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Help! My Child Skips Small Words When Reading

Closeup of child reading a book

Does your child skip small words when he’s reading?

Skipping small words is actually a very common problem that we usually notice when our children are reading aloud, but the truth is that many adults skip words as well.

Interestingly, the most commonly skipped words are small, high-frequency words such as the, in, on, a, and of.

These are function words that a child cannot visualize, and since the sentence can still be comprehended without them, the words are easily skimmed over.

In addition, shorter words are much more likely to be skipped than longer words, and predictable words are more likely to be skipped than non-predictable words.

Why Do Readers Skip Small Words?

When I first explored the reasons for skipping small words while reading, I was surprised to find out how much research has been done on this topic. Generally, researchers wanted to study the way the eyes move during the process of reading: how they track, how they jump forward to the next word or phrase, and how much text is taken in at a single glance.

I’ve cited the research at the bottom of this post, but for our purposes, the main thing we need to know is this:

As a person reads, their eyes jump forward to the next word or phrase, and in this process, small words can be missed.

Longer words or unusual short words grab our attention, while smaller common words are more likely to go unnoticed.

An open book being read

In addition to the scientific explanation, there are several other reasons a child may skip words:

  • Your child may be reading too fast. Children who read too quickly tend to think that “good readers are really fast readers.” But skipping small words is just one of the many issues that can crop up if a child reads too fast.
  • Your child’s eyes are moving faster than he can say the words. If this is the case, he may have actually seen the word, but he didn’t actually speak it aloud. People speak at a rate of approximately 180 words per minute, while the average person can silently read 230 words per minute.
Child reading from an All About Reading Level 3 reader
  • Your child may have vision problems. There is a vision issue called convergence insufficiency disorder. With this vision disorder, the eyes have great difficulty focusing, and small words are often skipped.
  • Your child may have dyslexia. Skipping words can be a symptom of dyslexia. If you suspect dyslexia, this checklist may be helpful.
  • Your child may be unable to decode the words. If you point out the skipped word, is he able to read it? If not, the real problem may be that the reading material is above his comfortable reading level. He may need additional instruction in phonics and decoding.
  • Your child has suddenly begun to skip small words. Some children who were previously reading small words with no problem may suddenly begin skipping them. This can be a natural occurrence as your child is developing as a reader. He may be moving from the beginning stage of reading one word at a time to the more advanced stage of taking in a phrase at a time. This could solve itself in a few weeks as your child figures out the best speed for smooth reading.

3 Ways to Remedy This Problem

If your child doesn’t have a vision or decoding problem, the tips below will help your student pay attention to smaller words when reading.

  1. Have your child point to each word as he reads it. He shouldn’t just slide his finger under the sentence—he should actually point to the word being read. After he stops skipping words, discontinue this practice.

    Child pointing a word in a book
  2. Record your child reading and play back the audio. This may help him recognize the fact that he is skipping words as he is reading.
  3. When your child skips a word, ask him if the sentence he just read makes sense. Then have him reread the sentence again to see if he can correct the issue.

The Bottom Line on Skipping Small Words

  • Word skipping is a common scenario that happens to children and adults.
  • Children skip words for many reasons.
  • The solution will depend on the reason behind the word skipping, but there are many ways to remedy this issue.
Read Research on Word Skipping

Brysbaert M, Drieghe D, Vitu F. (2005). Word skipping: Implications for theories of eye movement control in reading. In: Underwood G, editor. Cognitive processes in eye guidance (pp. 53-77). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Choi, W., & Gordon, P. C. (2014). Word skipping during sentence reading: effects of lexicality on parafoveal processing. Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, 76(1).

Drieghe D., Rayner K., & Pollatsek A. (2005). Eye movements and word skipping during reading revisited. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 31, 954–969.

Ehrlich, SF & Rayner K. (1981). Contextual effects on word recognition and eye movements during reading. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 20, 641–655.

Fitzsimmons, G. & Drieghe, D. (2011). The influence of number of syllables on word skipping during reading. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 736–741.

