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Teaching Fluency

Teaching Fluency

Fluency is the ability to connect the words we read quickly and accurately. A child must be able to swiftly and automatically link words together into meaningful phrases with precision so they can obtain the meaning of the text. Fluency is an essential element of both reading and comprehension; it advances readers from recognizing words to comprehending them. Children who have difficulties with fluency will also struggle with comprehension; they will place their emphasis on decoding words and not understanding the text.

Fluency instruction should begin early and has two main components: speed and accuracy. As noted by Joseph Torgesen, Ph.D., “If children do not acquire good word reading skills early in elementary school, they will be cut off from rich knowledge sources available in print.” (Torgesen, 2000, p.58) When learning to read, fluency is an essential element that gradually develops over time. Children in first through 3rd grade should spend approximately twenty minutes daily on fluency related activities in their classroom. Repeated reading, reading appropriate material, modeling fluent reading and measuring performance assist in developing fluency.

Repeated reading

Rereading the same text is a great way to improve accuracy and speed. “Easy reading material develops fluency and provides practice in using good reading strategies.” (Allington & Cunningham, 2002, p.57) When my daughter was in preschool, she loved Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? We read it all the time and eventually she began reciting the entire book without opening it, which brought her much joy. This book is filled with many sight words, rhymes and repetition so reading it again and again only assisted in developing her reading skills.

Reading appropriate material

At the risk of stating the obvious, a child should read material that is appropriate for her reading level. Here are some guidelines to follow:

Level of Text Number of Mistakes Ideal Setting
Independent Less than five mistakes for every 100 words Alone or with a peer
Instructional Less than 10 mistakes for every 100 words Tutors or other knowledgeable adult
Frustration More than 10 mistakes for every 100 words Not recommended


It is important to note, frustration-level text should not be used during fluency activities – I think the name alone should make one weary.

Modeling Fluent Reading

A child needs to hear what fluent reading sounds like. This can be accomplished by a parent, teacher, tutor, CD or computer. Interestingly, no evidence exists to support that silent, independent classroom reading contributes to improving fluency . In fact, students who read silently with no formal instruction will most likely not improve their speed and accuracy. While the following exercises were intended for a classroom setting, many can also be performed at home to enhance fluency:

Reading With a Model Reader

This exercise begins with the model reader reading the passage. Then the beginner reader reads it. The beginner reader reads it again but this time as quickly and accurately as possible without speed reading. Both readers will then discuss the material read either by asking questions or summarizing the main ideas. For a beginner reader in kindergarten or first grade, it is recommended that the model reader limits the reading time to 45 seconds to 1 minute. However, if the child is in second, third or fourth grade, the amount of time should increase to 1 to 3 minutes. As time permits (and your child remains engaged), repeat this exercise.

Choral Reading

This exercise begins with a model reader previewing a passage to a group. They collectively make predictions about what they will read. The model reader reads the entire passage aloud. The passage is read again as quickly and accurately as possible but this time by both the model reader and the group. The passage is read yet again, but this time the model reader’s voice grows fainter as the group takes control of reading the passage. If time permits, segregate the group into pairs to read the passage again.

Tape-Recording Readings

This exercise involves a book and a recorded reading of the book. While this is a fairly hands off activity, it is important to monitor to ensure that a child is able to follow along – they are reading the text in conjunction with hearing the story. Reviewing vocabulary and key ideas can be beneficial prior to beginning this exercise.

Readers’ Theater or Reading Performances

As the title implies, children perform a book, play, short story or poem for a small group, e.g., another class, parents, relatives or teachers. The critical component of this exercise is memorizing their lines which occurs by repeatedly reading the text until it can be read fluently and in character. My children love doing this with our neighbor’s children. They have a slightly different approach, they write their own short story and then spend hours reenacting the story.

Partner Reading

This exercise involves two readers who take turns reading and rereading passages. This exercise can be beneficial to a not so proficient reader when paired with a proficient reader. Personally, this exercise is more successful in a school setting. I have implemented partner reading while cooking dinner and on a few occasions this was a good bonding exercise but most times it was not so beneficial as my older child correcting my younger one did not go over so well – go figure.

Measuring performance

It’s always beneficial to track results and compare them to a baseline. A child should be assessed every two weeks to the number of word they can read in a minute. Use this assessment as a way to praise improvement instead of comparing to peers. This is particularly true for younger readers. The last thing you want to do is discourage your beginner readers while they are learning to read.

Source: Vaugh, S & Linan-Thompson, S (2004). Research-Based Methods of Reading Instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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