Neurological Impress Method

As I have worked with students with various forms of specific learning disabilities in reading, I have noticed that a lot of kids can make the appropriate sounds and can read individual words, but have great difficulty putting the whole thing together and read with fluency.  While there are many ways to help a child read fluently, one method I find intriguing is the neurological impress method (NIM).  This method is new to me, but has been used for decades.  Flood, Lapp and Fisher (2005) mention that NIM “was a staple of the research literature on fluency during the 1960s and 1980s, but it inexplicably disappeared from the literature during the past decade” (147). When I have seen it action, I feel that it gives students who are struggling a new found confidence in their reading abilities, and gives the child a sense of accomplishment when reading for fluency.

Neurological impress method is “a system of rapid-unison reading by the student and teacher” (Lerner & Johns, 412). Heckelman (cited in Flood, Lapp & Fisher, 2005) adds that NIM is “an impress, an etching in of word memories on the natural processes” (148).  Together, the teacher and student read a passage in the book.  The teacher points to the words and reads aloud with the student.  The teacher’s voice may be louder and faster than the student’s voice, but the goal is to create confidence in a reader’s ability to read.  With this method, the teacher becomes a role model of what a good reader should sound like and lets the child enjoy reading without the stress of reading by him or herself.   This method is also very cost-effective, where there are no books or training that needs to be purchased.  As long as the teacher is able to read and understand what NIM is intended to do, there is no cost involved.

While it may seem simple that all one would have to do is simply read with a student aloud and practice good reading habits; however, there is more to NIM than that.  Flood, Lapp and Fisher (2005) outline steps needed to correctly use NIM and help the student feel better about reading.  The steps include:

  • The teacher selects a text within the student’s reading level.
  • The teacher sits at the student’s side so that he or she can speak into the student’s ear
  • The student’s finger rests on top of teacher’s finger as they read
  • The teacher moves her finger under each word as it is spoken
  • The teacher reads aloud slightly faster than the student reads aloud and models good fluency (chunking phrases and stopping where punctuation dictates)
  • The teacher gives the “lead” to the student as the student becomes comfortable with the text.

*Steps in NIM process from Flood, Lapp and Fisher, page 149.

Using NIM in a non-formal setting may be the best way for a student to become acclimated to using NIM.  An adult or literate person at home, who the child is comfortable with, may make the initial NIM session at school seem easy.  A child may not feel totally comfortable with their teacher in this setting, so initial trials at home may prove beneficial. Cultural considerations are important as well.  The culture, or even what the student feels comfortable with may prevent the teacher or adult from being close enough to the child to have NIM work effectively.  Also, if a culture prohibits a child from speaking when an adult does, NIM may not be the best choice.

While there have been studies done with NIM, some showing positive results and some showing limited to no growth, it is still a great way to model good, fluent reading skills.  I feel that some children, who don’t have fluent reading skills, don’t realize how they are reading until they hear themselves.  These students simply read the words on the page and move on.  What the child doesn’t understand is that in order to comprehend what you are reading, you must first be fluent.  Once the brain transitions from learning to read, to reading to learn, the reader can then fully understand what he or she is reading.  Before that, the reader’s brain is simply trying to figure out the words on the page, nevermind what the meaning of it is.

With NIM, students are able to read through different modalities.  First, the child’s brain is reading the words on the page.  The child is saying the words aloud.  So, the child is not only seeing the words, but is also hearing the words.  The child is also hearing the words from the adult who is sitting next to them.  While not talking directly into the child’s ear, the student is close enough to hear the words clearly.  Also, the teacher’s finger, or the student’s finger, is pointing at the words as the passage is being read.  With all these approaches to reading, this is promoting a multisensory approach to reading.

As a Special Educator, I am always looking for ways to help my children read better, whether it is more fluently, more comprehension or even recognizing letter sounds.  Lorenz and Vockell (2001) feel that “NIM may hold considerable promise for learning disabled pupils because of its simplicity and reports of its promotion of rapid improvements within a short time.  However, because of its emphasis on the auditory modality, it might be less effective for children with auditory learning disabilities” (67).  Having a child who has poor auditory processing issues would make using NIM a bit of a challenge.  I do believe that those children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) would benefit because it is using multiple senses in order to read a passage or story.  Hopefully, the multisensory approach to reading with NIM will provide enough focus to help that child not only become a fluent reader, but also understand what he or she is reading.

While there are certain students who will pick up their own reading skills on their own; inevitably there will be those who fall behind, and mainstream approaches will not be enough.  NIM is a great way to build confidence in a reader, and help them on their way to being a fluent reader and ultimately comprehending what they are reading.  School districts can spend hundreds of dollars on programs and training to help students read, but this simple way of helping a child read is not only cost effective, but can be used at school and at home.


Flood, J., Lapp, D., & Fisher, D. (2005). Neurological impress method plus. Reading

 Psychology, 26, 147-160.

Lerner, J., & Johns, B. (2009). Learning disabilities and related mild disabilities. (11

ed.).Boston,MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Lorenz, L., & Vockell, E. (2001). Using the neurological impress method with learning

disabled readers. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 12(6), 67-69.


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