What Works for Fluency Instruction
With the instructional principles just described, you can use a variety of strategies to help students develop their fluency. Any strategies you use need to address all three skill sets to meet the definition of fluency. Four proven strategies are listed below. Each of them will help students strengthen and combine their phonics, comprehension, and oral language skills, which means they are effective at helping develop fluency.
Four Sample Strategies for Teaching Fluency
- Guided oral reading
- Choral reading
- Echo reading
- Plays and skits
Guided oral reading: This is the top strategy for helping students develop fluency. It works very well for helping students improve their decoding skills, increase comprehension of the text, and understand how to express the text appropriately.
I described guided oral reading already in the “What Works for Phonics Instruction” section of the previous chapter, but here it is again, with a few additional comments that help tailor this strategy to fluency.
- The student reads aloud to the teacher (or another student), who is listening and reading along silently.
- The teacher makes note of any words on which the student stumbles or demonstrates difficulty with decoding.
- Once the student finishes reading the passage, the teacher helps the student sound out the troublesome words, and together they study those words.
- New for Fluency: The teacher and student discuss the meanings of new words or words that the author may be using in an unfamiliar way. They also discuss the content using higher level questions.
- The teacher and student may read the passage aloud together a few times, which may be followed by more discussion and questions about the content.
- Once the student can correctly decode the troublesome words and demonstrate understanding of the content, the student attempts to read the passage aloud again. This is step one again, and the entire process may be repeated as needed.
As you can see, guided oral reading is a fairly comprehensive strategy that comprises many skills and activities. It is a top recommended strategy for helping students learn to read well.
Choral reading: Choral reading refers to students reading aloud in unison. In many ways, choral reading includes the same steps as guided oral reading, although the attention to individual student errors and the discussion steps may be more limited. However, the major difference between choral reading and guided oral reading is that choral reading is, by definition, a group strategy whereas guided oral reading can be either an individual or small group strategy. You can use choral reading with fiction or nonfiction text, prose or poetry, and dramatic or narrative content.
Choral reading provides three advantages that are not included in “normal” guided oral reading.
- Students can participate in larger groups, even entire classrooms at once.
- With larger groups, you can assign parts to groups of students (but never to individual students). For example, if you have students chorally read a play, several students together can read the words of various characters. For another example, you can have students “dramatically” read alternating lines in a poem.
- Students can incorporate movement into the dramatic expression of the text, which not only increases participation but also gives students another way to analyze and demonstrate their understanding of the text.
For one more advantage, choral reading is useful for second-language learners to understand pacing, expression, and standard pronunciation of words in a safe, fun environment.
At the school where I used to teach many years ago, we held an annual choral reading competition among classrooms. These types of competitions are fairly common. Search YouTube for “Choral Reading Competition,” and you will find some really great examples of what this can look like with your students.
Echo reading: As the name implies, first person reads the text aloud, and then a student reads the same text aloud. The first person can be the teacher or a student. Just make sure that the first person has good fluency. For the student, the value of echo reading is that the student has a role model for what the text should sound like when read aloud.
Many teachers combine echo reading with guided oral reading. As the first step of guided oral reading, the model for reading aloud gives students an understanding of what they are attempting to reproduce.
Plays and skits: Plays and skits have several benefits. They can involve larger groups of students. They require a good understanding of the content, especially character purpose and expression, and they require correct decoding in order to say the lines correctly. One recommendation: if you use plays and skits, make sure you have an audience other than the teacher. This way, it will be more meaningful and provide better motivation for participation and learning.
Using plays and skits to help students develop their fluency works well, but it can be quite time consuming, even if you do not have students try to memorize their parts.
Sample Activities for Fluency
The strategies for fluency already suggest instructional activities that you can use to help students develop their fluency. However, the sample activities listed below provide more detail about what these strategies may look like in action. You may notice that sub-skills are not listed in the following table, which is because fluency does not have sub-skills. On the other hand, each activity you design needs to address the decoding, comprehension, and oral language components of fluency. Each activity should also be designed to incorporate the four principles of fluency instruction.
Sample Activity Types
Guided Oral Reading
Small group choral reading, with discussion of the content, feedback and correction, etc.
Partner reading, with one partner serving as the “teacher”, using a teacher-generated list of questions for discussion
Close reading of brief passages integrated into guided oral reading
Small group oral reading to an audio recorder for the group to analyze, make corrections, and record subsequent attempts
Whole class dramatic oral reading of a poem
Discussion on how to interpret the text, followed by choral reading
Small groups reading aloud a summary they have written about a text
Several small groups reading aloud a section of a larger text following practice (not knowing in advance which sections they will be assigned to read aloud)
Two small groups of students reading aloud to one another, with the second group repeating the same section as the first group, followed by discussion regarding two groups’ interpretations
Teacher reading aloud, with all students repeating the text in the same manner; the teacher may intentionally use an inappropriate rate or expression to prompt discussion
Plays and Skits
This is self-explanatory. One note: if you use this strategy, let the students practice repeatedly and make sure they have an audience other than the teacher or classmates. Make it real!