How do you teach reading vocabulary quickly to a child with Down syndrome? You Fast Flash! This method has been used for decades by NACD (National Association for Child Development), and was originally developed by Glen Doman at his IAHP (Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential). It was never given a name, and so for convenience, I gave it a name years ago. When you hear “Fast Flash,” you know you’re going to be hoofing it, not strolling, through those cards, so it’s an apt moniker.

It’s free, it’s fast, and I’ll tell you how to do it in this blog.

Use 5" x 8" Index Cards

Use 5″ x 8″ Index Cards

Does It Work?

We know that our children with Down Syndrome are known to be strong visual learners; we can maximize that strength when we teach reading. Using the Fast Flash method to teach reading WORKS.

Don’t believe it, because it seems counter-intuitive?

A special education teacher who attended one of my conference presentations called me several months later and said, “When I got back to school, I told my colleagues that I was going to begin teaching sight words without the images we always use; no pictures! And that I was going to be showing the words quickly, using the Fast Flash method.”

“They said, ‘Yeah, right. Like that’s going to work.’ But I was determined to give this teaching method a try. Now, a few months later, they’re looking at how quickly my students have learned sight words, and they’re saying, ‘Wow! This really works!’”

Why Does It Work?

Why does it work? The short answer is that it’s a “brain thing.” The brain of a child, including a child with Down syndrome, likes to learn fast. Think of it this way: each time you show and name a card to a child, the brain responds.

Let’s say you show the card in the traditional way. Brain: “Oh, yeah. I see that.” But the brain only gets that receptive flash once. So it has a response that more likely resembles, “Oh, yeah. I see thaaaaat………zzzzzzzzz”

When you Fast Flash, Brain says: “Oh, yeah. I see that. I see that. I see that. I see that!”

A dad at one of my workshops told me, “Fast Flash makes a lot of sense. I’m eager to try it. I was showing flash cards to my son the other night, and I held up the word  “ball.” Still holding it up, I said, “BALL, Jimmy. B-B-B-Ball. It starts with B. What else starts with B?” Jimmy moaned, “Boring.” Exactly.

The Fast Flash Method

  1. Group flash cards in packs of 5; this is the most comfortable number for the working memory of children with Down syndrome.
  2. Make sure the words are large, about an inch high (use a broad marker and large (5”x8”) unlined index cards. If you’re creating these cards on computer, use 100 pt. type or larger.
  3. Sit across from the child, not side-by-side; you want to put the cards directly in the child’s alert line of vision, and above all, you want to watch his eyes so you’ll know if he’s focusing on the cards.
  4. Flash the cards quickly, about one per second, calling out the words. You’ll be able to accomplish this speed if you write the word on the reverse side of each card and move the cards from back to front as you call each one out
  5. Note: A common mistake is to call out the next word before it lands solidly in front of the child; if you do that, he’ll be viewing two words while you call out one. Let the card land in your receiving hand as you call it out.
  6. Repeat, showing the cards 3 times total.
  7. If you’re teaching additional words, introduce the next set of 5, and so on, as long as you’ve still got the child’s interest. Stop before he gets bored.
  8. Keep the cards fresh; replace learned words with new ones.
  9. Include lots of high interest words (Wiggles, Sponge Bob, or whatever livens your child’s interest) along with high-frequency words from word lists that have to be learned.

If you’re teaching these words in conjunction with a favorite book, which I hope is the case, use the most important or favorite words from that book. Then flash the words once more after reading the book. This “Sandwich Method” of teaching reading [words—book—words] is very effective!

Whipping those cards out,



8 Responses to TEACH READING with the “FAST FLASH” METHOD

  1. Lyn Legge July 5, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

    My daughter learned 12 sight words in 4 months of school. 25 in a week of fast flashing at home!

    • Natalie Hale July 6, 2013 at 7:56 am #

      Exactly! You have to try it to believe it, don’t you? What a great success story.

  2. Laura July 6, 2013 at 5:33 am #

    We’ve had great success with this method also with our daughter who has Down syndrome. We started when she was just a baby & by age 3.5 years she could read simple stories. Here’s a link with some videos of us demonstrating fast flashing.


    • Natalie Hale July 6, 2013 at 8:00 am #

      K is awesome. What great videos. The truth is that this method WORKS. You’ve done a beautiful job teaching her.

  3. Bridget Obrien Wood July 16, 2013 at 12:56 am #

    Thanks for posting this! I was amazed how well this worked! Passing this on to my daughters summer school teacher!

    • Natalie Hale July 23, 2013 at 1:48 am #

      That’s terrific. Fast Flash has got to be the best kept secret, and it’s been around for over 40 years. I’m so glad it’s working for your daughter!

  4. vicki nees August 12, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    Hi! Is there a word list you recommend? Dolch?

    • Natalie Hale August 12, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

      Hi, Vicki! Yes, Dolch is tried and true. If your child’s school system has its own preferred list, use that instead; there should be very little difference between the two. For a quick download of the Dolch word lists for each grade, go to http://www.mrsperkins.com; you can download each level in either a Word doc or a PDF file.

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