According to Put Reading First, “fluency is the ability to read a text accurately and quickly” (22). When fluent readers read silently or in their heads, the recognize words automatically and groups words quickly to help them gain meaning. When fluent readers read aloud, they do so effortlessly and with expression, and their reading sounds natural. On the other hand, readers who aren’t yet developed fluency read slowly, choppily, and word by word (22).
Fluency is incredibly important because fluent readers are able to comprehend what they’re reading. Fluent readers don’t have to take the time to decode words and figure out what words mean. Instead, fluent readers are able to read quickly and smoothly, making meaning as they go. Fluent readers can make connections between the text and their background knowledge or other texts that they’ve read, thus leading to greater comprehension. On the other hand, non-fluent readers have to concentrate on decoding words and can’t comprehend the text as well because of the time spent on determining what each word says and what it means.
Like phonics instruction, fluency must be practiced over time. According to Put Reading First, research shows that “repeated and monitored oral reading improves fluency and overall reading achievement” (24). Therefore, students who practice reading passages many times and receive feedback from a teacher become better and more fluent readers over time. It is also important that teachers model fluency for students in their own reading. When teachers complete read alouds, it’s important that they read fluently with expression; this includes changing one’s voice to match the voices of different characters, as well as noticing punctuation. Teachers should also call attention to certain fluency skills that they performed when reading aloud, such as “Did you hear how my voice became louder because there was an exclamation point?” If students see teachers modeling how to read fluently, they will be more inclined to practice doing so as well.
Some of the prompts that teachers can use when reading individually with students to promote fluency are as follows:
- Listen to me read it.
- Read along with me.
- Read it like you are telling a story.
- Make it sound like you are talking.
- Can you show me with your finger where the idea is written?
- When you read, try putting ideas together.
- Pay attention to the punctuation while you read.
- Show me what your voice does when you see italicized text.
- What does your voice do when you see a period? Questions mark? Exclamation point?
- Make your voice go up when you see a question mark, then stop.
- Take a breath when you see a comma.
- Show me what you voice does when you see bold print.
- Show me what your voice does when you see words in all capital letters in the middle of a sentence.
These prompts help to call attention to what the student does when he or she is reading, and will hopefully help the student continue to use these skills when reading aloud and silently.
Choral reading is another great way for students to improve fluency. During choral reading, everyone is reading the same text, whether it be a big book that the whole class can see or individual copies that students are holding. The texts used for choral reading must be accessible for all students and at everyone’s independent reading levels. Stories that follow patterns or are predictable are also useful for choral reading because students feel that they can join in and be successful. The teacher should first read the text aloud and model fluency. Then, the teacher should reread the text and have students join in as they feel comfortable and recognize the words being read. The teacher should read the text three to five times over the course of a few days, so that they students can then read the text independently. Through these repeated readings, teacher modeling of fluency, and independent practice, students will learn to fluently read texts.
To encourage fluency in the classroom and remind students to read fluently, various resources and practice materials can be included in the classroom:
Fluency Chart: This chart reminds students to focus on their expression, rate, accuracy, and punctuation when reading. This chart, as well as the concept of fluency, must first be introduced to students, and they must be taught how to use the chart for guidance when reading.
Freddy Fluency: This tool can be given to individual students in the form of a bookmark to use when they’re reading. The stoplight fashion of this tool reminds students when to stop, pause, and go in their reading in order to be fluent readers.
Fluency Voice Jar: This “game” can be used in a center, or can be a partner activity. There are different expressions listed on slips of paper in the jar. Students pick one expression at a time. Students will then have to read a passage in their expression voice that they pulled from the jar.