This article gives several strategies to help children (or adults) improve reading fluency with explicit directions on how to implement each one.
Reading fluency is the ability to read automatically, accurately, and effortlessly, while using expression. Fluency is just as important of a skill as understanding phonics (knowing the letters and their sounds), knowing sight words, and comprehending what is read. Readers who are successful with fluency can concentrate on comprehension because they don’t have to focus on figuring out the words.
Below is a list of strategies to help your child or student(s) become fluent readers (be sure to pick passages that spark your students’ interest):
Side-Note: All the strategies below can be done with a parent and child or teacher and students. You can also pair an older child with a younger child, or a higher level reader with a lower level reader to practice these techniques. Be sure you pick a child who will be sensitive to a struggling reader. If you have any concerns about the child tutor you chose, make adjustments.
1. Read Aloud to Your Child/Student
If your child can hear examples of fluent reading they are more likely to understand how to apply fluency in their own reading. Read out loud to your child often and with expression. In order to read fluently, students must first hear and understand what fluent reading sounds like. Text can come from books, magazines, the internet, or anywhere you can find interesting reading material for your child. Talk to your child about what fluency means.
After you read to them, have them share their thoughts on exactly what you did that made your reading sound fluent. This will help in grain the meaning of fluency into their memory, making them more likely to think about fluency when working on their own reading. To read about the research on the benefits of reading aloud to children see A Synthesis of Fluency Interventions for Secondary Struggling Readers.
2. Use Choral Reading
- Choose a short passage that your child or students can read independently (although they may have trouble with the fluency they should be able to recognize most of the words without spending too much time sounding them out).
- If you are a teacher, have a copy for yourself and a copy for your class or group. You also might want to put the passage on an overhead projector for the whole class to see. If you are a parent, have a copy for yourself and your child.
- Next, read the passage out loud for your child/students to hear. Tell them to follow along with their finger as you read.
- After reading the passage, re-read it and have your child/students read along with you, trying to match your speed and expression.
To read about the research on choral reading see Fluency in the Classroom.
3. Use Echo Reading
Echo Reading is similar to Choral Reading except you read the passage first aloud, and then have the child/students echo (or copy) you, by rereading the passage out loud trying to match the way you just read it. In choral reading, you re-read the passage with the students, while in Echo Reading, they read it themselves the second time. Find out what the research says about the effects of echo reading on reading fluency.
Here is a Video to Demonstrate the Choral and Echo Reading Strategies
4. Use Repeated Reading
Remind your child of the criteria for fluency (quickly, accurately, with expression). Have him pick a topic he enjoys. Then find him or have him find a short passage on that topic. Read the passage to him to show him what it sounds like to read the passage fluently. Then have him re-read the passage several times, out loud and in his mind on his own over a period of time, until he feels he has developed fluency in reading that passage.You can have him practice in front of you a few times first just to get him started and talk about strengths and areas that need improvement. Have your child read the passage for you again, once he believes he has mastered fluency. If he still has difficulty, talk to him again about his strengths and areas of need. Have him continue to practice on his own and read it for you again one he feels he has mastered his errors. Repeat the cycle until you feel your child has mastered fluency of the passage to the best of his ability. After mastering one passage, have him choose more topics of interest and apply the same strategy to those passages. To check out the research see Building Fluency through the Repeated Reading Method.
5. Use a Rapid Word Recognition Chart
Create a word recognition chart. For example, have four rows, with five words per row. Have the child read the words in the rows as quickly as possible, providing assistance when needed. Keep practicing until your child can automatically recognize all the words without sounding them out. Reverse the order of the cards and practice again. It is important to reverse the order to ensure your child is reading the words and not simply reciting the order of the cards from memory. You can use a pocket chart to make your rows of words, as shown below:
or use push pins to pin words to a bulletin board. You can create your own word cards on index cards or use word flash cards like the ones shown below.
To read more about the research on Rapid Word Recognition Charts see Improving Reading Fluency.
Check out Rapid Recognition Chart Generator for a free chart generator of the words of your choice.
6. Read Audio-Read Along Books
Children can listen to books on tape/CD and follow along as they read. You can find a selection of books for children with a read along audio CD on Amazon. Another option is Kindle Books. A Kindle is a wireless device used to shop for, download, and read digital media such as e-books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs. See an image below:
Here are two free websites that allow children to read along and listen at the same time:
Scholastic Listen and Read: Read Along Books
Learn English Kids
- Online reading lessons personalized for each child
- Lessons that are interactive and prompt the student to respond; which increases engagement
- Comprehensive reports on child’s progress, which can be accessed by parents at any time.
- Highlights each sentence as it is read
ABCmouse.com is also a great “paid-for” program for reading and listening to books electronically. The words are highlighted as you read along, just like in the picture below:
ABCmouse.com is designed for children 7 and under and K5 Learning is designed for children in grades K-5; however, older children with a younger reading level could benefit from the texts in both programs.
ABCmouse.com also has dozens of free books right on Youtube.
Here is a perfect example:
Try Amazon’s Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks
To read about the research-based benefits of audio read-along books see Assisted Reading with Digital Audiobooks for Students with Reading Disabilities.
7. Encourage Independent Reading About Topics of Interest
Encourage your child to read independently as often as possible. Allow them to choose topics that interest them. If your child/student is open to it, encourage them to tell you what they read about. You might ask them what happened in the story, who the main characters were, where the story took place, what they thought of the story, etc. Don’t do this every time as you want your child to have some independent reading time for pure joy, where he will not feel pressured to have to answer questions at the end. Mix it up (about 50/50). For more about the research-based effects of independent reading see Independent Reading and School Achievement.
Keep Your Cool
Remember to always stay calm when working with a child or student, even if you think they should be getting something that they are not getting. If you get frustrated with them, they may start to feel anxious, angry, inferior, stupid, etc. which will lead to a less productive learning session. Keep practice sessions short (5 to 10 minutes for younger children or children who get easily frustrated and 10 to 15 minutes for older children or children who can work for longer periods without frustration), unless the child is eager to keep going. For suggestions on ways to encourage children to complete tasks or assignments they do not want to do, read 3 Ways to Use Timers to Encourage Homework and Chore Completion and How to Use Schedules to Improve Children’s Behavior.
If your child is significantly struggling with reading fluency or acquiring other academic skills, despite consistent practice and guidance, talk to your child’s school and/or doctor. They should be able to refer you to the appropriate professionals to determine what might be interfering with your child’s progress and what additional strategies might help.
Visit our Reading Strategies Section for more information on helping children with reading.
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, educators, and counselors to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them.