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5 Simple Strategies to Improve Reading Fluency

Fluency is a major part of a reader’s journey and because it’s so important, I’m giving you 5 simple strategies to improve reading fluency to use with your students. Before diving into these strategies, let’s chat about why you should focus on fluency from the start of the school year. When talking about students’ reading fluency, keep in mind that these strategies are for all learners. If you think fluency practice is just for upper elementary students, think again! 

Whether you’re teaching kindergartners or working in a 5th grade classroom – fluency needs to be a focus. Let’s take a quick look at the differences between early readers and upper elementary readers, when it comes to fluency. While the focus differs slightly, there are a variety of strategies to improve reading fluency, that will lead to significant gains in fluency, based on the student’s ability. 

A good way to help an early reader become a more fluent reader is through a teacher model of fluent reading. Teacher modeling, partner reading between a stronger reader and a less fluent reader, or encouraging family members to model reading fluency are all different ways to help young readers improve their fluency. An engaging way to model reading fluency is with nursery rhymes, a short passage, or during a read aloud. These examples of fluent reading provide non-fluent readers with a specific goal. They will want to sound like the fluent readers. Younger students can then begin applying their understanding of fluency by starting small with letters and words in isolation. For example, a great way to focus on fluency for early readers is with practicing fluently stating letter names, letter sounds, sight words, individual words, and short sentences. 

This is all in comparison to older students who are reading more independently. These fluent readers can improve poor fluency by focusing on actual texts. The best way to focus on fluency with older students is with repeated reading of reading passages. The passages should be at a student’s independent reading level so they aren’t having difficulty reading the text. This way, they can instead focus on accuracy, pace, expression, smoothness, and comprehension skills. Fluency development can directly impact reading comprehension and understanding the meaning of the text. If students struggle with the actual reading of words and sentences, it is challenging to understand what was read. As we know, comprehension is truly the ultimate goal of reading. If students’ reading fluency and their understanding of meaning of texts is solid, they will feel successful in many key areas of their schooling. The most effective way to help students become stronger readers is to get them to apply reading fluency strategies to short passages. As students develop their reading fluency skills, the important skill of comprehension and the ability to understand the meaning of the text will greatly improve. Ok, let’s keep this fluency focus going and dive into strategies to improve reading fluency!

5 Reasons to Focus on Fluency

5 simple strategies to improve reading fluency
  1. To improve accuracy – Students who pay attention to each word and decode it correctly are students who are working on accuracy.  Students who have a solid foundation in phonemic awareness and phonics will have an easier time accomplishing accuracy while reading.

  2. To read at a natural pace – When students read too slow or too fast, it can be difficult to understand the meaning of the piece.  Students who read at a natural pace (not too slow or too quick) are able to not only sound better while reading, but will more readily grasp the passage’s meaning.

  3. To read with expression – Students who read with expression make the text interesting and nuanced.  When a text is more interesting, students will be more likely to be interested in it and able to better understand it.

  4. To improve comprehension – Students who can easily decode and therefore become accurate in their reading and fluent have an easier time comprehending a text.  This is because their brain isn’t working so hard to figure out all of the words.  When they’re reading with fluency, they’re able to comprehend the piece much more easily than a student who’s reading is choppy and disconnected.

  5. To build confidence – When students sound more mature in their reading, they’re able to have the confidence to read in front of others.  Reading at a good pace and with accuracy and expression gives readers great confidence.

And speaking of confidence, this part is essential for struggling readers.  When you have a reader who wants to sound professional when they read but just aren’t getting there, a focus on fluency can help them greatly. Additional support to discuss how fluent reading sounds, how to use proper expression, improve a reading rate, along with student practice, will help students reach specific goals with fluency. When we focus on these five aspects of fluency with our struggling readers, they too can learn to sound like their classmates who already show how a fluent reader sounds. Even focusing on one of these fluency aspects at a time will give them confidence to try another and then another!

5 Strategies for reading Fluency

strategies to improve reading fluency
  1. Be a good model – Teacher friends, this part is so essential to oral reading fluency, especially for our struggling readers.  And, as we know, anything we want our students to learn and pick up on must be modeled to them first.  Modeling is key in your fluency instruction.  During your read aloud time, be sure to model what it sounds like to be a fluent reader.  There’s no need to focus on all aspects of fluency all at once. Instead, choose one and have the students listen for that one specifically. If you choose to focus on expression, ask the students to listen for changes in your voice, inflections, and certain tones you use throughout the story.  At the same time, it’s also okay to model bad fluency, as sometimes non-examples are just as helpful! Read more about Fluency During Your Read Aloud.

