, some would say. This did not stop me from writing the rules on the blackboard.

When the reading began, I would time them. After saying “start”, I went around the silent class, observing without disturbing their concentration.

None of them had reason to feel embarrassed about their reading—whether they pronounced words correctly or not, whether they were fast or slow, whether their voices were loud or soft, nothing mattered. All that they had to achieve at the end of the session was to understand what they had read.

When I said “stop”, they had to stop. Then I would write 10 very simple questions on the board. The questions required one-line answers, some of them could just be phrases. I allowed them to keep the comprehension passage open right in front. We repeated this exercise at least once a week. It had a tremendous effect on their reading pace.

Rapid reading has become increasingly important in modern days and the younger the children are taught the skill, the better (and easier) it is for both the children and the teachers. The fact is that our world has become increasingly dependent on the printed page as a medium for mass communication. There is more material in print today than there ever was, and more and more people, including children, have to read it. The flood of print threatens to drown us all, unless we can find the secret of faster and better reading.

Silent reading has many advantages. By the ‘eye-swing’ from left to right and back, concentration on the line is accentuated. When a child does not hear its own voice aloud, the ‘eye-mind’ relationship gets reinforced. To make children better readers, teach them the art of silent reading. All it needs is a patient teacher or parent. This technique not only enables readers to concentrate on the material to be read, it also helps in total comprehension.


Golden rules for silent reading


Do not whisper as you read

Do not move your lips

Do not move your head or neck, move only your eye-balls

Do not look into your neighbour’s book

Concentrate absolutely on what you are reading

If you cannot understand a particular word, mark it for later explanation and keep reading

If you cannot comprehend a sentence,  go back and read it again

Go through the whole passage quickly at the end


This article first appeared in Teacher Plus, Issue No.43, July-August 1996 and has been adapted here with changes.


Renu Chamarty's picture

very good ideas.May be we can try them out in Grades one and Two also?I'm sure all of them can read the starters of the various publications and some can surely do more than that!I guess some silent activity can do a lot of good to the youngsters in today's noisy world!

vijay.pandey's picture

I want to know about innovative approaches that is the voice of some passionate teachers . But lack of better Teachers educator effected the quality of teachers .

mehraks27's picture

I personally follow this method of learning and that really makes a person to concentrate on what he/she is doing. Nice to read and follow.
Good Work..................

sujathar's picture

A very good article on silent reading... I too am a strong advocate for silent reading and it definitely helps children improve their reading skills as well as their comprehension skills.

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