Hyönä J. (1995). Do irregular letter combinations attract readers’ attention? Evidence from fixation locations in words. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 21, 68–81.

Rayner K., Slattery, T.J., Drieghe, D., & Liversedge, S.P. (2011). Eye movements and word skipping during reading: Effects of word length and predictability. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 37, 514–528.

Does your child skip words when he is reading? Have you discovered any helpful tips?

Photo credit: Rachel Neumann

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Donald Knight

says:

Interesting and useful tips to solve the issue.

Sofia

says:

Thank you!!!It really helped me.Greetings from Hellas!!!

rajeev sharma

says:

very relevant article even for educators

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Rafeev.

Salma Alsalami

says:

Thank you for the interesting topic, and the puppy pack.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Salma! I hope you enjoy the Puppy Pack.

ARM

says:

Yes it was helpful. Mainly this phrase: As a person reads, their eyes jump forward to the next word or phrase, and in this process, small words can be missed.

Longer words or unusual short words grab our attention, while smaller common words are more likely to go unnoticed. Also I didn’t know that our speaking average of words is 180 while i silent reading average is 230. Great knowing that. I have found that most students that i teach don’t know phonics and are sight reading too much and guessing.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you found this helpful!

Lauren

says:

Thanks for the helpful info! My 6 year old son is gifted and reads at a 4th grade level, but skips words or has trouble with comprehension. He started reading at age 2 years old without instruction, but he doesn’t always understand what he reads. Any tips?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lauren,
Comprehension struggles can happen for a variety of reasons. One could be guessing at words and the guesses are not correct, so it changes the meaning.

My first tip would be simply having him read aloud to you for approximately 10 minutes a day. When you listen to him read aloud, you will be able to hear possible causes for his comprehension struggles.

From there, you can begin to take action to address it. If your son is guessing at words, you can stop him and help him sound the words out. If he is skipping words, you can ask him to reread the sentence and read every word. Maybe he is reading without expression. This is more than just a stylistic issue, as it is hard for even an adult to understand content from words in a flat monotone without regard for punctuation.

You may consider having him start a higher level of All About Reading so he can practice reading with high accuracy and learn to sound out unfamiliar words. Our levels are not grade levels; students finishing level 4 have the phonics and word attack skills necessary to sound out high school level words, though younger students may not know the meaning of all higher-level words yet. (Word attack skills include dividing words into syllables, making analogies to other words, sounding out the word with the accent on different word parts, recognizing affixes, etc.)

We have All About Reading placement tests to help you determine which level he is ready to begin. However, if you have questions about placement, let me know.

You may also consider starting All About Spelling with him. Working through All About Spelling will teach him all the phonograms and rules he may have missed teaching himself to read so young, yet he won’t be bored with beginner reading instruction.

Let me know what you find after listening to him read aloud a few days and if you have any questions or additional concerns.

Vanessa Jensen

says:

My son skips words or adds words that aren’t in the sentence he’s a 4th going on 5 th grade.

Bonita Hall

says:

My child tends to skip words sometimes. I figured out his brain is working much faster than his mouth when he is reading out loud. I am trying to get him to slow down.

Merry

says: Customer Service

Good observation, Bonita! Here are 10 Helps for Kids Who Read Too Fast: https://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/child-reads-too-fast/

Vanessa ali

says:

My daughter has a problem when reading she adds letters to words or include words when reading

Merry

says: Customer Service

Hi Vanessa,

Our article on how to Break the “Word-Guessing” Habit has some great strategies for working on this: https://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/break-the-word-guessing-habit/

Letter Tiles are really helpful because you can show the way she said the word, and then change out the tiles that are incorrect for the actual word–it gives kids a really concrete picture of what they said incorrectly and how the word is different from what they thought it was.

Margaret Gore

says:

My son frequently skips words I think it is due to not being able to decode some of the bigger words with Val combinations sounds that he never learned. I’ve been looking into using that all about reading program and all about spelling to remedy some of his deficiencies.

