We all know a fluent reader when we hear one. We enjoy listening to a story or poem when it is well phrased, paced, and read with ease. A fluent reader has control of the reading process; her reading sounds natural and more like speaking. A less fluent reader struggles and often reads very slowly, word by word (Armbruster et al., 2001).
What it means
Fluency is an important factor in gaining control over the reading process. Less fluent readers focus their attention on decoding and sounding out words, often without understanding what they are reading. Fluent readers are able to:
- Recognize words automatically
- Group individual words into meaningful phrases
- Apply quick strategies to read unknown words
Fluent readers read accurately and quickly, but accuracy does not mean reading perfectly (Armbruster et al., 2001). When fluent readers make mistakes that interrupt meaning, they are able to detect and correct those mistakes.
Like all other reading skills, fluency develops through reading, reading, and more reading. Even very skilled readers may read slowly and struggle with unfamiliar words or topics. During the earliest stages of reading development, children's reading is expected to be slower and less fluent. Children learn to decode words by using their knowledge of sounds, the context of the story, or the words they know by sight. Our youngest readers will respond to simple texts that sound like their natural, oral language.
What to look for
Fluency can be observed when children read books that are matched to their abilities. For children to gain confidence, reading aloud should become a regular part of your work together. As you work with children, look for their abilities to reread or retell a story with appropriate pacing, inflection, and intonation.
How to support learning
Children become fluent readers by reading and listening to fluent readers. Children need to reread familiar books and read new books leveled to their abilities. Just as important, children need to listen to books read aloud with natural intonation, rhythm, and pacing.
1. Creating Favorites
- Rereading favorite books is not only a great way for children to build fluency; it is also a wonderful way to create a library of stories to remember. As children reread familiar books, invite them to tape record their stories. Children love to share their tapes with others.
2. Reader's Theater
- Invite children to act out a favorite story. Have each child play the role of a character while the tutor acts as the narrator. Remember that you are not asking children to memorize lines, but rather to read and reread to achieve greater fluency. Children will enjoy performing stories for other children, teachers, and families.
3. Poetry and Finger Plays
- Classic children's poems, nursery rhymes, and finger plays help children learn to read with expression and ease. Read a favorite rhyme such as "Hickory Dickory Dock." The first time you recite the rhyme, do so quickly in a very flat manner with unnatural pauses. Children will eagerly join in and say the rhyme the "right" way.
- ABC I Like Me by Nancy L. Carlson
- Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions by Margaret Musgrove
- Dr. Seuss's ABC by Dr. Seuss
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr., and John Archambault
- The Calypso Alphabet by John Agard
- Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables From A to Z by Lois Ehlert
For more information, see the LEARNS website for this article and bibliographical references at www.nwrel.org/learns/feature/index.html.