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Dyslexia Diagnosis, Podcasts

The Most Basic Reading Skill: Tracking


This is my quick tip of the week. You can also listen to this podcast on and, iTunes, or SoundCloud. Episode 1: The Most Basic Reading Skill: Tracking.

Tracking is the ability to read from left to right and match the sounds of words to the actual word. As a reading specialist, I see quite a few students who do not know how to track words in sentences. Unfortunately, this creates a game of let’s fool the teacher: “If I can memorize the words and pronounce most of them correctly, the teacher will think I can read. I want to please my teacher, desperately!” That’s the mentality of students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

I’m here to assure teachers that students will not be damaged, ruined, or held back by allowing them point or skate their fingers under the words. Many teachers are so upset with this, and I’m not sure why. From my experience observing readers, placing a finger under the words helps build confidence and accountability.

When I was working with pull out students for a Title 1 program (special reading program for non special education students), I asked students why I asked them to point to words as they were reading, and they said, “Well, you want to make sure we know how to read the words.” Exactly. Third graders can be brilliant in their no-nonsense thinking.

When a student does not track well there could be a variety of reasons for this.

1) It’s quite possible students could have visual tracking problems. These are not reading problems, but problems with how the eyes are working. If you’re not sure, take your child to an optometrist/ophthalmologist to make sure everything is fine (don’t rely on school vision screenings).

2) Students can have binocularity issues which prevents the eyes from working together to see the same thing at the same time. This can make reading harder for students.

3) Students can have convergence issues which prevents them from focusing their eyes on words. This is also can affect reading.

4) Students simply do not know how to decode words. They are word callers or word memorizers doing the best they can to read.

I encourage new readers and struggling students to run their fingers under words because it actually works. Whenever I hear students skip lines, repeat words or phrases, or read all over the place, I have them start pointing to the words. It’s important that students SKATE under the words and not BOUNCE to each word. We. Don’t. Want. Them. Reading. Like. This.

There are also a variety of easy and cheap tool teachers can use to motivate and help young readers track words. There are highlighting strips, cut out sentence highlighting strips, index cards, straight edges, and fun motivational toys to encourage word tracking. In my blog post I have pictures of what I use with my students.

All students are different have their preferences. I know students who don’t like highlighting bars, but prefer using the end of their pencil eraser. As always … do whatever works!

As students become better readers, they will naturally remove their fingers when necessary. Allow your students to determine when they don’t need to point or use a tool to track anymore. If they regress, encourage them to continue pointing to the words.

For more information, here are two articles that provide more information about tracking skills.



Highlighter bar

Index Card Under Sentence

Pencil Tip Pointer



About Ann Gavazzi

Reading specialist and English teacher with a particular interest in treatment of dyslexia. Also interested in education and education policy at large and current reading research. Owner of the Reading Innovations Center, a tutoring center that specializes in one-to-one tutoring for struggling readers and math students.


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