Fluency … the great bridge. Fluency acts as the bridge between decoding words and comprehending what they mean. But what does fluency mean? Here’s the National Reading Panel’s official definition:

Fluency: The ability to read text quickly, accurately, and with proper expression.

Fluent reading should be effortless and sound as natural as speech. This can be difficult for many children when they lack the ability to recognize words quickly enough to make them flow. This can lead to problems that affect a child’s comprehension of a text because when a child spends too much energy and attention on trying to figure out what a word says they don’t have much energy left for figuring out its meaning. Below is a list of characteristics that less fluent readers share:

  • often read word by word
  • may sometimes skip or repeat words
  • group words together in a way that doesn’t sound like natural speech so they sound choppy
  • reading aloud is slow, labored, and often times monotone
  • comprehension is usually not there

Why don’t some children learn to be fluent readers? Here are some possible reasons:

  • they don’t fully understand or have a handle on connecting sounds and letters
  • they lack the ability to automatically decode words due to lack of practice
  • they may lack phonemic awareness (awareness of the sounds in our language)
  • poor vocabulary
  • not enough practice reading text

This is why phonics instruction is so important – phonics provides your child with the ability and tools to decode words. But fluency isn’t just about reading words and passages quickly – it’s not something that you start to work on or worry about once your child starts reading books or is in third grade. Fluency practice should begin when you’re first teaching your child to recognize/name letters and to learn their sounds. They should learn to do this quickly and accurately so that they can later read words and thus books as effectively. So what can you do to teach your child to read fluently? There are several ways you can do this – and the more fun you have with reading, the more interested they’ll be in participating!

Read Aloud

I can’t stress enough how beneficial this simple act is for your children! You can read detailed info on reading aloud here, but for now we’ll just focus on how it affects fluency. Your read alouds act as a model for good reading. It’s where your child hears how reading is supposed to sound: quick, without mistakes, and full of expression. You should read books with plenty of emotion and try changing up your voice for different characters. Not only does this make it more fun for your child, it also motivates them to read and to want to sound like you do when they try it. You should also point out to your child the fact that your voice changes when you read and show them how different (and boring) you would sound if you read it monotone. Have them practice changing up their own voice while reading so they can feel and hear the difference for themselves.

Tons of Practice

Practice, practice, practice! To pactice means to continually work on something in order to improve. This shouldn’t be surprising as this fits with almost anything in life! So in reading this means to do repeated readings. Repeated readings of the same text has been shown by research to greatly improve fluency. Here are some findings on repeated readings:

  • children get multiple exposure to words and spelling patterns
  • can help increase reading rate
  • kids can practice their reading strategies to improve comprehension
  • reinforces decoding skills
  • can be really motivating because kids can see that they get better with each reading
  • works with older kids as well as younger ones

It’s a good thing kids love to read the same books over and over again. Now you can take comfort in the fact that they’re learning lots – not just memorizing- when they ask you to read them that book again.

Read A Different Way

Ok, so even the most fun book can be become boring when you read it the same way every time. That’s why changing up the way you or your child reads a book can really help. Here are some different ways you can try reading:

  • Partner read: take turns reading sections or pages
  • Choral Reading: read it at the same time so that your child can practice keeping up with you
  • Echo Reading: (this works best with young kids and easy books but can be tried by all) You read a sentence (with lots of emotion) then they repeat after you trying to copy your tone and expression
  • Read along with a tape: another way to listen to good models of reading
  • Reader’s Theater: (this can work well if you are part of a co-op or your child has friends to do this with) you can use poetry, speeches, plays, or your child can write a play based on a story they have read

Changing up the way your child reads a story can be an easy way to sneak in some repeated reading for kids who don’t enjoy reading the same selection more than once. Have fun with it!

Check out more ideas for teaching Fluency in our Lesson Ideas page!