Ask any teacher what their students struggle with the most in reading, and all will say fluency, decoding, or comprehension. And those are the 3 key areas of reading instruction so they are important areas to work on every day.
In this post, I’m explaining what reading fluency is and sharing the different ways you can help your students improve their oral reading fluency.
What is oral reading fluency?
Oral reading fluency is the ability to read texts accurately, quickly, and with expression.
When students pause to read a word, sound monotone, or read too slowly, that means they need to work on their reading fluency.
Many people have the mistaken assumption that the goal of reading fluency is to get kids to read faster. What we really want is for kids to read with more accuracy. Better accuracy leads to faster reading, but also with expression.
Why Is Oral Reading Fluency So Important?
Fluent readers don’t need to spend time decoding words and instead can focus on the meaning of what they are reading, leading to reading comprehension. Without reading fluency, there is no reading comprehension. This is the ultimate goal for all readers.
Students who are less fluent readers will read slowly as they focus on sounding out the words. They don’t understand what they are reading and they are not making connections with the words. They may be able to read the words but they will not be able to tell you what they read about. So much of their concentration is spent on reading that they cannot retain or understand what they read. And this will spill over to all other subjects which can be detrimental.
How To Teach Reading Fluency
Fluency instruction should be with a text that a student can read at their independent level. It is at this level where students are able to practice speed and expression rather than decoding.
It’s also important to understand that to read fluently students must have good decoding skills. You may need to work on decoding before you can focus on fluency.
Assessing Oral Reading Fluency
You should assess students’ reading fluency at the beginning of the year to have a benchmark, then periodically throughout the year to monitor progress. A few good assessments include DIBELS, AIMS, and Test of Oral Reading Fluency.
Activities For Fluency In Reading
All of the activities and methods below help to improve oral reading fluency. Try to use a mix of these with your students but be sure to give them ample opportunities to listen to you read and read aloud themselves. The act of them reading aloud is key! Silent reading just hasn’t shown to be as effective at improving oral reading fluency.
Read Alouds & Shared/Close Reading
Modeling good oral reading is very important for students to develop oral reading fluency. Students need to listen to how a reader uses expression and pauses as they read. This is especially effective when students follow along with the text.
Try to include some type of teacher led reading every day. And remember that this can include reading from a content area textbook too, since many students struggle with nonfiction.
With this method, students read aloud to a partner. The key for this to be effective at improving fluency is to pair a more fluent reader with a less fluent reader. Have the stronger reader read the text first to model, then the less fluent reader re-reads the text aloud.
Repeated reading is one of the most effective ways to improve oral reading fluency. After the teacher has read a text to students, students can reread the text in different ways. Have students read to each other, choral read together, read to the class, or record themselves reading the same text.
Research tells us that re-reading 3 times is sufficient and that passages should be 50-200 words long.
Having students follow along while listening to a text being read is similar to having the teacher read a text to them. This could be a great independent activity for students. Have students point to the words as they read, or they can use a reading guide. You can also have students whisper read the second time they listen to the audiobook. This way they can self correct and work to improve their reading of that text.
Not only is Readers’ Theatre fun for kids, but it really does help improve their reading fluency. Students rehearse (re-read) and perform a play for their peers. This tends to help students who struggle with expression a bit as they can get into the character and speak with more expression.
Have students record their reading
This is a great independent activity. Students can record themselves reading a text aloud. Then they play it and assess themselves. You can create a little checklist that they can use to assess their fluency. They can re-record to try to improve.
I probably didn’t need to include this but just in case, decoding instruction helps students read more words so it will help to improve their oral reading fluency. If students are pausing often to sound out words, no matter how old they are, go back to phonics!
It’s important for students to read with expression and punctuation is important for this. As they learn about and practice using punctuation, their reading fluency will improve.
Students encountering words they don’t know can really throw them off. The more words students know, the easier they can read fluently. As they acquire more background knowledge and vocabulary, their reading fluency will improve.
What About Independent Reading?
You may be surprised to learn that silent reading is not as effective for improving fluency as we previously thought.
According to Reading Rockets, “No research evidence is available currently to confirm that instructional time spent on silent, independent reading with minimal guidance and feedback improves reading fluency and overall reading achievement.”
And this makes sense, considering that when students are reading silently, they have no idea if they are reading words correctly. Struggling readers probably skip words, read the wrong word, and don’t understand a lot of what they are reading. This time is wasted as struggling readers just look at letters on a page without any meaning or instruction.
Oral reading is much more effective in developing fluency. This is why I included partner reading, choral reading, recording, and Readers Theatre above.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use silent reading in your classroom. I think you definitely should, but know it doesn’t affect fluency as much until students are very strong decoders. If you want to have silent reading, try to offer decodable texts or the option to re-read a text they previously read with you to struggling readers. Stronger readers may be fine choosing their own text.
Some other tips to improve reading fluency:
- Incorporate a mix of informational texts and stories
- Always encourage struggling readers to point to the text as they read
- Background information effects reading fluency
- You can try timed activities, but this can cause anxiety in some students
- Remember that 50th percentile is the goal, not 100
- Don’t forget to teach high frequency words
- For younger students, (1st grade or younger), encourage them to make their reading “sound like talking”. Have them work on phrases or sentences.
Teachers and parents should frequently model fluent reading, and students should have ample opportunities to practice oral reading.
Want to remember this? Save How To Improve Reading Fluency to your favorite Pinterest board!
If you’re looking for more tips on teaching reading to struggling learners, check out these other posts:
- How To Structure Your Literacy Block
- Reading Assessments You Should Be Using
- What is the Science of Reading?
- Teaching High Frequency Words Using the Heart Word Method
- Phonemic Awareness Strategies & Activities For Struggling Learners
- The 6 Syllable Types
- Why You Should Switch To A Sound Wall
- Reading Strategies for Struggling Readers – Elkonin Boxes