Merry

says: Customer Service

Good thought, Margaret! Gaps in phonogram knowledge can definitely interfere with decoding skills.

Kerry F

says:

Love the help in understanding the steps in reading

Christine Brick

says:

I just noticed my daughter starting to do this! Very helpful!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Christine. If you need anything, let me know.

shana levy

says:

good suggestions

Gale

says:

Thanks for this. My child admitted that he intentionally skips small words. I was suspecting dyslexia before but after the last time I talked with him about it he talked about how his vision drifts/moves around, and not I think I need to see an eye doctor in stead. I followed the link on convergence insufficiency disorder, and a lot matches up.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sounds like you have a plan, Gale. I’m glad you found this helpful and I hope you find the source of his difficulties.

Jes

says:

This was very helpful

Hana

says:

My son reads it completely wrong. He is unwilling to sound out the letters at times (keeps on guessing) and other times even after sounding out, he still reads it wrong. I don’t understand why he would sound out the letters for longer words and do better at reading them than these short words!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Hana,
I’m so sorry your child is having problems with this. I think you may find our Break the “Word Guessing” Habit blog post helpful.

When he has trouble with a word, go to the letter tiles and have him use the blending procedure (detailed in our Helping Kids Sound Out Words blog post) to sound the word out. Once he can read it correctly with the tiles, then go back to the written sentence.

I hope this helps some, but please let me know if you have questions or need anything else.

Loren

says:

Very interesting, Thanks for the tips at the end to help overcome the skipping

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Loren. Let me know if you have any questions or need more help.

Teniele

says:

Mine tends to guess what the small words are instead of reading them. Gets them right sometimes but sometimes not!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Teniele,
You may find our Break the “Word Guessing” Habit article helpful as well.

When your child misreads a word, wait until the end of the sentence. If he or she doesn’t catch the error, ask if what they read makes sense. You want him or her to reread the sentence correctly, but you want to encourage thinking about what was read so that he or she starts to catch the errors without your prompting.

Let me know how it goes or if you need more ideas.

mel kirkby

says:

The word skipping affects fluency and enjoyment of reading out aloud.

Michele

says:

Love this! Thank you so much for sharing!

Maria Younan

says:

Great article! Thank you!

Michelle Hunt

says:

Thank you so much for a very informed article and giving such easy and useful tips to try. I love learning from your articles.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Michelle! I’m very happy to hear that this article has been helpful to you. Let me know if you need anything.

Shannan

says:

This is a great post. Thank you for sharing

Sally

says:

My 11 year old is a speed reader when reading to himself but stumbles over basic words when reading aloud. I persevere because I think he needs to slow down and really look at the words. This will also help with his spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sally,
There is a chance that he has trouble reading aloud because he reads so quickly. Those that read quickly read faster than normal speech so that they are processing the end of a sentence while their mouth is still speaking the beginning of the sentence. I had this problem when I was around your child’s age and it took a lot of practice for me to be able to slow down my reading to the speed I could comfortably speak so that I could read aloud well.

While being able to read aloud is a good skill to have, if his comprehension when reading silently is very good then don’t worry about his troubles reading aloud too much. Do work on it and practice it, but realize it is a separate skill.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Amanda

says:

My 7yo does this all the time. Is vision is fine but I have wondered about dyslexia because he does have a few other problems with reading. Some good ideas here to think about. Thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Amanda.

You may find our Dyslexia Resources page helpful. Let me know if you have questions or need more information.

Rebecca Yarnold

says:

Excellent tips, thanks so much! My youngest often skips short words, excited to try these suggestions out!

Kelly-Lee Moesker

says:

Thank you,

This has been very helpful!

Anita

says:

This was helpful. My daughter has a rare kind of epilepsy which effects her processing & therefore her reading. Some helpful suggestions that are definitely worth a try

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Anita. Let me know if you need further help or have questions.

Sabrina

says:

Thanks for the tips!

Lindsey

says:

These were some great tips…thank you!