4 Effective Ways to Improve Fluency

As I mentioned in my previous post fluency is not all about the rate or pace of reading.  To best support our students with fluency learning we need to consider all 6 dimensions of fluency.  One of my favorite resources to go to when I’m thinking about teaching for fluency is When Reader’s Struggle: Teaching That Works.  This book contains explicit prompting and examples of how to use the suggested prompting during lessons.

when readers struggle

“Fluency is almost always an issue when working with struggling readers.  Most have a long history of dysfluent reading.  Day after day, they have read texts that are too difficult; their reading is characterized by stops and starts, repetition, appealing to the teacher (if present), and skipping words (if the teacher is not present).  They do not reap the reward of constructing meaning:  consequently, they become disengaged and unmotivated.”

If we want our students to have meaningful interactions with texts and to foster a love for reading we have to make teaching for, prompting for, and reinforcing fluency a priority.  We have to help our students improve how they sound when they are reading right now during this very lesson because we can’t allow habitual slow laborious reading to continue.

1.  Get that finger out of there!

How many of you have worked with students in levels  F, H, even level K who are still pointing to each word as they read?  If the student keeps their finger in it becomes an ingrained habit that is difficult to break.  When students point word by word most likely their reading will sound word by word.  Once a student demonstrates secure left to right directionality and one to one matching have them take their finger out.  If one to one match goes off on a page they can always put their finger back in to work through the problem and then take it back out.  If you feel your student needs a scaffold that leads to taking their finger completely out have them temporarily slide their finger under the words or put their finger at the beginning of each line.  Demonstrate for students how they can use their eyes to track print and to group words together into meaningful phrases.  You can show a clear demonstration of what their eyes should look at through showing groups of words placing your two index fingers, blank index cards or small pieces of a 1″ cut-up sentence strip around a few words at a time.  Marie Clay also suggests a procedure in which you slide a card left to right to “move eyes faster ahead of the voice”.

The layout of this text supports fluency by grouping words into meaningful phrases.


Use masking strips to show your student phrased groups. 


Use the masking strips to show, “I don’t think so,” / laughed Miss Horn.

2.  Think Carefully About Book Selection

Students will have the most opportunity for fluent reading on books that are familiar reads or easy for them.  At their instructional level, students should not be expected to sound perfectly fluent but should have a lot of fluent reading with some slowdowns.  If students are continuously reading books that they labor through because the books are too difficult for them they will continue to sound dysfluent.   Fountas and Pinnell state that if you are teaching for fluency with all of your students, your struggling readers should sound just as fluent as your on grade level readers.

When choosing books for your lessons look at the features of the text.  Look for books with:

  • dialogue
  • a meaningful storyline
  • words already grouped in meaningful phrases (early leveled texts)
  • predictable oral language

To support students that have struggled with fluency in my one on one sessions I have helped to make a book sound fluent during their familiar reading time through demonstrations and repeated readings.  After I am satisfied that the book sounds “easy” or “smooth” I put a sticky note on the cover of the book that says, “sounds smooth”.   I then use this book as a benchmark book to measure the way other books sound.  I help my students to work toward having their familiar, easy books sound as smooth as that book.

3.  Address Fluency Before, During, and After Lesson

During your book introduction have students rehearse how they will sound at a question mark or how they will change their voice for a bold word.  Put unusual language structures in their ear by modeling for the students how it will sound and then have them rehearse it.  During the lesson be responsive.  Don’t expect perfect fluency in the new book, but if you hear reading where fluency could be supported go for it.  Some people feel that they need to wait until they can create a  special time where they can pull together a group of students who all need to work on fluency.  This isn’t necessary.  The moment you hear dysfluent reading that is hampering the meaning of the book swoop in to provide the student with support.  Look for a shift in their reading fluency after your teaching during that same lesson! After the lesson, bring your students back to a particular page where you can model and then have them practice one of the six dimensions of fluency.

4.  Provide Opportunities for Easy Reading

After students have become familiar with their new books have them take these books home to read with their families.  Have a browsing basket available that holds all of the books that they have read with you or any books that would be easy for them to read.  Students can choose what to read from their browsing basket during their literacy center time.  I have found that young students especially love to read their browsing basket books with a partner.

I hope that I have conveyed the sense of urgency we should have in regards to teaching for fluency.  If not I’ll reiterate one more time.  It’s up to us to intervene quickly and break the habit of dysfluent reading as soon as possible.  We should expect all of our students to read fluently starting at approximately level C whether they are a struggling reader or not.


3 thoughts on “4 Effective Ways to Improve Fluency

  1. Pingback: The Six Dimensions of Fluency – Literacy Pages

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s