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How to Develop Reading Fluency

If your child struggles with reading fluency—and listening to him read aloud is a painful experience—then this article is for you!

red robot standing in grass

We’ve all heard kids who read aloud with a choppy, almost robotic tone. It’s hard to grasp the meaning of what they’re reading. They may read too fast, or they may read too slowly and laboriously.

On the other hand, when someone reads aloud with fluency, it’s easy to understand what they are reading, and it’s a delight to listen to them. Fluent readers add emphasis to certain words and convey meaning with their expression.

What Is Reading Fluency?

Fluency is the ability to read with accuracy, proper speed, and meaningful expression.

Fluency is also a significant indicator of reading comprehension. When children can read fluently, it means that instead of using brain power for decoding, they can turn their attention to the meaning of the text.

And it gets even better. When students reach higher levels of fluency, they’re able to tap into metacognitive strategies. This means that they can visualize, question, and interpret what they are reading, and they can think about their own feelings and opinions while reading text. This is the highest level of reading comprehension.

Obviously, fluency is highly desirable. So let’s talk about how we can get your child to this point.

Good Decoding Skills Come First

Don’t even start working on fluency until your child can decode all the words in the text. 

Does your child stumble over words? Substitute words? Need to sound out multiple words on the page? These are all signs that you need to work on decoding first; otherwise, you will both be frustrated.

red robot holding a poster

In All About Reading, we give a lot of attention to decoding before we expect fluency.

  • Kids read words in isolation (on flashcards that we call Word Cards).
  • They read words in phrases.
  • Then they read words in sentences.
  • They encounter the words on fun and motivating activity sheets.
  • And finally, they encounter the words in short stories.

By this point, students have significantly expanded their sight word vocabulary, and they have reached the point of automaticity for most of the words in the story.

THEN—and only then—we work on fluency skills.

The Importance of Vocabulary for Fluency

Does your child understand the meaning of all the words he’s reading?

If not, fluency will be an uphill battle for both of you. Even if he can decode the words properly, when he runs into a word he doesn’t understand, he will be unable to read smoothly and with expression.

red robot trying to sound out a word

Have you ever tried to read a book on a topic you were unfamiliar with? As you encountered words you didn’t know or understand, your fluency probably faltered. And quite likely, by the time you reached the end of a sentence, you had probably forgotten what the first part of the sentence even said.

That’s why we make sure students understand all the words in the short stories in our reading program without dumbing down the stories with simplistic words. On the contrary, we purposely introduce words that are very likely new to the reader. We use interesting, mind-expanding geographic locations, as well as a large variety of historical settings and nationalities.

But we don’t leave readers stranded with no hope of understanding what they are reading.

Instead, we have short attention-grabbing discussions before each story is read. We highlight new vocabulary words through illustrations, and take what the student already knows and use that as a “hook” for the new vocabulary words.

With this method, the student is mentally prepared when he encounters the word again in the short stories. He can read the word smoothly because he knows how it should be pronounced, and he can continue visualizing the storyline in his mind because he isn’t wrestling with the meaning.

When it comes to fluent reading, it’s easy to see why it’s a big help to have a good vocabulary that is relative to what your child is reading about.

Provide a Good Role Model

Another important factor in the development of fluency is the need for fluency role models. When your child hears fluent reading, it will be easier for him to mimic it and then eventually make it his own.

When you read aloud to your child, you’re setting an example. Your child is mentally absorbing your tone, your speed, and your inflections. That’s one of the reasons we encourage you to read aloud to your child for at least 20 minutes every day. Your child will become familiar with how a reader’s voice helps written text make sense.

Audiobooks are another fantastic resource for providing role models, not to mention they help you give your voice a rest! Here are some current favorites, to get you started.

Another thing that happens when your child hears books read aloud is that he learns “phrasing.”

Why Phrasing Helps

Consider this sentence:

reading with fluency sentence 1

This sentence would be really boring to listen to if each word were spoken with even pacing.

reading with fluency sentence 2

Fluent readers naturally group phrases, like this:

reading with fluency sentence 3

They automatically divide text into meaningful chunks, which is called phrasing. Children who have good phrasing intuitively know when to pause.

But what if your child doesn’t know how to do this yet? How can you teach phrasing?

To help your child get the hang of it, you can use a pencil to “swoop” under each phrase.

How to Develop Reading Fluency - All About Reading

Phrasing usually occurs with prepositional phrases, but honestly, your own intuition will serve you well as you mark the page. Think of how you would read the text; there are no absolutely correct answers here, especially as you get into more advanced text.

