How to Teach Reading Fluency

Kathryn Starke
Kathryn Starke
Professional development expert; M.A. in Literacy and Culture

What is Reading Fluency?

Reading fluency describes the rate, accuracy, and phrasing or expression that is evident when a student is reading aloud one-on-one to a teacher. Fluency is one of the five pillars essential in providing quality reading instruction. It is also a key component that teachers use while administering one-on-one literacy assessments to determine student reading levels, reading behaviors, and strengths or challenges in literacy.

Reading fluency is calculated by combining three different components. The first component is rate, which is based on the amount of words read per minute; this number is supposed to increase as the student’s grade level and reading level increase.

Accuracy is the second component of fluency. In reading, accuracy is defined as the number of errors made during reading for a certain amount of words or minutes. This number is supposed to increase as decoding or automaticity skills increase.

Lastly, the phrasing of reading aloud is the final component that helps determine reading fluency. This element is an observed, not measured, reading behavior and is often subjective. It is determined based on a student’s reading flow and expression. If the student is reading word by word, their fluency is not considered satisfactory. If a student is reading smoothly and adhering to punctuation that helps their expression and phrasing, he or she is most likely considered a fluent reader.

When these three reading behaviors are calculated, the reading fluency for a student is determined. Once the reading fluency is determined, instructional practices can be implemented to help the reader continue to grow and improve as a fluent reader.

Why Is Reading Fluency Important?

Reading fluency is just as important as phonics and vocabulary are in reading instruction. It is the key link between word recognition and comprehension. Fluent reading is evident when the automaticity of words is present. The automaticity of both sight words, phonetically spelled words, and multisyllabic words greatly affects the reading fluency of a child from kindergarten on up. When a child is not considered a fluent reader, it is often because the child has difficulty decoding words, which should be mastered for a student to be considered a fluent reader.

Research shows how reading fluency is necessary to increase reading comprehension. Fluency leads to comprehension. While it is true that some children have poor reading fluency but excellent comprehension, reading research indicates how simply reading more accurately and quickly leads to better comprehension. In the five pillars of reading, fluency remains an important factor in achieving reading comprehension, which is the ultimate goal of reading.

Reading Fluency Strategies

The most effective strategy to increase reading fluency is simple. It’s reading! Reading for at least twenty minutes a day to someone, with someone, or silently can increase fluency. The implementation of repeated readings can effectively increase reading fluency while it also increases student confidence levels in reading. Children should be encouraged to read and reread their favorite nursery rhymes and children’s books at home and in school. This is just one way reading fluence improves.

The most powerful strategy is for parents to read to their children from the time they are born. While instilling a love of literacy at home, they are also modeling reading behaviors for their children. From a very early age, children are hearing how good readers read in rate, expression, and phrasing. Children repeat what they hear and learn. Listening to great readers from birth paves the way for great reading fluency. It is also important to share that audio books are both an easy and convenient way for families to promote reading while increasing reading fluency while they are on the go.

Reading Fluency Activities for the Classroom

Classrooms can easily implement daily independent reading time, which helps to increase reading fluency. In addition to silent independent reading time, choral reading (which means reading in unison) or partner reading are instrumental in the improvement of reading fluency. Classrooms can also include a literacy station that uses online audio books to increase reading fluency.

In addition to these literacy activities, teachers can add read aloud experiences from children’s picture books and chapter books in classroom instruction to model great reading behaviors. Teachers should use short, rhythmic texts like nursery rhymes, traditional songs, and poetry in the classroom to increase reading fluency. Poetry folders are a great way for students to have the opportunity to independently read shorter text. It is not as overwhelming for a student, which can increase engagement and confidence while increasing reading fluency.

Another strategy is to include reader’s theater into the classroom. When children are given specific sentences or lines to practice and read, they are more focused on the reading task at hand. The repeated reading of readers theater scripts implemented in the classroom can increase fluency as easily and effectively as poetry.

Teachers should help children set and reach achievable fluency goals in rate, accuracy, and phrasing. A common goal is based on words per minute, meaning the number of words a student can accurately read in one minute. Teachers should use grade-level recommendations when making these goals to help students graph and track the growth.

Teachers can provide a fluency passage or selected pages of a task for students to read and reread for three days in a row. The number of words per minute should be documented during this timed reading on each day. The increase of both guided reading levels and words per minute should take place through these repeated readings. Finally, the repeated practice of both sight words and common phrases significantly increase fluency during reading. When all of these reading strategies are used at home and in school, reading fluency improves.

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