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Tips for Increasing Rapid Naming Ability in Struggling Readers

By Jenny Nordman
 | Sep 13, 2017

Rapid Naming AbilityWhile rapid naming ability may not be the first thing one thinks of when listing the characteristics of an effective reader, the impact of this cognitive skill should not be underestimated. In fact, children with reading issues often demonstrate significant difficulty when asked to quickly name familiar objects or symbols. Conversely, more advanced readers tend to perform strongly on rapid naming tasks.

Rapid naming involves processing information and responding swiftly. Within the context of reading, it is needed for word retrieval, sound–symbol correspondence, automaticity, and oral reading fluency. For a student to be able to respond and integrate information, a variety of neural systems must work together quickly and seamlessly. However, when instructing struggling readers or those with documented reading disabilities, achieving rapid naming may require additional practice.

Here are some practical tips that can be used to increase rapid naming ability when working with readers who have difficulty with this important cognitive skill:

  • Play “Search and Say” with the classroom word wall and a flashlight. The teacher (or a selected student) points to words on the word wall using a flashlight, and the students must quickly respond. This activity builds rapid sight word recall.
  • Have the student complete timed, repeated readings of a passage in order to build automaticity. It is recommended that the passage be no more than 100 words. The student can make a game of it by trying to beat their time, and this activity can be used as a literacy center with premade, leveled passages and stopwatches.
  • Play games that require quick word retrieval, such as Pictionary, Scattergories, or charades. Connect these activities to a text selection by incorporating vocabulary words or scenes from a story.
  • Use flash cards for letters, sight words, sounds, phonograms, etc. Flash card activities require fast processing, but they should not be competitive if being used for remediation.
  • Sing short songs or recite poems and quicken the pace as you repeat. This activity gradually increases the demand on processing speed, and is especially enjoyable for young children. Please note that those with speech issues may find this activity difficult.

With these practical activities, you can help to build rapid naming ability in your students. Be sure to also send a few of these suggestions home to parents for even more practice. 

Jenny NordmanDr. Jenny Nordman is an assistant professor of reading and literacy at Regis University in Denver, where she coordinates of the Master of Education in Reading program. Her areas of expertise include reading assessment and intervention, cognitive skills associated with reading success, neurocognition, and evidence-based best practices.


Leave a comment
  1. Austin | May 02, 2018

    There's no research demonstrating that Rapid Autonomic Naming can be improved (Kilpatrick).  If you would like to learn more about how RAN contributes to reading and the research behind targeted explicit instruction you should read this book:

    Its disappointing to see an article with "face validity" but no research to support it.  This article is promoting instructional practices which have been demonstrated not to improve RAN. 

  2. Sue Corbin | Jan 04, 2018
    I'm afraid that having children participate in these kinds of games and drills will do little to increase their reading skills.  Having them engage in repetitive activities in something they're not good at without teaching them how to respond more quickly (and how do you do that?) is wasting time when children could be losing themselves in a good book.  How are you defining struggling readers?  And shouldn't we be teaching them how to think through a text rather than frustrating them with games that are difficult for them and may not ultimately help them to more thoughtful, reflective readers?  I would rather that students slow down and read mindfully and intentionally. 
  3. Leslie Toope | Oct 03, 2017
    this is the kind of practical article I would like to see more of.  Especially appreciate the focus on struggling readers, pedigocial activities that are appealing to children (fun!), and adaptable to a one on one tutoring context. 
  4. Katherine P. Webster | Oct 03, 2017

    Hi, I have been a Reading Specialist in both public and private settings for 25 years. I have observed that often younger children that are taught to "sound out" words think the elongated sounding out is a word. In order to help them understand that it is not a word until they can say it connected and fast, I give them a physical therapy stretch band to use to "sound out" sounds or syllables, but they can't count it as a word until they let the band go and simultaneously say the word very fast. They seem to love this activity and it gets the concept of blending sounds/syllables together to make a word in a fluid and fun way. 

    I hope this insight is of some help in the context of rapid naming activities.

    Katherine Webster, M.ED.

  5. aodonnell | Sep 27, 2017

    Hi Barbara, 

    Thank you for your response! The author's e-mail is included in the post--I will e-mail you the information as well so that you can connect with her directly.



  6. Barbara | Sep 18, 2017

    Could you direct me to any references on studies showing improved rapid automatic naming in children with reading difficulties? I have heard conflicting information on whether this underlying deficit can be 'fixed' versus children who will still display the underlying deficit but do become more proficient in reading through targeted instruction building automatcity in critical reading skills.

    Thank you so very much.

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