5 Strategies to Improve Reading Fluency
Updated: Feb 22
If you’ve suspected that your child is struggling with reading, I’m sure you’ve done your research on phonics, reading comprehension and sight words. But, what about reading fluency?
As parents, when we first notice our children are struggling or falling behind, we want to intervene or fix the problem as soon as possible. With reading, that might mean diving into phonics and sight words. But, you could be missing or skirting around the root of the problem. Improving reading fluency may seem like a minor piece of the puzzle, but it can make a huge impact on a child's overall reading success.
Difficulties with fluency can be caused by a variety of factors and can appear differently among students which is why it's important to understand what reading with good fluency means and what it looks like. Children may have difficulty with fluency due to a weakness in decoding skills or they may just need more practice with speed and smoothness in reading. As readers head into upper elementary grades, fluency becomes even more important. The amount of reading required in the upper elementary years increases dramatically. Students who struggle with reading, due to fluency, will have trouble meeting the reading expectations of their grade level.
What does fluency mean anyway?
Parents, I don’t want you to ever feel silly or insecure around the technical terminology being used in your child’s education. If you’re not quite sure exactly what reading fluency even means or is referring to, I’m here to help.
Reading fluency is the ability to read with accuracy, appropriate speed, and proper expression. Fluency is important because children can struggle to understand what they’ve read if they are unable to read fluently. Children who are not struggling with reading fluency are able to read aloud smoothly, with expression, and at an appropriate pace-not too fast and not too slow. When a child reads fluently, they also pay attention to punctuation and read with inflection in their voice.
What signs should you look for to determine if your child is struggling with reading fluency?
The top two signs that your child is struggling with reading fluency are if he/she reads. like. this. Or, readslikethis. I bet you just did it in your head! When a child reads very slowly or very quickly this can impede their comprehension of the text. Some children who read very quickly may appear to be ignoring punctuation when they read aloud. Other children may repeatedly get hung up on a word, stumble through a passage and lose their place.
If you are still struggling to determine if your child's reading challenges may be due to their fluency here are a few more signs to look for.
Does your child take a long time to read a short book or passage in their head despite knowing how to read the words? When your child reads aloud do they read without expression or change of tone in their voice?
Finally, do you notice your child moving their mouth when reading silently? This is called subvocalizing which is the act of saying words silently to oneself when reading. Although this can help us remember what we read, it limits how fast we can read which ultimately can impact overall comprehension.
Here are my top 5 strategies for improving reading fluency:
MODEL PROPER FLUENCY FOR YOUR CHILD.
One of the simplest tricks for helping to improve your child’s reading fluency is to read aloud to your child. While you read aloud, be sure that you are modeling the four aspects of reading fluency: accuracy, expression, phrasing, smoothness and appropriate pacing.
Make sure not to rush through the text and have fun by really getting into the expression. Not only will your child enjoy hearing a story read this way, but it will help them to feel more comfortable with using expression and will show them how to use it properly.
TRACK WORDS USING YOUR FINGER OR TRACKING DEVICE.
This tip goes hand in hand with the previous tip. While you model proper fluency for your child, have him/her track the words you read with their finger. This practice helps the child to connect the sounds they hear with the words. When their brain makes that connection, they will be more likely to be able to read those words more fluently in the future.
For older readers, you can also try having them use a ruler or index card instead of their finger. It is important to point out that you should have your child place their ruler or index card just ABOVE the current line of text they are reading. Why not place the ruler or index card below the text, you ask?
If you place the tracking tool below the current line of text this can interfere with reading the text fluently. The reason being that when a reader comes to the end of a line, regardless of whether the sentences ends or continues onto the next line, this can cause readers to take a long pause in order to move their tracking tool down. This pause causes readers to break their fluency and prevents their eye from sweeping to the next line.
By placing the tracking tool slightly ABOVE the current line of text, when a child comes to the end of the line, their eyes can sweep to the next line without their tracker being in the way. They can then move their tracking tool down one line as they continue reading.
TRY REPEATED READINGS WITH READER’S THEATER, POEMS, AND SONGS.
Repeated readings with predictable text are a great way to help your child improve their fluency. Reader's theater, poems and song lyrics are all helpful in improving fluency while also being motivating to your reader. These various texts all give the child repeated exposure to the same text which increases word recognition and comprehension without being boring.
Reader’s theater is when you choose a script and assign parts to different readers (it could even just be you and your child but you can also incorporate other family members). The participants then read their lines with expression and accuracy. The child can practice reading his/her lines with lots of expression as if acting them out.
Song lyrics also helps with improving reading speed, an essential component to reading fluently, by requiring the child to keep up with the pace of the song. Most kids find it fun and entertaining to practice fluency using these tools
LISTEN TO AUDIOBOOKS.
Most audiobooks, especially those recorded for children, are read with excellent fluency. When your child listens to stories read with good fluency they can pick up on the pace, expression, and inflection of the reader. If you have a hard copy of the book or story, you can also have your child track along as they listen to the audiobook. This is a great option if you are a parent who also isn’t as confident reading aloud.
Some readers struggle with fluency due to difficulties decoding or sounding out words. It is important to determine if your child is struggling with fluency because of difficulties with decoding. If this is the case, then listening to audiobooks and tracking along will take the pressure off your child to decode the words accurately and allow them to focus on listening to proper modeled fluency. Listening to audiobooks will also allow your child to enjoy the story and better understand what they are reading.
USE ECHO READING.
Echo reading is when you read a sentence and then your child repeats it back to you, like an echo! You can also build up to have your child echo read paragraphs or longer pieces of text as they get more comfortable. Encourage your child to echo back the speed and expression that you use. Have your child complete this activity several times because repeated readings will increase their fluency, help them limit mistakes, and boost their confidence.
Before you begin reading, it is also important to have a conversation with your child about the text features they will come across while reading. For example, are there words in italics in the passage? Where are the commas and periods? Are there exclamation points or question marks in the text? Readers need to be taught to pause at the commas for one second and periods for two seconds. A great way to practice this is to have your child knock once on the table when they come across a comma while reading and knock twice on the table when they come across a period. This will help them feel how long they should pause for while allowing them to implement this strategy in real time.
Developing readers need to also be taught and shown what should happen to the pitch and volume of their voice when they come across various end marks. For example, at a question mark your voice goes up and at a period your voice goes down. Explicitly teaching your child the importance of these features and how they impact the overall meaning of the text will help them know what to do when they come across them in print.