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9th December 2016 - To point or not to point?


Lots of struggling readers point at words along a line of print as they read them. Is this:

a. A good thing because it means they don’t lose their place?


b. A bad thing because it interrupts the fluency of their reading?

Beginner readers and struggling readers need to assist their eyes to follow a line of print, so they use a finger to help focus their visual attention. In the early stages of reading, a sentence is often a line length, so a pointing finger is matching a unit of meaning. However, as the texts become longer and a sentence runs over a line, then the child who is finger-pointing is often interrupting their comprehension as they have to move their finger to swing back to find the first word of the next line (which may be a continuation of a sentence started in the previous line).

Most pupils voluntarily abandon finger-pointing once their reading progress becomes more fluent. They have developed the muscles around the eyes which enable them to comfortably track lines of text. However, some children who have taken longer to become fluent, may be reluctant to abandon this support as they have become accustomed to the eyes following the finger rather than scanning the print.

My advice is, that from Catch Up® Literacy level 8 onwards, we should be encouraging children to ‘make their eyes do the work’ and not to point at each word as they read it. However, finger-pointing will have become such a habit for them it will take a bit of effort to persuade them to give it up!

Tips to help pupils make the transition from finger-pointing to eye-scanning

1. Try Paired Reading

  • Choose a book that will appeal to the pupil and is at a reading level at or slightly above their independent reading level.

  • Sit beside the pupil and explain that you are both going to read the text aloud. Do not sit at a table (so there is nowhere for the pupil to put down the book!) and hand them the book (now both their hands are needed to hold the book open so you can both see the text).

  • Start reading and encourage them to keep up with you. Read at a fluent pace (but not too quickly) and read with intonation and expression. Try to get the pupil to match your pace of reading.

  • What you are doing is training their eyes to follow print without the support of their finger, but also without the anxiety of being responsible for getting every word right on their own. 

2. Reading Rulers
  • You might consider buying some ‘Reading Rulers’ from Crossbow ( These 8” rulers provide page tinting with tracking support. The pupil is able to view the line of print they are following but it also reveals the line of print below so it discourages them from stopping at the end of each line.

  • These rulers are very helpful for pupils who experience ‘print distraction’, where the print seems to be slightly wobbly on the page.

3. Pointing from above
  • If a pupil is very reluctant to stop finger-pointing, ask them to point at the words from above, i.e. with the forefinger pointing down towards the body.

  • Alternatively, allow them to use a bookmark (or reading ruler) from above so they cover up the words already read (instead of covering up the ones needing to be read) – this way, you reduce print distraction from the whole page but the pupil is not covering words that are about to be read.

4. Half-way house – line pointing
For pupils finding it hard to keep their place from the end of the line to the start of the following line, you could try the following:
  • place the book flat on the table

  • allow them to place the forefinger of their left hand in the margin slightly to the left of the text (but do not allow word-by-word finger-pointing)

  • as the eye finishes reading a line at the furthest right, the left finger moves down a line (so, they are not tracking word by word but they can use finger support to avoid re-reading the same line)

  • left-handers can try this with the right hand marking the line from the right-hand margin

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