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Fluency in Upper Elementary

Fluency is the ability to read with speed, accuracy, expression, smoothness, and meaning – all at a good pace.  Wow, that’s a lot to consider for students – no wonder fluency takes practice, practice, and more practice!  But practice students must, because when students can finally read fluently, it comes with BIG advantages.

Why is Fluency Important in the Upper Elementary Grades?


We’ve all heard that it’s important – but when you really unpack all that fluency has to offer students, you realize just how important it is.  After we unpack these together, you’ll be rushing back to your classroom to implement good fluency practice right away!


Fluency is important because:


  1. It improves upon a variety of reading tools.  Good fluency helps a reader’s ability to decode, comprehend, and read with confidence! Those are big gains for students.  Let’s remember the reason for reading: to comprehend and enjoy a text.  When students are reading with fluency, they are more easily able to comprehend exactly what they are reading. It’s here where students begin to read for information and/or enjoyment.  This is the very essence of reading!  Furthermore, fluency encourages confidence in readers.  Readers equipped with confidence will read more and become more excited about reading.  Confidence also helps readers tackle hardships and struggles and overcome them.  In short – fluency is the key to get students to read for information and read with great confidence!


  2. It bridges the gap between decoding words and comprehending.  When students read with expression, with smoothness, and at a natural pace, they are able to focus on the meaning of the texts, which is the ultimate goal of reading.  Students with reading confidence can then focus on a variety of literary elements as they make their way through a novel or soak up information for a research essay.


  3. It encourages students to then read in an engaging way.  This means to read with expression, smoothness, and in a way that sounds natural.  When fluency is mastered (that is, reading with accuracy and automaticity with little effort), students can focus on how they sound as they read aloud.  They can work on reading with inflection and expression as they change voices with character dialogue.  Good fluency also means that they can begin to practice reading in a way that sounds natural – not too fast or too slow and using appropriate voice depending on the type of text.

Of course, by the upper elementary grades it’s our hope that this is happening in our classroom and “clicking” with our students.  If you find that this isn’t happening with some students, it’s time to direct our focus on fluency.  But how do we do that?  Here are 5 ways teachers can support upper elementary students who are struggling with fluency (or may just need a bit more practice and support).

5 Ways to Support Upper Elementary Students in Fluency

fluency activities to support your upper elementary students
  •  Teacher Modeling
    • Make sure that you do one (or several!) read alouds daily.  If time is tight, sticking to one will still be wildly beneficial to your students.
    • Model what fluent reading looks like:
      • Add expression
      • Pause at punctuation (and point out different punctuation as you go along)
      • Read smoothly
      • Chunk words to make phrases
      • Speak naturally and ensure that you’re using a “just right” pace for the specific text you’re reading
    • Use a variety of genres.  Reading different types of text provides an opportunity to change up the pace and expression.  
      • For example, if you’re doing a poetry unit, you might model that a melancholy poem might be read with a sad tone and slow pace.  Alternatively, you may read a book and speed up your pace and read with great inflection when it gets to the climax.  All of these aspects are a large part of the fluency puzzle.
  • Small Groups
    • Small groups are a great time to hone in on specific fluency skills you’d like to teach your students.  Small group work is key for when you want to deliver effective instruction to a specific set of students based upon need.  Fluency is no exception! 
    • If one group is having a difficult time pausing at punctuation, for example, grab that set of students and work on pausing and chunking during guided reading times.
    • Reader’s Theatre is a great way to encourage expression while teaching fluency.  You can encourage your students to use emotion as they act out a scene, change their tone of voice depending on what’s happening in the story, use fluctuation, emphasize different words or phrases (This is known as intonation and stress.)  Readers can also use this opportunity to speak naturally and read with great expression and rhythm to extend the meaning of the text – otherwise known as prosody.
  • Fluency Centers
    • These are a great way to encourage independent fluency work with kids
    • At these centers, kids can:
      • Listen to recorded readings that model good fluency (these can be your own recordings or a particularly good audiobook).
      • Record their own stories as they read aloud.  This is a particularly fun one because the students can then play the recordings back to see how they sound.  When students are able to hear their own voice and how they read, they are better able to see what they need to work on.
      • Change recordings based upon inflection and tone.
        • For example: students can say, “I see a cat” and say it in different ways. They can say it sounding scared, sad, silly, happy, angry, or surprised.  This is a particularly fun activity for kids as they test out different tones of voice!
  • Partner Activities
    • Paired Reading: Teachers can match up students early in their understanding of fluency with a student who is more advanced in their fluency.  This way, the student who needs a bit more practice has it modeled for them by a peer.
    • Reading Buddies: This requires participation from a younger class and is a great way to encourage confidence in your older readers.  Plus, it requires participation from your students and lets them know they need to know what they’re doing!  All older students are paired up with a younger student.  As they read them a story, they model all of the aspects of fluency.  Not only is this a great confidence booster and helps them feel important, it’s also great for the younger kids to have an older student model this for them.
  • Independent Reading
    • This is so important for students because as students make their way through middle school grades, a great majority of the reading they do for a class is likely to be done independently.  The more practice they get with this, the better.  Set up designated times daily for students to read independently to improve on accuracy, speed, expression, pace, and smoothness (yep, all of those aspects!) 
    • Consider assessing your students on a frequent basis with one minute timed reading sessions.  Setting up conferences is a good idea as well so that you can give them individual and specific feedback.  During these conferences, tell them aspects of fluency they’ve got down and parts they still need work on.  Setting goals during these conferences is important so that the students have something to work towards.  It also serves as a great time to review fluency skills.

Incorporating Fluency Into Your Classroom

incorporating fluency into your classroom

If you’re wanting to learn even more about incorporating fluency into your classroom, check out My Fluency Files, which will help engage your students and increase their fluency levels.  You’ll also want to check out my Fluency Passages page where you can find fluency passages for a variety of grade levels.  These are amazing for small group sessions because you can choose from varying levels based upon your student needs!  And speaking of student needs, you can provide your students with awesome fluency toolkits that will ramp up their fluency game!

Remember, the goal with these activities is to get students to become confident readers who successfully comprehend what they’re reading while reading fluently.  Incorporating these activities into your week will lead to fluent reading and will bridge the gap between reading the words on the page to reading them for information – the ultimate goal!

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Aylin Claahsen

Providing resources and support to engage all readers.

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Hi, I'm Aylin!

I’m so happy you’re here! I’m a certified reading specialist who loves talking all things literacy. I have a huge passion for providing resources and support to engage all readers!


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