7 Ways to Build Reading Fluency – At School or Home

Photo of teacher reading with student. Student is turning the page while the teacher appears to encourage her. Text says "7 Ways to Support Reading Fluency"

We have all listened to students who were NOT fluent readers – they read WORD. BY. WORD. with no expression or phrasing. Dysfluent reading is not only hard to listen to, but it also impacts comprehension. Dysfluent readers are often so focused on the words that they are less able to concentrate on the meaning of the text. Reading fluency and comprehension are connected. That’s why it’s important to build reading fluency even with early readers (from late-kindergarten/early-first grade levels and up.)

People often think of fluency as fast reading, but there is so much more to fluent reading than reading rate. A fast reader can still use a monotone voice and read without phrases. Instead of only words per minute, I like to view fluency as the use of:

  • phrasing
  • punctuation (pausing)
  • expression
  • rate

I encourage even early readers to pay attention to these aspects of fluency. As a result, I dearly love listening to my little readers as they read with expression and sound so grown-up in their reading!

Here are some practical strategies to improve reading fluency:

Build Fluency with Phrased Reading

Encourage phrased reading with the following strategies:

Use lines of text to support phrasing

Close up image of the text in a book. Text says "Once upon a time,/ there was an ant/ who went down to a pond/ to get a drink of water."

The lines of print in early texts sometimes signal phrases while reading

Books for very early readers typically include one phrase per line of text (ex: The brown bear/went down the slide or I can see/a little duck/looking at me.) As kids read, prompt word-by-word readers to read the whole line together or to read these words smoothly (showing them one line of text).

Prompts: Read the whole line together. – Read these words together (while teacher frames a line of text with fingers.)

Make fluent reading sound like talking

Sometimes I model with speech what is sounds like when my students read WORD. BY. WORD. (I might say, “Today. is. a. sunny. day. – 5-6 words is all the more I can handle!) Then I ask them if they talk like that (with pauses between each word). After they repeat the sentence back to me like they would say it, I prompt them to make their reading sound like that – like talking.

Prompt: Make it sound like talking.

Model phrasing and expression

As teachers, we model phrasing and expression in our read-aloud time. But I also model it during my guided reading instruction, as needed. Some kids need to hear what simple books sound like when read fluently. I prompt them to listen to how I read this page. Then I ask them to reread that page (or read next one), making it sound like my reading. For some kids I might prompt more specifically, asking them to notice how I put my words together, or made it sound interesting (expression) or made it sound like a question.

Prompts: Make your reading sound smooth, like I did. – Make this sound like an exciting story!

Choose texts carefully

When teaching specifically for fluency, I take a few things into consideration when I choose books for students to read:

Choose texts with dialogue

Beginning readers are more likely to include phrasing and expression when a character is talking. Readers’ theater is a great way to encourage fluency with dialogue, since much of the text is made up of dialogue. I like to assign the narrator role to an expressive reader or read it myself. (Check out some fun readers’ theater scripts for beginning readers here.)

Two pages from a Readers' Theater script of The Mitten. Page one shows the characters and page two is the beginning of the story with only 4-6 words per line.

Readers Theater scripts include lots of dialogue to support reading fluency.

Choose texts with repeated phrases

Short “refrains” (such as the words of the Gingerbread Man) or repeated phrases (such as “Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin”) encourage fluency because they quickly become familiar, allowing a child to focus less on word-solving and more on fluency. Other repetetive texts might include a repeated sentence at the end of each page.

Consider choosing easier books

Sometimes simply lightening the word-solving load increases fluency. I would especially consider this if you are unable to find books with lots of meaningful dialogue or with repeated phrases at a given level. These easier texts would be great to incorporate into partner reading or even to add to a soft start to your school day.

Think about high frequency words.

Sometimes fluency is impacted because a child is working hard to solve too many words in a text – they don’t know these common words by sight. When I notice this happen, I prompt students to locate a particular high frequency word in the text before or after reading (ex: “Find the word ‘went.'”)

I also select texts that repeatedly expose students to the same words. For example, for a beginning reader, we might read books with “can” for 3-4 days in a row. For a more advanced reader, I might select books that include the word “wanted” on several pages. This repeated exposure helps students to commit the words to memory more efficiently. You can find more tips about increasing the high frequency words your child knows in this post.

A few final thoughts

Fluent reading doesn’t come naturally for all kids. Sometimes teachers need to specifically teach students to be fluent readers. However, when you use this reading fluency activities, you will be rewarded with improved comprehension for your students. And, you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy to some amazing reading!

Photo of teacher reading with student. Student is turning the page while the teacher appears to encourage her. Text says "7 Ways to Support Reading Fluency"

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