Setting Students up for Fluent Reading

Supporting our students with becoming fluent readers is vital to improving their comprehension of texts.  Our job is to help our readers use appropriate intonation, pay attention to punctuation marks, and read words together in meaning phases.  We do not want our readers to sound like reading is a lot of laborious work. Fluency will only improve with intentional and explicit teaching on the teacher’s part. 

Increase volume of reading

We start off each Reading Recovery lesson by having our students re-read familiar books.  This is a great place to increase the volume of texts read during a lesson. During this invaluable time, our students experience several opportunities for high success reading. In Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals, Marie Clay (2016) writes that our students should read 2-3 familiar books and even more when they are at earlier levels (p. 112).

Years ago, I watched a webcast featuring teacher leader Pam Grayson. She recommended that we have students read 3 types of books during their five minute familiar read time:

  • An “easy” book
  • A “getting better” book
  • A “work in progress” book

She also recommended that we keep track of how many words per minute a student reads during the familiar read time.  We can then track the words per minute over time to be sure that the number of words is increasing.

When students move into higher levels teachers sometimes find that their student is not able to finish reading the new book.  This should prompt us to find out where we are losing time?  Are we spending too much time on isolated word work?  Are we doing too much talking during the reading of the new book? Are we setting the student up for fluent reading during the new book orientation?

Teach for fast efficient problem-solving

Our readers need to solve words quickly and efficiently on the run.  If students are spending a lot of time decoding and figuring out words they often lose sight of the meaning behind what they are reading. If our students aren’t able to do this quick problem solving we can check to see:

  • Are they always solving in a left to right manner?
  • Are they able to read words flexibility in larger chunks?
  • Can they make connections to other words they know?
  • Are they doing the problem-solving work or is the teacher doing it for them?

Be picky about interrupting

If a teacher is constantly interrupting when a word is misread, the student’s reading will definitely slow down.  The child will also not have the opportunity to hear what it sounds like to read smoothly.  It is more beneficial to wait until the end of the sentence or even the end of the page.  This will also allow opportunities for the child to do his/her own self-monitoring.  

Are We Providing Scaffolds or Swooping in for the Rescue?

Teach for all dimensions of fluency

When prompting for fluency do you find yourself saying, “read this quickly”, “move your eyes quickly so that you can put more words together” or “read this like I do”? Prompts along these lines relate to the pace or speed of reading. We have to work flexibly with our prompting language to refect all of the six dimensions of fluency.  Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell (2009) identify the six dimensions of fluency as:

  1. Pausing
  2. Phrasing
  3. Intonation
  4. Stress
  5. Pace
  6. Integration

We can have our students listen to themselves read and self-monitor how they sound.  In order to self-monitor, students will need a lot of modeling and guided practice and demonstrations of what they should attend to (punctuation, typographical emphases such as bold or italicized words).

Attend to language structures

It is helpful to teach students to put certain words together in phrases.  For example,

assigned dialogue – “said Baby Bear”.

Names – Mother Bear

It is helpful to not only let the student hear the phrases but also to see the phrases in their book.  You might use your fingers or masking cards to show your student the phrases in the text.

With unfamiliar or unusual language structures let your student hear you say the phrase and also have him/her rehearse the phrase a few with you.

Keep the focus on meaning

Provide a book orientation that allows the student to understand the gist of the story.  As you hand the book over to the student to begin reading make a statement that brings them back to the meaning of the story as a whole and gets them thinking and motivated to read.  For example, As you are finishing the book orientation you could say, “I can’t wait to hear you read about all of the things Cookie did on each day of the week.”

To keep the focus on meaning as the child is reading you may want to ask a leading question or make a statement as the child turns the page such as,  “what does he do next?”  or “I wonder what he will get into next.”

Pay attention to high-frequency words

If students are consistently doing a lot of work on high-frequency words due to slow recall, appealing and receiving tolds, and/or making frequent self-corrections this will slow down the reading.  You may want to create a deck of flashcards to do with your students.  The flashcard deck can contain some known high-frequency words and a high-frequency word that you want to make more well-known written on several different cards. BUT if you are already doing flashcards to help with word automaticity and a student is still missing the words in text something else needs to be done to help with high-frequency words.  You can refer to the following pages in Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals.

  • Extending word knowledge p. 69
  • Extending writing vocabulary p. 88
  • When it is hard to remember p. 176

You may also want to read the following blog posts:

The Role of Visual Perception in Word Learning

Making Word Learning Memorable

In summary

Disfluent reading leads to less reading because it feels like hard work.  When students read less they have fewer opportunities to increase their vocabulary, improve their automaticity with words, and fewer opportunities for active problem-solving. It is not sufficient to tell our readers to “read this part faster”.  We have to plan for the specific fluency needs that of each of our students.  

Click on the following links if you want to read more on the topic of fluency.

4 Effective Ways to Improve Fluency

The Six Dimensions of Fluency

The Power of Fluency: What it is and How to Teach For It


Clay, M. M. (2001). Change Over Time in Children’s Literacy Development. Auckland: Heinemann.

Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2009).  When Readers Struggle: Teaching That Works. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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