Teachers must model fluency for students to develop the ability to read accurately and quickly with good expression, phrasing, and comprehension. To hone these skills, teachers should read aloud to students, listen to students read, and provide a wide variety of activities to rehearse fluent reading.
Read to Students
When teachers read aloud, they not only model comprehension strategies, which include predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing, but also fluency. From differentiating characters’ voices which allows students to follow individual characters to relay the mood of the story with subtle changes to tone, cadence, and stress, children learn how to read for understanding. They also learn to draw visual images based on the text and benefit from exposure to a wider vocabulary than they may currently access during independent reading. As adults read aloud, they may also model how to approach various passages from different genres with purpose: for enjoyment and for learning.
Listen to Students Read
As students begin reading independently, they mimic holding a book, turning its pages, and using each page’s pictures to adjust how they read aloud the words (decoded or memorized) to reflect the story in a plausible manner. Because they’ve observed others read fluently, they attempt to apply those strategies, too. To support students in appropriate reading fluency, it is important to listen to students read aloud. Fluency assessments (such as measures of oral reading fluency, or ORF) ask students to read a passage as teachers mark errors and calculate the words correct per minute (total words read in one minute – errors = words correct per minute). Of course, using ORF assessments to monitor student progress and inform instruction is valuable. Additionally, students need multiple opportunities to read aloud without it becoming a rote task. Providing self-reflection scales, partner feedback forms, and fluency rubrics can support positive feedback and document growth.
Explicit instruction followed by fluency practice at the word level, phrase level, and sentence & passage levels is vital. When one strives to become skilled in a new activity, they do not immediately participate at the highest or most elite levels. The same applies to developing as a fluent reader. Extensive reading develops fluency in coordination with skilled word recognition and oral language development alongside listening to reading and reading aloud. Given the opportunity to reread passages, practicing once a day over the course of a week, students improve accuracy and overall fluency.
In the Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists (Fry, Ph.D. & Kress, EdD, 2006), there are several activities to teach and rehearse elements of fluency requiring little to no supplies. For example, in repeated and timed readings, students use the same short passage to improve accuracy and prosody. Prosodic elements include pitch (high and low tone of voice), volume (soft or loud voice), speed (fast or slow), and phrasing (short or long pauses between words and groups of words). Students will infer meaning from each of these. Imagine a parent answering a question with, “Hmm.” The manner in which the “hmm” is stated will greatly alter the meaning. “Hm!” implies irritation or impatience, while “Hmmmmmmm…” relays hesitation.
In another activity, students apply comprehension of a text (from an independent reading level) in writing, rehearsing, and performing a reader’s theater. By providing purposes for rereading, such as the performance, children revisit the original text and work with peers to not only affirm their understanding but also rework and practice to develop fluency in order to be audience-ready. Working in groups or independently, recording and reflecting upon oral reading helps students develop fluency skills that may ultimately be applied in independent silent reading and in cross-curricular studies. Finally, echo readings and choral readings of poetry or familiar texts, even a joke of the day, supports ongoing mastery of fluency.
It is most important for students to approach reading with a positive attitude. Fluency instruction and rehearsal can be engaging and motivating for students of all ages, especially as they successfully transfer the skills to reading high-interest texts. For many students, fluency isn’t only the bridge to better reading comprehension, it is the key.
Be sure to check out the rest of our blog series on Reading Fluency & How to Improve It:
About the Author
Ginny Simank is a Level 4 IMSE OG Master Instructor living in Dallas, Texas. She has a master’s degree (M.Ed.) with a Reading Specialist certificate and holds certifications in special education, English as a Second Language, and generalists for Early Childhood through 6th grade & ELA 4th-8th grades. She is an IDA-certified Structured Literacy Teacher and full-time instructor for the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education (IMSE), whose mission is to train others across the country (teachers, administrators, tutors, education professionals & parents) in the Orton Gillingham methodology of multi-sensory language instruction. Ms. Simank previously served on the national board of directors for the Learning Disabilities Association and was a member of the LDA’s Education & Nominating Committees.
Fry, Edward, Ph, D & Kress, Jacqueline, Ed. D. (2006). The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists. San Francisco, California: Jossy-Bass.
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Jeup, J. (2020). IMSE’s Comprehensive Training Manual, p. 99-106.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel.
Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and its Implications for Reading Instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office (n.d.) Retrieved January 10, 2015, from http://nichcy.org.
Rasinski, PhD, T., Blachowicz, PhD, C., & Lems, EdD, K. (2006). Fluency Instruction: Research-Based Best Practices. (p. 9). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.