Teachers and parents alike know that fluent reading is important for learners. Fluency is very closely correlated with comprehension, the reason we read in the first place…to make meaning.
But what exactly is fluency and how can we model and teach fluent reading? That’s what I’d like to explore a little bit today.
Fluent reading includes things like:
- word recognition which is directly related to words per minute (reading rate)
- inflection of the voice (expression)
- phrasing (stopping at periods, pausing at commas, etc.)
- My definition for young readers is, “Fluency is when you sound like you’re talking instead of reading.”
But sometimes our kids may sound more like a robot or a wind-up doll that needs a good winding. Their reading is choppy and many times very laborious. Or, on the flip side, they may sound like a wind-up doll out of control, reading way too fast to comprehend a word.
*I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
4 Ways to Build Fluent Reading in Young Readers
1. Model, model, model…and be explicit and specific.
Kids need to hear us reading with fluency and expression. They need to be shown that the punctuation, character’s feelings, etc. helped us know how to make our voice sound. Letting them “echo read” after you, practicing it themselves can also be fun.
What I’ve found with older kids (above 1st grade), is that they tend to get confused and think that fluent reading means you just read really fast. One of my favorite books is Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka to illustrate this point. It features two characters having a short conversation with one another (but leaves a lot to be inferred).
- First, I read the book VERY quickly, without expression or pictures (this takes maybe 60 seconds to do!) to the child.
- I then close the book and ask the child to tell me what the book was all about. I usually get the “deer in the headlights” look.
- I read it again, but this time with expression and pictures.
- I close the book once more and ask the child what the book was all about. He is able to tell me. We discuss the difference between my two readings.
- If time allows, I have the student pick one character to read and I read the other as we practice reading with expression together.
Find even more books for building fluency with reading!
2. Check to make sure that the reading text is an appropriate level for that child.
If the level is too difficult, fluency is going to go out the window as there are just too many words that need to be figured out. Kids need texts on their “just right” level for many reasons, but one biggie is to help them read with fluency.
3. Don’t expect fluent reading the first time.
This is a mistake I made initially when teaching reading. Many adults can’t read a passage (on their own level) fluently the first time, much less a kid learning to read! Fluency comes the more time the reader has with the text; like an old friend.
Here’s a “fluency game” I’ve played with a few students in tutoring:
- give them a short passage on their reading level (I used poetry)
- They read it 1 time
- After reading, have them rate their own fluency from 0 to 5; 0 “read it like a robot” to 5 “read it like a teacher” (if they struggle with this, it greatly helps to record them reading it, playing it back for them to hear themselves)
- They read it a 2nd time
- After reading, have them rate themselves again
- Then do one more reading, rating themselves yet another time
- After it’s all said and done, we would discuss the various reasons why their fluency got better
4. Give them REAL reasons to re-read.
If a child doesn’t enjoy reading in the first place, asking him to re-read can throw him into a tizzy–although I’m sure that’s never happened to you, right? Here are a few authentic reasons we can ask kids to re-read:
- for understanding; to check comprehension–maybe he got side-tracked and didn’t understand a passage, so re-reading is necessary
- proving an answer to a question I’ve asked him–ask the child to go back and re-read the part that helped him get their answer
- reviewing what happened at the end of the last chapter so we can pick up where we left off
- sounding like a character- if the character is mad, re-read their words and make me believe it…I want to hear you sound mad when you read that quote
- practicing a speech or part in a play for a performance
- explaining a game- I like to write up and print out directions to games, such as Old Maid or Go Fish and I may play “dumb” and ask them to re-read a rule for clarification
- printing words to a favorite song that they like to sing over and over
You’ll Love our K-2 Fluency Cards!
Want MORE Free Teaching Resources?
Join thousands of other subscribers to get hands-on activities and printables delivered right to your inbox!
Michelle Breum says
I completely agree about making sure the text isn’t too hard for the reader.
You have shared some great ideas to improve fluency. As a reading tutor, mother, and reading researcher I’ve come to a conclusion just this year. Most beginner readers sound choppy even with books at their reading level. They are learning to decode. It’s a little like a child crawling before running.
Modeling from an adult, rereading the same text, paying attention to punctuation, reading for meaning and with expression . . . all play a factor in fluent reading too.
My kids had boxes of favorite books to reread. They could read them out loud, in their heads, to a pet, to a friend or someone else in the family. We’d usually read a book together at their level and then put it in their box if they liked it. My daughter would sometimes challenge herself to read all the books in her box in one sitting. We’d replace books about once a month, but leave their favorites even if they were easy books. I think this helped my kids’ fluency the most. Each time a book was read the words they needed to decode became easier, and they sounded more fluent. I didn’t talk about fluency much. They just enjoyed reading the books.
Reading Rockets is one of my favorite go to reading resources too!
This Reading Mama says
I agree with you that young readers do sound choppy, even when they’ve read the same text. I sometimes hear moms complain that their kids only memorize texts when they sound fluent. But I encourage them to call out a word on the page and see if their child can locate it or put some of the words on flashcards and see if they can call them out of context.
One more thing we did in the classroom when we made handmade books was create an “autograph page” that I stapled to the end of the book. Kids would go around the room, reading the book to each other and the person being read to had to sign their name. I would set a certain number, say 5 friends, in which they had to get their autograph. This made re-reading a little more fun.
amy @teachmama says
Super post, Becky! Packed with ideas for increasing fluency!! I’m a huge fan of having kiddos evaluate themselves by listening to themselves read on tape or on screen–they don’t usually like it at first, but with practice, they soon really begin to improve (and ham it up on camera!).
This Reading Mama says
Yes, you are right about them not liking it a first. I’ve found that kids tend to warm up to it a little faster if I model for them first. I like the video taping idea as well. That one tends to be a little easier with the help of cell phones and digital cameras.
Julie@The Adventures of Bear says
Great post! Bear loves to reread books to her brother. She is a young reader (3.5 yrs) and in between a first grade and second grade level of reading. The second grade level books have tinier print and more of it and she gets discouraged. I try to get her to read more of those books by alternating pages with her. At first, I thought this was “cheating,” but then I decided it was helpful for her to hear my expression and fluency.
This Reading Mama says
I am totally impressed with kids who can “crack the code” so early in life. I have a roommate from college whose little girl has done the same thing; reading Cam Jansen chapter books. It absolutely blows my mind! I love your idea of alternating pages with her…and I think you’re dead on-it’s NOT cheating. Not only is she able to hear you read and model what a good reader sounds like, you can use that time to also model what a good reader thinks about. Your kids are blessed to call you mom. I want to come back and take a closer look at your blog when I have more time. It’s nice to “meet” you, Julie.
I am a homeschooler and have an 8 year old boy in second grade who HATES ( I had to go back and put that word in caps!) to read aloud to begin with. I don’t know if it’s a pride thing or if he thinks reading out loud to mama is for kids who don’t know how to read..whatever it is, do you have any suggestions on how to encourage him to read aloud–maybe so he thinks it’s his idea?
Do you want him to read out loud to make sure he’s got it? My 8 year old son went through that last year…and this year, he refuses to read to anyone but me for the most part. I have three suggestions: 1- read the book together…every other page. Or even, “I’ll read 2 pages, you read 1” through the book. 2- My son was afraid he’d make a mistake, so I began pointing out my own mistakes when I read aloud so he’d see that even proficient readers make mistakes. 3- Let him read silently (not necessarily EVERY time). If you know the book is just right for him, let him read silently. It’s how readers typically read any way.
BTW, I ask my son to read a NEW text with me (one he’s never seen before). If he’s re-reading it another day, I let him read it to himself.
Hope that helps. 🙂