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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 character dialogue to encourage expression.
  • 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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Mapitso

says:

Thank you for the beautiful ideas
I was doing some of the things erratically
But now you motivated me to work more
I work with struggling readers even in grade 7,this has motivated.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for your work with struggling readers, Mapitso!

You may find our blog posts 10 Tips for Reaching Your Struggling Learner and Signs of a Reading Problem helpful as well.

Please let me know if you have any specific concerns or questions.

Celena Carlson

says:

Love these tips!

Elizabeth

says:

This is so helpful! We just started homeschooling our rising second grader and kindergartener. I can’t wait to put these tools into practice.

Angela Outram

says:

Informative and makes good sence

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Angela!

Brooke Miller

says:

I love the activities! I currently taking a grad class, and I have to find an article or blog over fluency. I would like to reference this one. Can you tell me the original publishing date? Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Brooke,
This blog article was published on April 6, 2020. I hope you do very well in your class!

Molly MacPherson

says:

Thank you so much for your thoughtful insights and wonderful curriculum. We have just started homeschooling our children (11,9,6 ) and I’m looking forward to using some of these strategies with each of them. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are very welcome, Molly. And if you have any questions or need more information as you begin, just ask!

Dana

says:

This is so helpful! Thank you! It now makes sense why my son prefers silent reading and doesn’t want to make an effort to do expressing reading. I look forward on starting this program from Level 1!

Sheena

says:

This aspect make me most interested in using your program for my budding 1st grader.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sheena,
Do you have any questions or need more information? Let me know if you need anything as you look into All About Reading.

Amanda

says:

Great information. I’ve been letting my son read silently but this is making me realize I should keep having him reading aloud.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Amanda,
There is a place for both. But when students are still learning to read and developing their abilities, it is important to hear them reading aloud for at least a few minutes every day. If you don’t, then you won’t know if they are skipping words, guessing at words, having trouble reading with expression, or other issues. But they can also read silently for pleasure or for additional reading practice.

Susie

says:

Great explanations! Thank you for breaking things down

Andrea

says:

Great article! My child struggles with reading fluency, but it manifests I’m quieter than normal speaking and mumbling, even when he Knows the words.
Any helpful tips for this?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Andrea,
That is a sign that your child lacks confidence in his reading. One thing you can do is build confidence by practicing reading aloud to you daily. Many children that struggle with fluency benefit from rereading the same story two or even three days in a row. You could try that too.

Also make sure you are asking him to read aloud to you from books that are his at his comfortable level. If you are unsure what that is, start with books that you know will be easy. Reading easy books builds confidence and allows children to practice smooth, fluent reading. Then slowly increase the difficulty over time, but don’t move beyond what he is able to read with confidence.

I hope this helps, but let me know if you have additional questions. I’d love to hear how it goes over the next month or two.

Kelly

says:

This was super informative! Thank you for laying out the steps to promote fluency (and reading comprehension). I am so excited to start level 1 with my child and put this into practice to promote success.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was informative for you, Kelly! Let me know if you have questions or need anything at any time.

Cierra

says:

I hadn’t realized where the snag was with my son because he can read and sound out words pretty well, but he reads in such run-on sentences. He never stops for punctuation and adds words when it’s not there. This blog has me seeing I need to start over in a couple areas with him to make sure he’s grasping what he’s reading and not in a race to just spit all the words out.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Cierra! I think you will find our Reading with Expression: 5 Teaching Tips and a Free Printable blog post especially helpful.

Let me know if you have any questions or need anything.

Jesica R

says:

I love that you covered this. It is absolutely important and I feel like I forget this in homeschooling sometimes (moreso around this time of the year)- that It’s not just about moving through the curriculum, but about what they retain, and how that is exactly the reason we chose to homeschool.

Rachel Johnson

says:

Good info. Something my kiddo needs to practice.

Erin

says:

My 10 year old has an IEP for reading fluency. What I read above is exactly her. Making up words, no grouping of words, hard time sounding out words, etc. We have been trying to help her read fluently just by constantly reading aloud, but that does not work and only frustrates her. I definitely believe that something was missed somewhere along the line. Perhaps decoding of words.
Would you suggest starting over completely at level 1 at her age?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Erin,
I recommend using our placement tests to help you determine which level to begin with. She might need to begin with level 1, to become fluent with words at that level, but she may be able to start at a higher level.

Start with the placement test that seems to be on the level she is reading now and have her read the story in the placement test. If she can read that story with fluency, having trouble with only a few words per page, go onto the rest of the placement test. If she struggles to read the story fluently, then move down the previous placement test.

Let me know how it goes or if you need further help with placement.
Robin E.

