Fluency is essential for skilled reading. It is often referred to as the bridge between decoding and comprehension. I’d add that it’s also a huge factor when it comes to joyful reading. No one wants to do things that are laborious or feel like a chore. So how can we engage students in fluency building activities that are fun?
What is Fluency?
Let’s start with what fluency is and isn’t. Fluency is the ability to read accurately, at the appropriate pace, and with expression. It isn’t about speed reading or reading fast. A fluent reader reads accurately and effortlessly producing oral reading that sounds like talking.
Fluency is a result of automatic word reading that comes when readers have many words stored in their long-term memory through a process called orthographic mapping which links sound-symbol relationships with meaning. Fluency is crucial to reading comprehension because when someone can read effortlessly, it lessens the cognitive load and allows for deeper comprehension.
Dr. Bruce McCandliss, in a recent podcast (Science of Reading: The Podcast, Season 3, Episode 5) shared that automatic word reading is four amazing things:
It’s incredibly fast. Expert readers process words at incredible speeds.
It’s automatic. Readers do not have to think about it, you actually can’t stop yourself from reading words you see.
It’s precise. Readers recognize one word out of tens of thousands of possibilities.
It’s articulate. Mapping print to speech is amazingly organized, with our brains knowing lots of ways to pronounce speech to print combinations.
So, what should we do to build fluency?
Here are a few of my favorite ideas to target fluency that are easy to incorporate into day to day learning. Remember fluency practice isn’t limited to the English Language Arts department, teachers from all content areas can easily support reading acquisition. Keep in mind that fluency practice should happen after students have had explicit instruction in phonics and have been taught the sound/symbol relationships of the words they are reading. Decodable text can be used for fluency if students are still in the process of developing alphabetic principle.
1. Engage students in repeated reading opportunities on a regular basis. Use shorter text and give students a purpose for each reading. For example, read first to find the gist, then on a second read ask a more in-depth question.
2. Set time aside for students to partner read. This allows students additional opportunities to read text as well as listen to peers read. Select partnerships strategically, consider things like behavior and reading skills.
3. Encourage students to listen to proficient readers with audiobooks.
4. Warm-up readers by reading short phrases like those found here to help students practice phrasing (Serravallo 2015). To make it engaging, have students track how many phrases they can read in a minute or incorporate the phrase reading into a simple game.
5. Make sure students receive feedback about their fluency, you can use a fluency rubric like the one found here to help make your feed meaningful and precise. Students can also use a student friendly version to rate their own fluency or the fluency of a partner.
6. Practice reading using poetry which lends itself to natural rhythm and easy phrases.
7. Have small groups of students practice reading using a script or reader’s theater. A description of the process can be found here.
8. Read text with suggested phrasing marks. See the example found here.
9. Partner students up with multiple short paragraphs. Ask partner 1 to read the paragraph and then partner 2 repeats the same paragraph. See the example found here.
10. In small groups or partners, give students phrases like, “I can’t find my keys” and emotions like “irritated”. Groups will probably need 6-8 of each. Students then read the phrases and match up the best emotion. This requires students to repeatedly read the phrases several times while matching up the emotions (Rasinski, 2018).
11. Select a few quotes or sentences appropriate for the age level you teach. Cut the sentences apart giving students the individual words. Then students are asked to reassemble the sentences, rereading, and thinking about syntax. You can have students find quotes in books or TV shows. (Rasinski, 2018)
12. Select famous lines from movies, songs, or books like “There’s no place like home.” Ask students to practice reading the lines with expression. Individual students can pick a few favorites to share with the class and see if anyone can guess which movie or book it came from (Rasinski, 2018).
13. Establish ways for older students to read to younger students on a regular basis. Get creative when implementing – buddy reading only takes a short amount of time, but it can be tough to match up calendars.
14. When reading fiction, model and then ask students to think about how a character is feeling and then match your voice when reading. Students could add small post-its with feeling words like angry or excited. Then practice reading the book or passage expressing those feelings with their voice (Serravallo 2015).
In closing, fluency has a lot to do with purposeful practice. Practice that doesn’t have to be mundane or boring, but practice that can be fun and connects to what students are already learning about.
The Florida Center for Reading Research, https://fcrr.org/ Florida State University, Tallahassee, Fl.
McCandliss, Bruce, 2021. Science of Reading: The Podcast, Season 3, Episode 5. Amplify Education. March 10, 2021. https://amplify.com/science-of-reading-the-podcast/
Rasinski, T. V. & Smith, M. C., 2018. The Megabook of Fluency: Strategies and Texts to Engage All Readers. New York, New York. Scholastic.
Serravallo, Jennifer, (2015). The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann.