Boy reading a book

The more you read, the more you will be able read.

In their article, “What Reading Does For the Mind” authors Anne E. Cunningham and Keith Stanovitch propose that the more you read, the more you will be able read. However, the combination of no instruction, deficient decoding skills, lack of practice and difficult or lack of materials results in unrewarding reading experiences or no reading experiences at all. Thus, a situation coined, “The Matthew Effect” often occurs – the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Some staggering statistics at the end of the post highlight this.

In other words, those with no opportunity to acquire reading skills or have poor reading skills cannot learn to read and, therefore, their reading does not improve. Contrarily, those who have the opportunity to learn to read, eventually read fluently, read more and benefit from all the other advantages that reading offers. For example, developing automatic word recognition, general language skills, vocabulary, familiarity with complex syntactic structures, spelling, and improving background knowledge.

Reading Not Speech Enriches Vocabulary

Since words found in print tend to be less common, a person’s vocabulary develops better due to language exposure through reading not through oral language. Spoken language tends to be repetitive and, therefore, full of high frequency words. In contrast, less frequent words, which are still important for daily functioning, tend to be found in print and not in spoken language. As a result, speech is lexically impoverished compared to written language.

Children’s Books – Word Treasure Chest

Child learning to read English books

Interestingly, words in children’s books are considerably rarer than those used in speech in prime-time adult television. In addition, magazines have about three times as many opportunities for new word learning than prime-time TV and adult conversation. Hence, conversation is not a substitute for reading and does not enhance vocabulary growth. Also, the consequences of some mass-viewing television programmes can have a negative effect on knowledge acquisition and can lead to misinformation.

Millions Remain Illiterate

An early start to reading leads to more reading later on. To promote good reading habits, children should be provided with as many reading experiences as possible. Those who read regularly will improve their reading skills, read more and benefit from the ‘Matthew Effect’ but it is important to remember that reading and writing are fairly new skills – written language has been around only about 5000 years and being able to read is still an exceptional skill in many parts of the world. Not everyone is fortunate to be given the opportunity to learn to read. UN statistics show that 617 million of the world-wide school‐age population will not attain minimum reading proficiency levels.  Save The Children states that “even with access to school, some 250 million children around the world struggle to learn basic reading and writing skills by age 9” and according to UNESCO, over 750 million people from the age of 15  lack basic literacy skills.

As a Save The Children report states, “Imagine going to school every day, but never learning your ABCs. Or picture yourself flipping through a book only to see pages full of symbols, unaware of their meaning or the stories they tell.” Not only can learning disabilities deny pupils of the chance to acquire reading skills but also the environment and extreme poverty can too. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Free Resources

If you are interested in finding out more about how to quickly and easily recognise and help struggling students and check if your lessons are ‘memory friendly’, join other teachers and professionals and check out any supporting free how-to-guides and resources. Enjoy!


Cunningham, Anne E. and Stanovitch, Keith. “What Reading Does For the Mind” American Educator, American Federation of Teachers. pg. 8-15, Spring /Summer 1998

Copyright Lesley Lanir. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Disclaimer: Content on this site is for educational purposes. If you re-use any content please include original source and copyright information.

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