Fluency: Why it’s Important and How to Develop it

The ‘Big 6’ essential components of reading instruction are oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Unfortunately, fluency is often a relatively neglected component in reading programs. Teachers and parents neglect fluency at their peril, as there is a strong correlation between reading fluency and overall reading success, particularly in the early years of learning to read.

Fluent readers usually read with greater independence and satisfaction than non-fluent readers, so are more likely to choose to read, gaining increased experience of vocabulary, ideas and writing styles. Fluent reading greatly supports comprehension (Rasinski, Padak, & Fawcett, 2010).

What Is Fluency?

This video painfully shows you how difficult it is for a non-fluent reader:

YouTube video

Reading fluency is defined as the ability to read accurately, at an appropriate rate, with suitable prosody (expression). As this young man reads we cannot hear ‘smooth’ reading, he seems to require conscious attention to the mechanics of reading, such as decoding.

Get the Basics Right, First

Strong phonemic awareness, knowledge of grapheme-phoneme correspondences and ability to recognise irregular words, all developed in playing Phonics Hero, help students to become accurate readers. To read at an appropriate rate, with expression, students should be able to automatically name over 90% of the words in the text read (Allington, 2012). By the end of Year 1, students should be reading about 50-70 words correct per minute in connected text, by the end of Year 2, 70-90 wcpm, and by the end of Year 3, 90–120 wcpm. A number of standardised tests provide age- and grade-based norms for fluency.

‘Faster’ is Not Necessarily ‘Better’

A fluent reader reads at a rate that mirrors speech (Stahl and Kuhn, 2002). Prosody, a component of a fluent reader, is how words are read – phrasing, intonation, stress, volume and pace. It is a better measure of automaticity and more predictive of comprehension. Familiarity with both text-type and text facilitates prosody, so purposeful repeated reading is an important part of instruction. The text should be at the ‘just right’ level.

How to Increase Reading Fluency:

  • Use games: to increase knowledge of letter-sound correspondences and irregular words and blending skill.
  • Incorporate fluency drills into your phonics lesson: our no-prep Phonics Lessons include a ‘speed read’ section. It times children with quick-fire practice. Have a watch of this whistle-stop tour (speed read is at 1.30 minutes):

  • Model fluent reading and provide opportunities for guided practice: taped books and electronic books with text to speech and highlighting can be good models in the absence of an adult.
  • Require students to read a text more than once for a specific purpose: to increase accuracy, to increase reading rate, to improve expression, to develop comprehension or to entertain.
  • Encourage students to read with expression to someone other than the teacher or parent: a younger sibling or student in a lower year level, a grandparent or other relative (perhaps using Skype or Facetime), a reading buddy, an elderly neighbour. If humans are unavailable, the student can read to a pet or a stuffed toy.
  • Encourage students to record their reading electronically then listen to the recording and re-record any sections with which they are not happy in terms of accuracy or expression. If increased wcpm is the objective, have the student note and graph the time taken in each read.
  • When students are reading quietly to themselves, provide them with a phonic/whisper phone that allows them to hear themselves read, without disturbing others.
  • Fluency tool -
 Phonics phones to use for quiet readingPhonic/Whisper Phone
  • Have students read using the ‘voice’ of a particular character (perhaps using a puppet or mask). You might give each student a card naming a person or character type and have others guess the name from the use of voice.
  • Use paired reading with an experienced reader, the two readers reading simultaneously, at a pace that allows expression, rather than to one another. Choral reading in a group can also be helpful.
  • Explicitly teach students how to ‘chunk’ words into meaningful phrases, using punctuation as a support. Initially, you should underline phrases for them and encourage the reading of these in one breath.
  • Use Readers Theatre to develop an awareness of the importance of prosody.
  • Use a timed cursor, a laser pen or a metronome to help develop appropriate reading pace. The student should try to keep pace with the aid.

Author: Shirley Houston

With a Masters degree in Special Education, Shirley has been teaching children and training teachers in Australia for over 30 years. Working with children with learning difficulties, Shirley champions the importance of teaching phonics systematically and to mastery in mainstream classrooms. If you are interested in Shirley’s help as a literacy trainer for your school, drop the team an email on info@phonicshero.com