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

BIG cards from my “I See” Pre-Primer Book

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,


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Showing 19 comments
  • Lyn Legge

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

    • Natalie Hale

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

  • Laura

    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

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

  • Bridget Obrien Wood

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

    • Natalie Hale

      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!

  • vicki nees

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

    • Natalie Hale

      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.

  • pik

    Thank you for all the great ideas! I found your blog today and I am very happy!
    I have a question. As we live in Germany, do you have a proposal for a list with words like Dolch but for German?
    Thank you!

    • Natalie Hale

      Hi! I’m so glad you found my blog. As for the word list, the actual words are going to be the same in any language in highly developed countries, since the “first hundred words” (or similar) are simply the words most frequently used in language. So you could download the Dolch lists for different grade levels and simply translate them into German. Those lists are formulated by frequency of USAGE, so that should work for you in Germany. To get those lists free in various formats, go to: mrsperkins.com. Its a great resource!

  • Sharon Reilly

    My 7 year old grandson has Down syndrome and is currently being treated for leukemia. He is unable to go to school at this time and he is getting behind. Can these cards and books be purchased?

    • Natalie Hale

      Hi, Sharon- Yes, you can purchase these bundles right on my site; go back to my homepage on this site, and you’ll see all the different level bundles on the left side of the page. Pre-primer, primer, first grade, and a teaching guide as well, which is included with all bundles. Let me know if you have any other questions; I’ll be happy to help. All the best, Natalie

      • Natalie Hale

        p.s. Sharon, the “I See” book pictured is one of the printable books found in the first level bundle, the Pre-Primer Bundle, which comes with a teaching guide. There are 5 glossy picture books (each with their own interactive CD) in that bundle, along with a printable disc containing 3 books (I See is one of them) and printable flash cards.

  • Stephanie

    Hi Natalie…I have a daughter who is 8 (adopted from Russia at the age of 4), she has struggled so much to learn any sight words, we have tried several different methods…it has been SLOW and discouraging. I also have a biological daughter with DS (7) and is reading books and is keeping up with her peers in learning her sight words. We are trying Fast Flash right now with my adopted daughter and I wanted to ask about flashing different sets. If your child is struggling a lot with learning, is it best to flash only one set of cards? Right now, we are using 3 different sets, and I’m concerned that is just too many sets. Also, if you are working on more than one set, are you saying up above in #7 that you flash all sets in one sitting?? Thank you for your help.

    • Natalie Hale

      Hi, Stephanie. I’m happy to clarify. With your 8 yr old who has been struggling for some time, use just one group of 5 cards until she knows 4 out of 5. It’s essential that these 5 cards be of super-high interest to her. Forget “the, a, in” etc. She needs to be persuaded to engage with reading. So, for instance, if she loves the movie “Frozen,” her 5 cards could be, “snow, Elsa, Anna, Olaf, love.” When she knows 80% of those cards (4), then you can introduce a second set of 5 cards, but make them high interest, too! Also remember to make personal books. Have you ordered my Pre-Primer bundle yet? It’s on this site’s home page and elsewhere as well. She should do well with that, as it combines both high-interest books and high frequency books, in a brain-friendly format.

      • Jessica

        So my daughter has a Peppa Pig book, can I pull high interest words from that book and use the book or do I need to make a personal book. Also do all the cards need to be high interest words or can I throw in a sight word here and there ?

        • Natalie Hale

          Yes, you can pull high interest words from the Peppa Pig books and throw in a sight word or two. Have you modified the book so she’ll actually be able to read it? (use the search box on my blog page and look for “modified trade books” for how to.) And yes, you DO need to also make a personal book for her. It’s not as hard as you think, and I cannot stress enough how it will trigger her enthusiasm, cooperation, and success! Personal books are vital no matter what the age. Trust me on this. My son (31, DS) learned to read at age 5 ONLY on personal books, each more advanced than the last, because there were no ready-made materials available in 1990! That’s why I created the books on my site. If she likes pizza or spaghetti, you can fudge using a personal book for a little while by getting her started with either “Spaghetti” or “I Want Pizza!” on my site.

  • christina lejean

    could fast flash be used to try and teach adults to read.my daughter is 36 years old and sadly when she was at school she was never ever taught to read or write x

    • Natalie Hale

      Yes, of course. Age makes no difference in this learning process, except that we will expect results to come more slowly. Bravo for taking this on for your daughter! My oldest student came to me at 33 with DS and legally blind. He is reading today.