If you use All About Reading, you’ll see that our Level 1 readers and Practice Sheets from Levels 1-4 are designed with intentional line breaks to help your child learn and understand phrasing. Here’s an example:

sample of a story from a level 1 reader

The pages are formatted to allow beginning readers to read more smoothly and comprehend the text more easily. The line breaks promote natural phrasing.

Encourage Expressive Reading

After years of listening to read-alouds, your child is probably familiar with how to interpret dialogue—reading text the way someone would say it. But it can still take some practice for novice readers to get the hang of adding expression to their own voices.

One way to encourage good expression is to model it with buddy reading. There are several forms of buddy reading, but for encouraging expression, it is most helpful if you read a page and then have your student read the same page after you. Demonstrate how to pay attention to punctuation, and how to emphasize important words.

round up the sheep download graphic

Another great way to practice expressive reading is with an activity like this one from All About Reading.

In “Round Up the Sheep,” your child will discover that the same words can take on a completely different meaning when you say them with different expression. As you can see, encouraging expression and increasing fluency doesn’t have to be boring!

Silent Reading Isn’t as Effective for Improving Reading Fluency

This idea is probably clear from the previous sections, but it’s important enough that I want to be sure to say it outright:

Have your child read aloud, not silently.

Silent reading certainly has its place, but oral reading practice is much more effective in developing fluency.

Having an audience can be motivating and can give your student an opportunity to practice meaningful expression. Encourage your child to read to someone else, such as a sibling, a visiting neighbor, Grandma, or a parent.

Kids Can Self-Assess, Too!

It can be really helpful for kids to hear themselves read. And recording themselves can be fun!

Need an easy way to record? Here’s a recording program you can download for free.

After recording, let your child assess his own reading. How did it sound? Did it sound natural? Choppy? Did he pay attention to punctuation? Encourage him to notice one thing he did well and one thing that needs improvement. Then he can re-record and try to improve. Even professional speakers do this!

The Bottom Line on Improving Reading Fluency

red robot mother and child reading together

Reading fluency develops gradually, but as you can see, there is a lot you can do to promote it.

As long as your child has strong enough decoding skills, the next steps are to:

  • Help build a strong vocabulary.
  • Provide a good role model, whether that is you or fantastic audiobook narrators.
  • Use phrasing and “swooping” to break sentences into meaningful chunks.
  • Tap into buddy reading to encourage expressive reading.
  • Have your child record himself reading, and then self-assess.

And finally, keep encouraging your child! With your help, he won’t read like a robot forever. Fluency will come!

The All About Reading program walks you and your child through all the steps to help your child achieve fluency. The program is multisensory, motivating, and complete, with everything you need to raise a strong reader. And if you need a helping hand, we’re here for you.

All About Reading Product Line

What’s your take on teaching reading fluency? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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It is so hard to find interactive reading materials! Thank you for creating this program!

Robin E.

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You’re so welcome, Carrie!

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Thank you for all the amazing resources to help my child succeed!

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So helpful!

L

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Great reading program & free resources & tips. Thank you!

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My son loves this program & it’s readers!

Nikki

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So many great tips!

Tiffany

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These fluency suggestions are just another reason of why we love using AAR. Thank you

Robin E.

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You’re so welcome, Tiffany!

Julz

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What a good program, and fun way to learn!

Robin E.

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Thank you, Julz!

Katie Dorey

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Just another reason to do read alouds! Good info.

Robin E.

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So true, Katie!

Rosa DeVoe

says:

I so appreciate all of the tips provided on your blog. We just started remedial level 2 with my 4th grader a couple of months ago. His reading confidence has soared. Now that he is decoding with much greater ease, fluency seems to be within our reach! We are both grateful.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, I’m so excited to hear how well your student is doing, Rosa! What great progress in such a short time, and I love that he is soaring in confidence! Keep up the great work!

Heidi

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Over the last two years your products have helped my son increase his confidence with reading and increase my confidence with teaching! Thank you!!

Robin E.

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So wonderful, Heidi! It’s great to hear that All About Reading has helped build both of you in confidence!

Candace

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This article was so helpful!

Sarah Keeney

says:

This super helpful! I appreciate articles like this.

Juley Adolfae

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I can’t wait to get started with my youngest!

April

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Very helpful information. We can’t wait to get started with All About Reading!

Molly

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I love how helpful this program has been for my daughter.

Tara Archer

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We love buddy reading. It makes a big difference with my kids.

Robin E.

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Wonderful to hear, Tara! Buddy reading was a huge help for my youngest child, so I understand!

