The University of Iowa

Varied Practice Reading

Students read and write in class

(See listing of VPR studies below)

Varied Practice Reading is an instructional method developed by the Iowa Reading Research Center for teaching reading skills. With VPR, students read sets of three different passages one time each. The passages contain approximately 85% of the same words, which is referred to as “word overlap.” The similar words are read within varied sentence structures, in varied contexts, and with varied storylines. 

With Varied Practice Reading, students are able to practice reading the same words in different ways, and students have several opportunities to read the information in different contexts. The varied passages also are intended to keep students’ interest as they practice reading and to gradually progress from easier to more difficult text across the 30 passage sets developed by writers at the Iowa Reading Research Center.

Varied Practice Reading Instructional Method and Passage Sets Available for Teachers via eLearning

Teachers can learn how to implement this practice in their classrooms through our eLearning Varied Practice Reading module. Those who complete the module will receive access to digital versions of the passage sets, and print versions are also available at cost. Currently, there are 30 passage sets available for each of Grades 1 through 5. See our eLearning page for more information.

Varied Practice Reading Studies

Ongoing Study

Effective Literacy Intervention for Middle School Students

Partner School District

Ottumwa Community School District, Evans Middle School



Fall 2020


Number of Students Participating

About 40


The Iowa Reading Research Center is partnering with the Ottumwa Community School District to study the effectiveness of the Varied Practice Reading instructional approach for Grade 7 students and to test the effectiveness of the instructional approach in different learning environments.

Building on what was learned in the original Varied Practice Reading study (see below), IRRC researchers modified Varied Practice Reading for implementation in middle school. The passages are designed to address science and social studies topics that align to standards and curricula for these content areas. The passages also are followed by comprehension questions and a writing prompt so that students can capitalize on using Varied Practice Reading to improve their literacy skills as well as their science and social studies knowledge.

In three reading intervention classes, each with a different teacher, students read passage sets with a partner and respond to associated comprehension questions and informational writing prompts on alternating days. They also complete individually assigned lessons on particular fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, or writing skills that the teacher determines each student needs to improve.

To maintain a safe social distance in the classroom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students use videoconferencing to read with a partner. This has the benefit of making the study adaptable for remote instruction should that become necessary at any point during the semester.

Completed Study

Effective Fluency Instruction for Fourth Graders Study

Number of Partner School Districts



Spring 2018

Number of Schools Involved


Number of Students Involved


PDF iconRead the full “An Investigation of Two Approaches to Fluency Instruction in the General Education Classroom: Repeated Reading Versus Varied Practice Reading” 

During the Spring of 2018, students at 21 elementary schools across Iowa were randomly assigned to either Repeated Reading or Varied Practice Reading for the Iowa Reading Research Center’s Effective Fluency Instruction for Fourth Graders study. A total of 827 fourth-grade students practiced their assigned fluency approach 3 to 4 times per week for 20 minutes per session, for an average of 26 sessions. They read with a partner and helped each other review any missed words.

The study results showed the Varied Practice group statistically significantly outperformed the Repeated Reading group. In fact, Varied Practice achieved slightly more than an extra week’s worth of improvement in reading fluency over Repeated Reading. Students in both groups showed growth near the 90th percentile, which would be considered very ambitious growth.

These findings are encouraging, study authors say, and indicate that reading fluency practice through means other than Repeated Reading may be beneficial. However, more research over multiple studies would need to show improvement to establish an evidence base for Varied Practice.

Study Partners

The Iowa Reading Research Center thanks the following school districts that participated in the fourth-grade study: