Our children learn to read in the same way they learn to speak – through observing, modeling and practicing. You can help your child along towards reading fluency with some easy and enjoyable activities, but first you must understand what reading fluency is, and why it is so important in the reading process.

What is reading fluency?

Reading fluency is the ability to read words accurately and rapidly. When fluent readers read aloud, they do so almost effortlessly and with expression. Even when fluent readers read silently, they recognize words automatically and do not spend undue amounts of time trying to decode words. This ability is an important component of reading comprehension (understanding what is read). Children who are not fluent readers read hesitantly and with great effort, struggling to sound out each word. These children spend too much mental energy identifying words, leaving little energy to focus on comprehension. When they reach the end of their reading selection, they have no idea what they have been reading about. All they have accomplished is stringing together a long list of words.

What can I do to help my child become a fluent reader?

Fluency develops gradually with substantial practice, but you can help this process along. Several easy strategies for guiding your child towards increased reading fluency are outlined below. The only materials you will need are books your child enjoys, some type of recording device, and a simple stopwatch to measure your child’s progression in fluency.

Memorize, memorize, memorize!

When your child is just setting out on his journey towards reading fluency, encourage him to memorize short books, poems and chants. Children who memorize something as a beginning reader feel like successful, fluent readers already and are strongly motivated to continue “reading.” In addition, your child can more easily practice using good expression as he reads because the memorized pieces are familiar to him. As he reads these memorized pieces, your child will learn that the rhythm of language, itself, can be enjoyable. Adding motions or dance moves will really help language come alive!

Echo Echo Read

As your child begins to recognize words, help your child to anchor these words into her sight vocabulary (words recognized automatically) through echo reading with her. Initially, read a sentence to your child and have her read it back to you. You may want to encourage your child to run her finger under the words as she reads them. Some children learn best through physically manipulating objects, even the books they read. As your child becomes more adept at reading a sentence back to you, increase the number of sentences you read and she echoes. Pay particular attention to your expression as you read since this is what your child will be modeling back to you. Eventually you can read with your child, allowing your child to set the pace and staying just a beat behind her, still modeling expression but allowing her to read first.

Repeated Readings

All children love games and challenges. Challenge your child to beat his own reading record through repeated readings of the same passage. Follow these steps for a highly motivating and effective strategy to increase your child’s reading fluency.

  1. Choose, or have your child choose, a short selection he enjoys reading. The selection should be between 50 and 200 words in length. This selection should be just difficult enough that your child can read and understand it, but cannot yet read it fluently.
  2. Tape or have your child tape his first oral reading of this passage. Undoubtedly, his reading will be slow and choppy.
  3. Then, ask your child to read the passage several times (at least four) until he is able to read it fluently. You can discuss with your child the analogy of athletes developing their skills by spending considerable time practicing the same basic movements until they develop speed and effortlessness.
  4. Last, tape or have your child tape a final oral reading of the passage. Listen to the difference in fluency between the two readings and celebrate your child’s success!

A variation of this activity is to measure your child’s reading progress by timing the first oral reading of the passage you or your child selected. You can use a stopwatch to time your child’s actual first reading attempt or you can time the tape recording of the first reading. After your child has read the passage several times, time your child reading the passage again and cheer about how much time he cut off his reading! Time your child’s readings in seconds, and your child will really be amazed at the time difference! Make a special reading medal and award your child’s accomplishment.

Reading fluency is as important to reading comprehension as being able to decode the words. With a little practice, your child will be well on her way to becoming a fluent reader and will relish the time you have spent with her. In the process, you will also model for your child the importance of reading. Happy reading!