The Three Types of Reading

By Lindsey Lipsky, M.Ed.

“To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.”  – A C Grayling, Financial Times (in a review of A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel)

As educators, one of our biggest jobs is to help our students develop a love of reading. After all, without reading, as A.C. Grayling describes above, one cannot engage fully in the world.  But what if our learners have trouble accessing or reading print in the normal way?

You see, 1 in 5 students in America has Dyslexia, a Learning Disability which is largely characterized by deficits in language and phonological processing that hinders a person’s ability to decode, process and read fluently on level despite normal IQ.  What can we do for them?

Over ninety percent of what we teach as educators is through traditional “eye” reading; decoding and analyzing text and word patterns on a page with your eyes, which are then interpreted back into comprehension. However, there are two other types of reading that we, as educators, need to be aware of for incorporation into best teaching practices for all.

Three Types of Reading: Because there is more than just reading with your “eyes!”

1. Eye Reading
This is what 90% of us think of as true “reading.”  It is what we are most tested on, trained for, and taught in schools.  Eye reading includes taking in words, sentences, and phrases through our eyes to develop meaning, which is the basis for almost all reading and ultimately comprehension for a majority of people.  Without a doubt, eye reading must be taught and focused on throughout school, especially in terms of developing phonemic awareness, fluency, and decoding skills at the elementary level.  But what happens when a child still cannot “break the code” well beyond the elementary years and hasn’t gotten proper interventions yet?

2. Ear Reading
This is where ear reading can come into play.  When you have a student who can’t “decode” the text but is reading/comprehending on or above grade level, they can still “read” with their ears. Although sometimes stigmatized as “not true reading,”  for some of our students who are lacking decoding and phonological skills to interpret grade level text fluently, “ear reading” is an extremely necessary accommodation to help foster continuous growth.

As Jennifer A., a Reading Specialist outside of Chicago, states to students, “You might learn better through your ears than you do taking in information through your eyes, and that’s totally fine because your brain is still doing the work with it.”

Watch this video by Dr. Sally Shaywitz at the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity here on the power of audiobooks and ear reading.

3. Finger Reading
Finger reading, better known as“Braille Reading,” is how students with blindness and visual impairments engage with the written word.  We would never say to a student with blindness or vision impairment that, when reading braille, they are not actually reading, would we?  Then why do we say to students with Dyslexia and/or Learning Disability that “ear reading” is not really reading? Just like ear and eye reading, finger reading helps unlock doors for students, adults and learners who cannot access print in the normal way.

For students with a learning disability like Dyslexia, research has shown us that allowing students to “ear read” may make the difference between helping advance a student’s comprehension growth or hinder it.  For support, check out some of the resources from accessible instructional material providers like Learning Ally (human-voice) and Book Share (digitized voice) which have hundreds of thousands of PK-12 and college accessible textbooks, popular fiction, and more for students with a qualifying print-disability.


Download this poster for your classroom by Learning Ally on the Three Types of Reading.
types of reading poster

We all read differently…and that’s OK!


 To Fully Support All Learners:

Remember, to fully support all students with reading disabilities and challenges like Dyslexia, along with acknowledging the different types of reading, you must also incorporate an evidence-based Multi-Sensory Structured Language (MSL) Program into your classroom. For more information on these programs, read a list of some recommended MSL programs from the International Dyslexia Association, as well as information about the Orton-Gillingham Multisensory Method (article by the Schenck School); an extensive approach to language, reading, spelling, and writing instruction incorporated by most reading and language specialists.

The combination of MSL program instruction and audiobooks are a powerful combination for all learners to keep up with their same age peers.

What do you think about this list? Do you incorporate the three types of reading and MSL instruction in your classroom? Let’s discuss on twitter @LindseyLipsky or leave a comment below.