We have reading, reading comprehension and writing programs here at Colorado Reading Center.

Practice with a Word Box

As emerging readers develop, they begin to add significantly to their word base. Reading consists of several skills, one of which is the memorization of many high frequency words, or sight words. These are words that occur often when we read and tend to make up the majority of the words we read when reading. There are many high frequency or sight word lists that parents and teachers can choose from. For our purposes, we us the Fry’s Instant Word List.

According to E. B. Fry, who developed the Fry’s Instant Word List, there are 300 words that are essential to developing readers. It is suggested that: “This list contains the most commonly used words in written English, ranked in frequency order. The 300 instant words and their common variants make up 65% of all the words in any textbook, any newspaper, or any writing sample in English.” (Rite Flight: A Classroom Reading Program: 2006, 169) Therefore, the faster a student is able to recognize these words, the less effort they will need to decode these words and the quicker their reading rate will be.


The Word Box is a tool designed to give students repetitive practice with orthographically inconsistent words, or high frequency sight words. It is a simple tool that, when used consistently and properly, is very powerful. Words are added that the student doesn’t know from either a high frequency word list or from words missed in their reading.

Every student will have a box, which will hold all their unknown sight words. There are several categories of sight words: slow, medium, fast, and graduates. We encourage students to pick their own labels for these categories in order to personalize their box (ex. snails, dogs, eagles, etc).

When a new word is added, it will begin in the slow category. Once the student is able to correctly read the word, it will move up to the medium category.

When the student is able to read the word within two seconds, it will move up to the fast category.

Once a word is in the fast category, the student must read it correctly 5 times in a row to move it up to “graduate.” This must be read within a second. Remember these should be instant words, and students should recognize them as quickly as they recognize their own name. We will mark each correct reading of a fast word with a check on the back of the index card to keep track. Occasionally a word may be misread, or slow, in which case it will need to move down a category.

The word is printed neatly in black marker on the blank side of an index card and added to the box. Every so often a student may need a visual “hint” to help them recognize a word. This is done lightly in pencil and is erased when the word has moved up to the fast category.

When students miss words, it is helpful to have them image or visualize the word by drawing it on the table or in the air with their finger. This will help develop their visual memory for the word so it can be easily recognized in the future.

Students should practice their box several times a week for 10-15 minutes. The word box is an effective and strategic way for students to develop their word knowledge.

The Wisdom of a Movable Walkway: why individualized instruction is so important

Imagine yourself rushing to catch a plane in the airport. Say for instance you’re at DIA, and you step onto the movable walkway to speed up your trip to the gate. You’re moving at a brisk pace now. There’s no carry on, all your bags are checked, and you’re holding a book you’ve been waiting to read on your flight. Out of the corner of your vision, you see people heading your direction, but you’re speeding past them. There’s a woman carrying a child and a diaper bag walking with a man pulling two giant rolling suitcases trying to balance both and walk at the same time. They take a few steps and stop to readjust things and move forward. Their progress to the gate is painstakingly slow. There’s also a group of school age students with instruments all casually walking together about the same rate as the walkway is moving.


You decide to pick up the pace and begin walking on the movable walkway. There’s a sense that you are rocketing through the airport now. You’re passing people standing on the walkway along for the ride. You make it to the gate in record time, and are one of the first to board the plane. You leisurely open your book and don’t give the walk to the gate a second thought. You watch the school band group get on and take their seats. The doors are almost closed when the couple carrying the baby and suitcases boards the plane breathlessly.

Let’s change this situation and make an analogy to learning to read. A lot of readers are able to pick up the skill with little help needed. They may move at a casual rate like a band group walking to catch a flight. Others go to it like a fish to water. They move briskly and seem to speed past others, like the person with no bags trotting on the movable walkway. For many, however, they move slowly and struggle the whole way. They are like the couple pulling bags behind them. They need to stop every so often and readjust. They can sometimes get help from people to carry their bags with them.


Developing the skill of reading requires a number of other skills working together. If an emerging reader is dealing with a weakness in any of the underlying skills (say for instance phonological processing, memory issues, dyslexia, and many others), then this reader has extra bags to carry on their way to the “departure gate for reading.” For many students, standard reading instruction works well. Students who have a few extra bags to carry along may need some extra help.
Focusing on the exact underlying skill that needs to be developed is central to instruction. This is what is meant by individualized instruction. The reader discovers what needs to be worked on, and they work with a specialist to develop their skills. Like a physical fitness trainer for the mind, reading specialist work out the muscles needed for reading. Every reader learns at their own pace, just like travelers moving through an airport. As the foundational skills are made stronger, readers begin to grow stronger generally, and are able to reach their potential.