How to teach your students to read at 600 words per minute – Part 3

Use content that fascinates

The most important criterion for choosing content that your student will use to practice reading speed is the degree to which the content fascinates your student. Ideally, your student should be totally enthralled by the subject of the content. That high level of interest and engagement will offset the monotony of the exercises I’ll discuss in the next post in this series.

Don’t use assigned reading material from a class. Find content that is unexpectedly fun for your student.

Use content that sounds good when read aloud

The second most important criterion is that the content sounds good when read aloud. In my experience, that includes content that consists of a series of paragraphs of medium length, e.g. 5-10 sentences. Also, the language should be easily spoken. This feature is hard to quantify and describe. So, try reading the content out loud yourself. If it is difficult to read aloud, avoid it.

Don’t use content with dialog. Dialog breaks up the flow and requires the reader to keep track of which character is speaking.

Don’t use content with unfamiliar jargon or technical terms. The goal of this exercise is to increase reading speed not increase vocabulary.

Use content that is a short passage from a larger work

I think the ideal length for content that your student uses to practice reading speed is between approximately 500 and 1,000 words. Of course, the length will vary based on your student’s age. The rationale behind this length is that the content can be read within a few minutes. You can use Microsoft Word to measure word count. 

A chapter from a fiction or compelling non-fiction book might be perfect. The fact that the content is a passage from a larger work creates the possibility for your student to get pulled into the story. If your student acts on her inherent interest in the story then your job will be much easier.

Use content that is popular

I’m using the term “popular” to serve as a heuristic for “good”. If content is popular, then we can assume it is engaging and entertaining. In other words, the fact that it is popular implies that the content survived the selective publishing process and that a certain number of readers thought the content was good enough to read and recommend. 

Don’t use content that was developed specifically for K12 education. Use the wisdom of the global audience of readers to identify content that tells a compelling story.

Use content that creates unresolved tension

Ideally, your student will want to continue reading the broader work from which the content was selected. An inherent interest in the subject increases the chances that will happen. Another way to do that is to choose a passage that creates tension yet fails to resolve that tension. 

As a general rule, the first chapter of a popular work of fiction should meet this criterion. The sole purpose of the first chapter of any work of fiction is to create a reason for the reader to read the second chapter. The fact that the work is popular implies that the first chapter fulfilled this purpose.

Don’t use content that ties together all the loose ends of the story. For example, a complete short story should not be used for this exercise.

Final thoughts

Summary: Find a subject that fascinates your student. Find a popular novel or non-fiction book that tells a story about that topic. Read the first chapter of that book and verify that it sounds good when read out loud and it creates unresolved tension. Download that book from

Now, you have the motivation, tools, and content to help your student increase her reading speed. The final post in this series will cover methodology.

600 Words Per Minute Series