Vanessa

says:

Is there an average age that students tend to read fluently?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting question, Vanessa. However, it’s not easy to answer. Young readers often develop fluency in reading to the level of their skill. Students finishing All About Reading Level 1 will be fluent at that level.

One of the issues with some approaches to teaching reading is always introducing new phonograms, rules, concepts, and words without the student gaining fluency along the way. Many children may be able to sound out quite advanced words in this situation, but they still have to sound out the most simple beginning words. All About Reading includes research-based instruction in all aspects of reading, including decoding skills, fluency, automaticity, comprehension, vocabulary, and lots and lots of reading practice.

As for your question, I cannot give you an average age at which children gain fluency without knowing what level of reading you are asking about. For example, I am an excellent and fluent reader of most materials, but I cannot read my son’s college-level aerospace physics textbooks fluently. Too much of the vocabulary is too unfamiliar for me!

I’d love to help you further if you like. We can discuss your fluency concerns here or through email at [email protected].

Rebecca

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Love how easy and simple reading has become in our home through – All About Reading. I alway recommend this to all of my new homeschool friends!

Robin E.

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Thank you for recommending All About Reading, Rebecca! I love that it has helped make learning to read easy for you.

Becca

says:

My daughter has gotten much better at this since we started using AAR! I’m grateful for the program and look forward to continuing with it!

Loni

says:

Thank you for the suggestions, fluency is so hard for them.

Charise Walker

says:

We are still working on decoding with my daughter. There’s a lot of great tips here. Thanks!

Courtney

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This was very helpful. We are excited to start our All About Reading journey.

Kim Renee Brown

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We are loving All About Reading. About finished with level 2 and will be doing level 3 and 4 in first grade. My grandson is reading so well thanks to this program.,

Christina

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Wow! This post has a lot of information and tips I would not have thought of on my own. Thank you so much! I can’t wait to dive into this program.

Gina Garramone

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My granddaughter is doing great in her All About Reading, Level 1.

Robin E.

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Wonderful to hear, Gina!

Betsy

says:

This post brought back a fun memory. In grade 2 my daughter had to read aloud. She read a list of words. Knew what they meant, could pronounce them. I was so surprised that she had no context. I began to act out the story exaggerating the punctuation. She would read while I was fixing dinner. I repeated back with great aplomb, it worked for her. It didn’t take long either. That summer she read beginner chapter stories, by the end of third grade it was junior mysteries from the library. While my method worked for her knowing this would have helped. Thanks again for your insight.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Betsy. I love that you knew how to help your daughter intuitively!

Jim Faal

says:

Thank you so much for keeping us abreast with the latest reading methods.
I have a big concern and I’m in urgent need for a resolution.
I’m teaching ESL learners, they have not a problem of spelling out the words even so their premier language is French and Arabic. However they struggle to figure out the meaning of words which totally makes their comprehension skill a null.
What could I do to help these kids read well?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jim,
I think you may find our How to Build Your Child’s Vocabulary blog post helpful.

Your students need a fuller listening English vocabulary to be able to build a fuller vocabulary in reading. They need to be exposed to more words orally with discussion of meaning. The How to Build Your Child’s Vocabulary blog post has great ideas on how to do this.

Barbara

says:

Which level of stories would be beneficial for adult readers?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It depends on what reading level the adult reader needs, Barbara. Students, regardless of age, should work at a level that is just a bit challenging. They should be able to have success with it with some work. If they can read the material fluently easily, then the material is too simple to provide the practice needed for improvement. If the student has trouble with multiple words per sentence with sentence after sentence, the material is too difficult.

Lyn

says:

My 6 year great grandson was able to read and spell all the “tricky words” ,he could build up / sound out most words, but just didn’t seem to be able to read a book .After some research I read about “echo reading” you’ve just referred to it as buddy reading. We would look at the page, almost scan reading, if he saw any words he felt he didn’t know we sound it out together and also make sure he knew what it meant, the same with punctuations. Then I’d read a few sentances, then he read the same few sentences with the same intonation, sometimes he’d read first then me, within a week he was reading fluently and began to really enjoy reading . We now have progressed to “chapter books” reading a chapter each, we call it our cuddle reads ! He is flying through his school reading books which he says is his ” ,learning to read books”
We have a history of dyslexia in our family spanning three generations at least ..wish I knew about this method years ago but I’m making sure thst this and future generations will know about it and with luck it will help others enjoy reading .

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing this, Lyn! I, too, found buddy reading to be a great help for my child to develop fluency with reading. For my daughter, it took more than a week though. It sounds like your grandson is doing amazingly!