Guest Author - Heidi Shelton Jenck
Fluent readers make a story come alive for listeners. A reader with good fluency skills uses expression, has accurate word recognition, and sounds smooth rather than choppy when they read aloud. Fluent readers pay attention to punctuation and change their tone of voice to match the meaning of the sentence. Students who need to build reading fluency skills often sound robotic because they are concentrating so hard on sounding out individual words.
As students build their reading vocabulary, they not only learn to read words in isolation, but also in phrases, sentences, and longer text. Some children can read a list of words accurately and quickly, but their stories sound choppy and expressionless. Building fluency skills is important. Students who struggle with fluency need direct instruction, daily practice, and modeling to read quickly and naturally.
One technique often used to improve fluency is to provide opportunities for students to read the same reading passage a number of times until they are so comfortable reading it they can decode the words quickly and easily. This allows the child to focus on fluency skills.
Choose a short passage or story that isn’t too difficult for the student. Before asking the child to read the passage, read it out loud yourself, modeling expression and accuracy. Ask the child to read the same story out loud daily during the week. Continue modeling expressive and smooth reading if necessary.
Another way to practice fluency with repeated reading is using one minute timed reading passages. Many publishers, like Read Naturally, sell short passages meant for practicing fluency for one to three minutes per day. Amazon.com sells workbook collections of timed reading passages written for beginning and older students. I use repeated timed readings as daily homework with older students who need to build fluency skills. On Monday, each child is given a short reading passage on their instructional reading level to practice at home. Attached is a graph with the number of words in the passage on the side and days of the week along the bottom. The children read the passage for one minute each day at home. Their results are graphed and returned at the end of the week. Students love seeing the bar graph increase daily as their speed and accuracy improves.
Reading fluency skill instruction can be accomplished with just a few minutes of daily practice. Many teachers and parents keep a collection of “just right” books for children to read for fluency practice in a reading box. Each day the child is asked to choose one to three of their fluency practice books to read aloud. This is a good time to take notes about what skills the child needs to continue working on. If you take running records, provide specific feedback to the child after they read to let them know improvements as well as things they can do to become a more fluent reader.
If children are having a difficult time reading with expression, turn a story into an informal skit. (You can use simple plays written for beginning readers for fluency instruction, but it isn’t necessary.) Choose a very short story with some dialogue the student can easily read. Decide who will read for each character, with an adult or older child acting as the narrator. Stand up, and read the story together, pretending to be actors in a play. Provide the struggling reader with suggestions for actions, changes in tone, and other dramatic additions to show them that stories have meaning, and the voice provides meaning to the listener. Bring the story to life with your expression and actions.
Poetry can also provide excellent fluency practice. Poems often have short phrases packed with meaning, giving students a natural opportunity to read a group of words with expression. This is a good activity for children who typically read word-by-word instead of in chunks or phrases.
Guided reading groups, choral reading, paired reading, reading buddies, and shared reading are all ways students who struggle with fluency can hear good fluency models. It is important that children building fluency skills regularly hear good readers.
Reading quickly, naturally, and confidently is the goal of fluency instruction. You can build reading fluency skills with daily practice. Fluent readers bring stories alive, and find more pleasure in reading.
More information about Read Naturally can be found here: Read Naturally
There are many packaged workbook sets of timed fluency reading passages. Here is one that is available on amazon.com:
Informal Reading Assessments by Dr. Fry