As the importance of fluency in reading ability has been recognized more educators are including a fluency component in their reading education programs. There are a number of best practices for helping children develop reading fluency.
Adult modeling is essential for helping students, especially those in the elementary grades, develop fluency. Many young readers do not intuit the pace at which they must read to comprehend a text. Similarly, expression and phrasing may not be readily apparent to them. This is why it is important that adults read aloud to children using appropriate phrasing, expression and pacing. When we model these aspects of reading for children they begin to develop an understanding not only of the ways that they can use fluency in their own reading, but also the importance of it for reading comprehension.
Teachers and parents should employ a wide variety of high interest texts in different genres for modeling fluency. While the greatest impact on fluency is seen when adults model it with younger children, read alouds should not be restricted to the elementary grades. Middle and high school aged students, especially those with reading difficulties, continue to benefit from fluency modeling through adult read alouds.
Sight Words Instruction
A strong foundation in basic vocabulary is one of the primary components of fluency. Because fluency depends on a reader’s ability to quickly and accurately decode words, sight word instruction has a significant and beneficial effect on this aspect of reading. Sight words make up between 50 and 70% of all words in children’s literature. When a young reader is able to efficiently move through this percentage of the words on a page, he is fluency and comprehension rates increase. Therefore sight word instruction is essential to improving a reader’s fluency.
Oral Reading Strategies for Increasing Fluency
Guided Oral Reading
Guided oral reading is an excellent tool for improving fluency. This strategy benefits children in developing accuracy and word recognition skills, two of the components of fluency. In this activity, an adult works one-on-one with a child. The child reads a text that is at or slightly above her independent reading level aloud with the adult guiding her. The role of the adult is not to constantly correct the child’s oral reading, but to guide her in applying appropriate strategies for comprehending the text. For example, if the reader comes to an unfamiliar word the adult can encourage her to use phonics to sound out each phoneme in and then to blend these together to create the entire word. Similarly, if a child is reading with little expression, the adult can ask her guiding questions about the sort of emotional associations she might have with certain words to help her elicit these when reading aloud.
Repetitive Oral Reading
Repetitive oral reading is a strategy for improving a reader’s fluency as well as his vocabulary. Like guided oral reading, repetitive reading is conducted one-on-one. The adult should select a text that is at least 50 words long and is at or slightly above the child’s independent reading level. The child reads the selection aloud several times with the adult providing guiding feedback focusing on different elements of fluency each time the text is read. Each time the child reads the piece his fluency should increase. By the final reading he should be able to read the passage aloud at an appropriate rate of fluency. Repetitive oral reading does not have to be only an adult-child activity. Teachers can pair children together for repetitive oral reading practice. When choosing student pairs teachers should consider student personalities as well as reading abilities. Generally, children with low fluency rates should be paired with compassionate students who are at or above grade level in their fluency.
Choral reading is another beneficial one-on-one oral reading activity for children. For this activity the paired readers sit close together with a single copy of the text. The two read the text aloud with the adult (or stronger student reader) reading it at a slightly faster rate than the other. As the pair reads the adult (or stronger student reader) should track the words on the page with a finger to help the other reader follow along. This encourages child to focus her attention on the words on the page.
Readers’ theatre is an excellent whole class or small group activity for improving fluency. In readers’ theatre the readers “perform” a dramatic script using only their voices. While there are many texts specifically designed to be used for readers’ theatre (a good number are available online) any piece of drama may be used. Students are assigned roles in the play and are given an opportunity to silently read over the script. Then they read it aloud focusing on fluency. The teacher should guide students in using appropriate pacing, expression and phrasing. Readers’ theatre is most beneficial when the script is read aloud several times because this gives the readers multiple opportunities to practice reading it fluently. This strategy is particularly useful in developing the prosody component of fluency.
Silent Reading Strategies for Increasing Fluency
Silent Sustained Reading (SSR)
While most strategies for improving fluency are conducted orally and cooperatively, one of the most beneficial, silent sustained reading is performed silently and independently. In silent sustained reading or SSR children spend a pre-selected amount of time silently reading texts that they have chosen. The goal of this activity is to give them opportunities to engage in pleasurable, sustained reading. It is important that children are able to select what they read during this activity because choice increases their motivation and ability to focus. It is also essential that the SSR period be uninterrupted. Fluency increases when a reader is given the time to “get into” a text.
Audiobooks provide an excellent bridge between decoding and comprehension for struggling readers. Children who are reluctant to read or who have particularly low rates of fluency benefit from hearing a text read aloud while following along in a print version of it. When they hear the book these children pick up on the speed and prosody appropriate to the reading task and are able to accurately identify more words. The audiobook serves as a positive fluency model for the reader .