Directional Tracking Explained

Why Directional Tracking Is Essential for Reading Development

& How to Teach Your Child or Student Proper Directional Tracking


What is directional tracking?


We read and write English from left-to-right. This left-to-right horizontal arrangement of print is an essential component of the written English language. Proper directional tracking is looking at and processing all the letters in order from left-to-right. Proper directional tracking is essential for reading success.


Why is directional tracking important to proficient reading?


For accurate reading, the student must process sounds in order from left-to-right.  Knowing the individual sounds is not sufficient. The following words demonstrate order of the letters is important: (stop-pots-tops) (thorn-north) (no-on) (miles-limes-smile) (step-pets-pest) (every-very) (felt-left). Poor readers have frequent tracking errors where they improperly process letters out of order. Poor readers often exhibit erratic eye movement as they look around for ‘whole words’ or jump around searching for familiar hunks or word families. These incorrect tracking strategies contribute to reading difficulty. To read proficiently the student must not only know the individual sound but must process the letters in order left-to-right. Correct phonologic processing requires proper directional tracking.


Why do you need to teach directional tracking?


You need to directly teach proper directional tracking because scanning left-to-right in a straight line manner is not a natural process. Instinctively, looking all over is a superior way to gather and process information. Straight line, left-to-right processing is one of the arbitrary artificial components of our man made written English language that the student must learn and automatically apply. Many children apply the superior natural instincts of looking all over and fail to develop straight line left-to-right tracking skills that are essential to proficient reading.  Although this simple sub-skill may appear self evident, many students do not recognize and apply this essential element.  Remember the child can not ‘see’ how we are reading. For all they know we are just telling a great story.  If we do not directly show them they may learn incorrectly. 


The goal is for the child or student to automatically engrain the essential left-to-right straight line processing of print.  The most effective way to ensure the student acquires this essential skill is to directly teach and require proper directional tracking from the beginning. 


How do I teach my child or student proper directional tracking?


Directional tracking can be directly taught to the child with following simple, no cost, highly effective techniques.  All you need is YOUR FINGER and the CHILD’S FINGER!  The most effective tool for teaching directional tracking is use of a finger to physically track or pointing under the sounds of the words you are reading. Simple! Effective! USE YOUR FINGER!  






Is it necessary to have the child actually point with their finger as they read?

Yes, it is!  The importance of the physical movement (kinetic process) in tracking can not be emphasized enough. Have the child use their 'reading finger' in the learning stage. Not only does this motion help engrain necessary left-to-right processing but pointing at sounds also helps the child focus on and correctly process individual sounds within the word. It improves attention to detail as well as proper left-to-right tracking.  Require physical tracking motion when teaching beginners and when remediating struggling readers. In remediation, if an older student perceives finger motion to be ‘babyish’ they can use a toothpick, pencil or another pointer of their choice but still require physical motion.  If the student is making tracking errors or missing details, continue physical tracking.


Eventually the child will ‘outgrow’ the need for physically pointing at the letters. When the child has engrained the essential left-to-right processing of all sounds physical tracking no longer needs to be directly taught. The child can then drop the finger motion. As students advance in skills from initial phonologic processing to fluency they tend to appropriately outgrow and drop finger movement on their own.  If the student has established strong phonologic processing of print, and does not make tracking or attention to detail errors, they have mastered the necessary directional tracking skill and can drop finger pointing.


How is directional tracking related to vision and erratic eye movement when scanning text and reading? If you have any concerns with your child’s vision you need to take your child to an eye doctor. Physical vision has tremendous impacts on reading (the child must be able to see the print in order to convert print to sound). However, if your child’s physical vision is fine (checked by an eye doctor) often erratic eye movement and improper tracking when reading are not the cause of reading difficulties but likely the symptoms of incorrect reading skills. Remember, reading is an artificial complex learned skill. If the child is has not learned to process print in a straight line left-to-right manner and instead is looking all over their eye movement will be erratic.  Looking back and forth, trying to visually  recognize ‘whole’ words, hopping around looking for known parts and word families, and other incorrect reading strategies create symptoms of erratic eye movement.  Proper directional tracking is closely related to eye movement.  If the child learns to process all the letters in order from left-to-right they develop straight-line smooth eye-tracking when reading.


Remember proper directional tracking is only one of the skills necessary for proficient reading. See the articles  Overview of Teaching Children to Read and Skills Necessary for Proficient Reading for additional information on the process of proficient reading. 


Additional information, articles and resources on teaching children to read proficiently can be found on the Free Reading Information page of the Right Track Reading website.



This article was written by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a successful reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to empower parents and teachers with information on teaching children how to read. We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at a time!  More information is located at ~ Copyright 2007 Miscese R. Gagen