Tuesday’s Teaching Tip

Teachers and reading mamas alike know that fluency is an important part of reading.  Fluency is very closely correlated with comprehension; the reason we read in the first place…to make meaning.

Fluency includes things such as:

  • word recognition which is directly related to words per minute (reading rate)
  •  inflection of the voice (expression)
  • phrasing (stopping at periods, pausing at commas, etc.)
  • This reading mama’s definition for kids is, “Fluency is when you sound like you’re talking instead of reading.”

But sometimes our kids may sound more like a robot or a wind-up doll that needs a good winding.  Their reading is choppy and many times very laborious.  Or, on the flip side, they may sound like a wind-up doll out of control, reading way too fast to comprehend a word.

What are some things a reading mama can do in these cases?  Here are just a few things I’ve done with kids:

1. Model, model, model…and be explicit and specific.  Kids need to hear us reading with fluency and expression.  They need to be shown that the punctuation, character’s feelings, etc. helped us know how to make our voice sound.  Letting them “echo read” after you, practicing it themselves can also be fun.

What I’ve found with older kids (above 1st grade), is that they tend to get confused and think that fluent reading means you just read really fast.  One of my favorite books I like to read is “Yo! Yes?” by Chris Raschka to illustrate this point.  It features two characters having a short conversation with one another (but leaves a lot to be inferred).

I first read the book VERY quickly, without expression or pictures (this takes maybe 60 seconds to do!).  I then close the book and ask them what the book was all about.  They look at me like a deer in headlights.  I read it again, but this time with expression and pictures.  I close the book once more and ask them what the book was all about.  They are able to tell me.  We discuss the difference between my two readings.  If time allows, I have the student pick one character to read and I read the other as we practice reading with expression together. 

2. Check to make sure that the reading text is an appropriate level for that child.  If the level is too difficult, obviously fluency is going to go out the window as there are just too many words that need to be decoded.  Kids need texts on their level for many reasons, but one biggie is to help them read with fluency.

2.  Don’t expect fluency the first time!  This is a mistake I made initially when teaching reading.  Many adults can’t read a passage (on their own level) fluently the first time, much less a kid learning to read!

Here’s a “fluency game” I’ve played with a few students in tutoring:

  • give them a short passage on their reading level (I used poetry)
  • They read it 1 time
  • After reading, have them rate their own fluency from 0 to 5; 0 “read it like a robot” to 5 “read it like a teacher” (if they struggle with this, it greatly helps to record them reading it, playing it back for them to hear themselves)
  • They read it a 2nd time
  • After reading, have them rate themselves again
  • Then do one more reading, rating themselves yet another time
  • After it’s all said and done, we would discuss the various reasons why their fluency got better

3.  Give them real reasons to re-read.  If a kid doesn’t enjoy reading in the first place, asking him to re-read can throw him into a tizzy–although I’m sure that’s never happened to you, right?!?  Here are a few authentic reasons we can ask kids to re-read:

  • for understanding; to check comprehension–maybe they got side-tracked and didn’t understand a passage, so re-reading is necessary
  • proving an answer to a question I’ve asked them–I’ll ask my students to go back and re-read the part that helped them get their answer
  • reviewing what happened at the end of the last chapter so we can pick up where we left off
  • sounding like a character: if the character is mad, re-read their words and make me believe it…I want to hear you sound mad when you read that quote
  • practicing a speech or part in a play for a performance
  • explaining a game: I like to write up and print out directions to games, such as Old Maid or Go Fish and I may play “dumb” and ask them to re-read a rule for clarification
  • printing words to a favorite song that they like to sing over and over

For more info on reading with fluency, check out Reading Rockets.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle Breum
    May 10, 2011 @ 08:30:50

    I completely agree about making sure the text isn’t too hard for the reader.
    You have shared some great ideas to improve fluency. As a reading tutor, mother, and reading researcher I’ve come to a conclusion just this year. Most beginner readers sound choppy even with books at their reading level. They are learning to decode. It’s a little like a child crawling before running.

    Modeling from an adult, rereading the same text, paying attention to punctuation, reading for meaning and with expression . . . all play a factor in fluent reading too.

    My kids had boxes of favorite books to reread. They could read them out loud, in their heads, to a pet, to a friend or someone else in the family. We’d usually read a book together at their level and then put it in their box if they liked it. My daughter would sometimes challenge herself to read all the books in her box in one sitting. We’d replace books about once a month, but leave their favorites even if they were easy books. I think this helped my kids’ fluency the most. Each time a book was read the words they needed to decode became easier, and they sounded more fluent. I didn’t talk about fluency much. They just enjoyed reading the books.

    Reading Rockets is one of my favorite go to reading resources too!


    • This Reading Mama
      May 10, 2011 @ 14:43:29

      I agree with you that young readers do sound choppy, even when they’ve read the same text. I sometimes hear moms complain that their kids only memorize texts when they sound fluent. But I encourage them to call out a word on the page and see if their child can locate it or put some of the words on flashcards and see if they can call them out of context.
      One more thing we did in the classroom when we made handmade books was create an “autograph page” that I stapled to the end of the book. Kids would go around the room, reading the book to each other and the person being read to had to sign their name. I would set a certain number, say 5 friends, in which they had to get their autograph. This made re-reading a little more fun.


  2. amy @teachmama
    May 10, 2011 @ 10:07:25

    Super post, Becky! Packed with ideas for increasing fluency!! I’m a huge fan of having kiddos evaluate themselves by listening to themselves read on tape or on screen–they don’t usually like it at first, but with practice, they soon really begin to improve (and ham it up on camera!).



    • This Reading Mama
      May 10, 2011 @ 14:31:58

      Yes, you are right about them not liking it a first. I’ve found that kids tend to warm up to it a little faster if I model for them first. I like the video taping idea as well. That one tends to be a little easier with the help of cell phones and digital cameras.


  3. Julie@The Adventures of Bear
    May 11, 2011 @ 20:07:15

    Great post! Bear loves to reread books to her brother. She is a young reader (3.5 yrs) and in between a first grade and second grade level of reading. The second grade level books have tinier print and more of it and she gets discouraged. I try to get her to read more of those books by alternating pages with her. At first, I thought this was “cheating,” but then I decided it was helpful for her to hear my expression and fluency.


    • This Reading Mama
      May 11, 2011 @ 21:24:29

      I am totally impressed with kids who can “crack the code” so early in life. I have a roommate from college whose little girl has done the same thing; reading Cam Jansen chapter books. It absolutely blows my mind! I love your idea of alternating pages with her…and I think you’re dead on-it’s NOT cheating. Not only is she able to hear you read and model what a good reader sounds like, you can use that time to also model what a good reader thinks about. Your kids are blessed to call you mom. I want to come back and take a closer look at your blog when I have more time. It’s nice to “meet” you, Julie.


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