  2. Set up fluency centers – Now these can be a ton of fun!  Students can record themselves doing repeated readings and hear the playback on devices.  There’s something really effective about a student hearing themselves read.  Much like a musician records their songs and plays them back for improvement, readers can hear themselves read and see where they can do better.  We often don’t notice if we’re speaking or reading too fast, too slow, or reading with expression. But when students remove themselves from the actual moment of reading and take a listen to themselves, they’re better able to critique themselves and see where they can improve in their oral reading fluency.  Students can do this with poems, fiction, nonfiction, passages, or authentic texts.  Just be sure that whatever genre they choose, the text should be at an independent reading level and not frustrating for them.  Have struggling readers? No problem – simply have them listen to recorded readings of fluent readers! Recorded readings is a wonderful fluency practice for students. Read all about Fluency Centers and Fluency Toolkits!

  3. Make the most of small group – We know how coveted small group time is with your students, especially those struggling readers.  The good news is that if you’re being explicit in your instruction, then you’ll have plenty of time to get in all you need to fit into that short amount of time.  No matter what you’re working on in small group, you can begin your time together with a fluency warm up.  This can simply be a re-reading of a text for a few minutes to get everyone started.  Each small group lesson for that week, you can focus on a different aspect of fluency.  By week’s end, you’ll have an example of a smooth and polished passage, plus a week’s worth of work on students’ reading fluency. Read more about how to use small group time to set fluency goals!

  4. Do some choral reading – In choral reading a group of students reads the same passage together in unison.  Now, this can not only sound a bit drab – but if you choose a mediocre and uninteresting passage, it can actually be drab.  But never fear!  One of the most fun ways to do choral reading is with Reader’s Theater.  Reader’s Theater is great for practicing fluency – specifically expression.  Because of the different roles and the amount of dialogue, there’s plenty of opportunity for students to practice reading with expression, good inflection, and at a natural pace.  This also improves oral reading fluency, as students are “forced” to either speed up or slow down during the reading.   You can also choose to do some echo reading,If you’re looking for some fun Reader’s Theater activities, check them out below!

  5. Use independent activities – Do quick 1:1 informal assessments with timed reading (my Reading Fluency Timed Practice sheets are perfect for your early readers).  You can also use my free Fluency Passages for K-2 and, if you teach the upper grades, my free Fluency Passages for 3rd-5th graders as well!

Fluency Resources to Use All Year

I’ve spent many years working with struggling readers trying to help all students reach their optimal reading success and improve their fluency skills.  Through these years, I’ve created resources that have a specific focus on all aspects of students’ reading fluency.  Teachers love using these activities and resources in small groups, for literacy centers, one on one work, or to even send home for extra practice.  Check out all of these resources that are sure to improve your fluency instruction! Using these resources and the simple strategies to improve reading fluency, will lead to success for your students.

  • Fluency Passages Packs

    • These fluency packs, for Kindergarten to 5th Grade, have a variety of levels to choose from so all your students can find success.  Comprehension pages are included with each passage. You’ll also find fluent reader reminder posters, data tracking pages, and fluent reader awards. Students read through their copy, working on all aspects of fluency while you score their reading on your own copy.  This entire system will make focusing on fluency in your classroom simple!

  • The Fluency Files

    • This is my popular fluency course and toolkit that can take your readers from robot reading to fluent reading in no time.  Perfect for all students whether below grade level, or above, The Fluency Files create confidence in your readers, teach them how to read fluently, and cover all aspects of fluency all in one sweep.  I provide lots of ideas for focusing on fluency without spending hours of prep time!

  • Reader’s Theatre

    • Get ready for some fun!  These Reader’s Theater passages are the perfect way to focus on the expression and pace aspects of fluency.  They not only help students become better readers, but also help them with phonics, comprehension, and confidence.  The best aspect about this resource is that these plays are decodable, so they’re perfect for even beginning and struggling readers.  And because they follow my scope and sequence, you can choose which passages to use based upon the reading levels of your students!  These Reader’s Theater passages are so great for getting the students up and moving about the classroom, as well as speaking in front of others!

  • Kindergarten and 1st Grade Fluency Activities

    • These fluency activities are perfect for progress monitoring!  They work on Letter Name Fluency, Letter Sound Fluency, Phoneme Segmentation Fluency, and Nonsense Word Fluency.  If you teach the early grades of elementary school, these will help you.  You’ll get practice pages for informal assessments, teacher tracking pages, student tracking pages with self assessment and goal evaluation, as well as additional practice pages for small groups or independent work

  • Seasonal Fluency Passages and Activities

    • These fun seasonal passages will have your students focusing on fluency all year long!  They are great for small groups, literacy centers, or independent work.  Students will focus on all aspects of fluency (accuracy, expression, pace, smoothness, and comprehension).  Included are fluency passages, a poem, and a Reader’s Theater play, as well as comprehension questions, repeated readings, scooping phrases, and nonsense phrases, Change Your Voice, and I Have, Who Has?

Fluency is an all-encompassing aspect of reading.  With so many aspects of it, it can feel overwhelming for both students and teachers alike.  Where to start, and how to prep it?  My hope is that I can provide you with the tools you need to make your readers fluent.  There’s nothing like that feeling of hearing a student read smoothly, with expression, accuracy, and at a good pace.  They sound like true readers at this point!  All of these activities will help your students get there, and have fun while doing it!

Aylin Claahsen

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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