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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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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!

Mom

says:

Some helpful reading onfo for you and Ash.
Keep it fun.

Etresia Van Zyl

says:

My almost 9 year old is struggling so much with reading He can spell words and then say the word but just cannot read fluently

Lyn

says:

Please try buddy reading
See my post above regarding my 6 year old great grandson
Good luck
Lyn

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is struggling, Etresia. Here are some tips that can help with building fluency.

Students may need to read a word thirty times before they can read it fluently without having to sound it out. So, just know that some beginning readers do need a lot of practice and review.

The Change-the-Word activities are especially helpful for working on blending and paying attention to ALL sounds in a word. Using Letter Tiles or slips of paper with letters written on them, change one letter at a time, starting with simple 3-sound words like: bat-sat-sit-sip-tip-top…and so on. This can be really helpful for working on consonant blends like st, spr, bl, and so on. You may also find Word Flippers helpful too.

If you are using All About Reading, the Word Cards allow you to track what has been mastered and what still needs work. Keep word cards in daily review until your student can read them easily, without needing to sound them out. Here are some fun review ideas for word cards. The Word cards will stack up as you go–just rotate through a portion for 2-3 minutes each day and then pick up in the book wherever you left off previously. Shuffle the cards occasionally so they are not all in order–that way the student truly gets decoding practice and doesn’t just guess or memorize them in order. And here’s a fun little video explaining what to do when the cards stack up.

The fluency pages can be re-used as well. You might enjoy our 16 Ways to Make Practice Sheets Fun. (And check out the comments as well–lots of fun suggestions in there!)

Students who struggle with fluency will benefit greatly from rereading the same story two or three days in a row to gain fluency and confidence. Buddy Reading can be very powerful in helping students who are in this stage of struggling with fluency.

Rereading the stories will help accomplish these goals:

– Increase word rate
– Improve prosody. Prosody is “expressive reading.” It involves phrasing (grouping words into meaningful phrases), emphasis, and intonation (raising pitch at the end of questions, lowering pitch at the end of sentences)
– Improve automaticity (be able to recognize most words automatically without having to sound them out each time)

You can also do a variation of buddy reading called “echo reading.” You read a few sentences with full expression, and then your child reads the same sentences, matching your expression as close as possible. Do this for approximately five minutes a day, or whatever is a comfortable length of time for your child. Add in lots of praise when your child shows even a bit of improvement.

The “Fun with Emojis” article gives an enjoyable way to work on reading with expression too. This can be a great way to make reading fun that also sneaks in some extra practice from the fluency pages or readers. Check out Reading with Expression for this activity and others.

I hope this helps, but please let me know if you have additional questions or concerns.

Denise

says:

Thanks for this article!

Sarah Gibbs

says:

I think reading to kids is always a great idea

Nanette

says:

Do you have information on how to use the free recording site? Thank you for the encouraging information on how to assist our learning readers.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Nanette,
Smartphones have the ability to record in the camera app, and there are other apps and even computer apps that will record sound or video.

Sharon Field

says:

As a trained Reading Recovery teacher the information in this post is spot on. Thank you for providing this information for everyone. I have found the most important support for children is reading to them and having them read to us. It develops a love of reading and if we share a variety of genres it will help them find the types of books they will enjoy reading on their own.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Sharon!

Prof.Anil S.Patnekar

says:

exellent

Tracy

says:

I love this article! It was one of my biggest struggles with public school prior to withdrawing my daughter. They kept pushing fluency & she couldn’t read. It makes zero sense to work on fluency if a child is still learning to read.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m familiar with this trend, Tracy. The push for fluency and reading speed is a push for kids to simply memorize high-frequency words without giving them the skills they need to be able to read any word they have not seen before. While in the short term it can increase reading, it can have the opposite effect in the long term.

MomKate

says:

These are very helpful. It’s our first time to do homeschool this year. I love the part of teaching vocabulary to my son before asking him to read the story. That strategy helps a lot for him to read, understand and enjoy the story. It amazes me how he loves using the new words that he learned in our everyday conversation and he will say “That’s my big boy word, Mom.” Thank you again

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re very welcome, Kate! And thank you for sharing how the warm-up and pre-reading activities in All About Reading are helping your child do so well with the stories and increasing his vocabulary! It’s wonderful to hear it is working so well.

Njeri

says:

I really like the ideas from your article.I will use them to help some children with reading problems in my class

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will be helpful for your class, Njeri! Let me know if you have questions not covered here.

Angela

says:

What is the age group to start this program with?
I have a 5th grader and her reading is really choppy and she can barely pronounce big words. Will this help with her?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Angela,
Our All About Reading program has been used with students of all ages, even teens and adults!

I do think this program can help your student. Start with our placement tests to see which level she would begin with.

We do have a one-year “Go Ahead and Use It” money-back guarantee. We never want anyone to feel “stuck” with their purchase, and want them to feel free to really try the program. You can see if it will help your student with minimal risk.

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.