Iris Albina

says:

Your reading/spelling program is absolutely lovely, if only I could get hold of it! I appreciate the research and work that has gone into it. Through this pandemic, I have been helping my grandson, who is a beautiful slow reader, online, as I am stuck on an island, and he is in British Columbia. Sadly, I cannot get hold of your reading books to be able to work with him in a more efficient manner; they do not seem to be for sale in Canada, and libraries are closed. So I do what I can with what you offer online. Any ideas? Would it be possible for me to download a copy of your readers at Levels 1 and 2?
p.s. I am a retired teacher, having taught French Immersion at the elementary level and English at both the elementary and high school levels.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Iris,
Our materials are available in Canada! We have a number of Canadian distributors. Here is our list:

Canadian Home Education Resources, Calgary, AB
Classical Education Books, Langley, BC
Excellent Resources, Mill Bay, BC
Smarts the Education Store, Celista, BC
Vernon Teach and Learn Ltd, Vernon, BC
Heritage Resources, Carman, MB
Tree of Life School & Book Service Ltd. Weston, NB
The Learning House, St Goderich, ON
LMP Teaching Connections, Regina, SK

We don’t have our materials available beyond our samples.

Karen

says:

What level of All ABout Reading do I start to help an older student with fluency? Also, should All About Spelling be used with All About Reading?
Thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Karen,
We would recommend using our placement tests to determine where to start students. The placement tests for levels 2, 3, and 4 include sample stories for the student to read. Use them to evaluate (without correcting your student) for the following:

– Your student’s ability to decode the words in the story.
– Your student’s ability to comprehend the story.
– Could your student fluently read the story with expression?
– Did your student understand the words from a vocabulary standpoint?

You want your student to be reading fluently with good comprehension before going to a higher level.

As for All About Spelling, we do recommend it using it along with All About Reading. AAS teaches words from the spelling angle and AAR teaches words from the reading angle.

I hope this helps, but please let me know if you have any questions or need more information.

Sally Chancellor

says:

I am so glad audiobooks can count as a good example, my poor voice doesn’t like to read aloud nearly as much as my kids want!

Melissa

says:

Great tips! Can’t wait to try this program. I heard it’s great for dyslexics.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melissa,
Yes! Both All About Reading and All About Spelling are Orton-Gillingham based. This is a proven approach for helping students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Marie Rippel, author and creator of the programs, is a member of the International Dyslexia Association and has instructed graduate-level courses in Orton-Gillingham Literacy Training offered through Nicolet College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. She is also a member of Pro Literacy, has previously served on the Board of Directors of the Literary Task Force in Wisconsin, and tutored students for more than 20 years. Marie’s son is severely dyslexic, and being told by experts that he would never learn to read led directly to her creating All About Reading and All About Spelling. You can see a short video about her son’s story here.

You’ll find our Dyslexia Resources Page helpful.

Please let me know if you need more information or have any questions.

Merysa Cortez

says:

COVID is making online learning difficult so we might be switching to home school. This program looks perfect for learning! Thank you! :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Merysa! Let me know if you have any questions or need anything.

Jennifer Chandler

says:

Thank you for the information about fluency! It really helped me to understand it better.

Erica

says:

Wow, what a cool God thing! I was just having a conversation today with my husband about issues my daughter is having with her phrasing and fluency and how I feel like I am not sure how to help her. This article definitely gives me some new techniques to try and renews my hope. Thanks for your valuable insight!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I love that this was timely and a blessing for you, Erica! I’d love to hear how it goes. Let me know if you have any questions or need more information.

Daniela M

says:

This article was just what I needed to give me pointers for my 2nd grade twins who have difficulty with reading comprehension. They each have their own struggles but this article gives me so many tips on where to start especially since I am considering home school in the fall. The both will benefit from all about reading and spelling too!

Mary

says:

I came here to w tee the giveaway, and ended up reading the article with new ideas to use with our AAR! Thanks to you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Mary! I’m always happy when our articles can be helpful and useful. 😊

Melissa

says:

Thank you for the post!

Auburn

says:

Thanks for some new tips on improving fluency! We love this program and have seen fantastic results with our first reader.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It’s great to hear that our program is working so well for your child, Auburn! 😊

Tjae

says:

Such insightful and meaningful posts!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Tjae!

Sita Greenlee

says:

Wonderful program! Both our kids have developed strong skills throughout both programs! It works for any type of learner.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Sita! It’s great to hear that All About Reading is working so well for your kids. 😊

Kristen D.

says:

The idea of recording themselves reading is awesome! I haven’t thought of doing that. Then they can hear how they are reading. I also like the idea of audio books for the reading time as sometimes I find it hard to get in the reading aloyd time with my other kids needing me too! We just completed level 1 and am so impressed with how well my son can read. Teaching him to read was my greatest fear in homeschooling and AAR was so easy to use and works so well!

Amastasia Kair

says:

My son is 8 finishing 2nd grade and reading magic tree house books. A level M. He still needs help with some words. Im thinking he would be a level 4. I will have him test but what level do you think?
Thank you, Anastasia

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Anastasia,
Our placement tests will be the best way to determine which level to begin with, although many students start enjoying books like the Magic Tree House books after All About Reading level 2 or during AAR 3.

After you do the placement tests, let me know what you found or if you have more questions.

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