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.
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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!
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