TRT Podcast#20: 3 Tips for improving fluency
How can we help struggling readers build fluency?
In this episode you will
- learn how to teach what it means to be a fluent reader
- discover the best texts for students to use when partner reading
- learn what texts help students build fluency during independent reading
Listen to the episode here
Full episode transcript
You are listening to episode 20, 3 Tips For Improving Fluency. Welcome to the seventh episode in our Struggling Readers series.
Last week, we talked about what to do when kids don't remember what they read. Today, we're going to talk about improving reading fluency.
Fluency, as you know, has three parts. It's the ability to read accurately at an appropriate speed with proper expression. So often our learners, and sometimes their teachers, think that fluent reading means reading fast, but fluency is our bridge to comprehension. And in fact, sometimes (particularly when we're reading a challenging piece of nonfiction), fluent reading actually means slowing down to help us understand. There's a lot we can do to help our learners improve their fluency. And today I'm going to share three tips.
Number one, be explicit about what it means to read fluently. In other words, model fluent reading and talk about what it is about your reading that makes it fluent. A great time to do this is during shared reading. So you have a large text that you're using together with your students, you model reading it and then you talk to your students about what it is that you did to make that reading clear. For example, you can call attention to punctuation and talk about how you adjusted the way that you read based on those punctuation marks. Or you can call attention to dialogue and talk about how you adjusted your speaking based on who was talking in the story.
Another time to explicitly teach what it means to be a fluent reader is when you're reading aloud to your students. When you're reading something challenging, talk about why you slowed down. So perhaps you're reading something in a science or social studies text. It was an advanced concept and so you slowed down as you read it to your students. Talk about why you did that.
This can just happen naturally in your day as well. Imagine that you have a piece of equipment in your classroom that's not working properly. You pull out the instruction book and you read it slowly so you can figure out what's wrong. Or if you didn't understand, you read it again. Talk to your students about why you did those things so they can understand that's what fluent readers do. They monitor their comprehension and adjust their reading rate accordingly. So, that's one thing you can do to help readers improve their fluency is to be explicit about fluent reading.
Number two is to use partner reading for oral reading fluency. Partner reading is when you have two students, they may be at about the same reading level, taking turns, reading a text. And I believe that there are so many benefits to partner reading, but the best reason is it gets students to read more. That's what they need, time to read. Partner reading helps them improve their word attack skills, builds comprehension and increases fluency.
It also increases engagement. They enjoy it, so they do it more, which means their fluency improves. I recommend doing partner reading regularly rather than hit or miss. You can have the whole class doing partner reading at once, or you can make it be a learning center that kids do several times a week. If you're wondering about the logistics of all this, I spell it all out in a mini-course, inside The Measured Mom Plus, my membership site for pre-K through third grade educators. And in that mini course, I explain when to do partner reading, how to choose partners, what kids should read when they're partner reading, ways they can read, how to get them to talk about what they're reading, and how to manage partner reading so it doesn't get too loud or out of control.
In this podcast episode, though, we're just going to focus on one of those things. I want to talk about what kids should read when they're reading with a partner. I recommend texts that easily lend themselves to people taking turns. So while they can certainly take turns reading pages of a chapter book or picture book, it's ideal if you can find texts that work especially well.
So, for young readers, books that have a lot of speech bubbles, for example, The Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems are great for partner reading. Poetry works really well. They can take turns reading lines or verses. There's a really good book series called I Read To You, You Read To Me. It has a lot of silly tales, usually fables or fairytales that are read in a partner rhyming fashion.
My very favorite reading materials, though, for developing fluency with partner reading are Reader's Theater Scripts and partner plays. So, Reader's Theater is when you have a bunch of children reading together, usually four to five parts, so that might not work as well for partner reading, but what works really well are Partner Plays. And those are plays with just two individual parts. And so students can practice reading it multiple times and they can take turns reading each of the parts. Rereading text is so important for building fluency and it can be hard to find texts that kids want to read over and over again.
Partner Plays really help with that, especially when they're fun. Inside The Measured Mom plus I've been sharing a variety of partner plays. Last I checked there were at least nine sets. Each set has three different plays in different levels, so you can use one set for your whole class, but assign different plays depending on the reading level of the pair. I highly recommend checking those out if you're in The Measured Mom Plus. If not, it's worth checking out the membership just to check out those partner plays, and you can learn more at themeasuredmomplus.com.
My final tip is to help students choose texts that will build fluency as they read on their own. Now, in this case, they may or may not be reading aloud depending on their level, but you can still find texts to support their fluency. Emergent readers, our very first readers, benefit from reading texts with a pattern. This is my hat. This is my coat. This is my scarf. Move ahead a little bit and early readers build fluency by reading texts with repeating sentences and phrases. So, the whole book doesn't follow a pattern, but there may be repetition within the book. And as students grow in their reading ability, they really benefit from reading series books.
For young readers, this may be Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant. As they get older, we have The Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. Eventually they can move to more challenging chapter books like The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne or Cam Jansen by David Adler. And then, build on those to more and more advanced chapter books. As for why series books are good for building reading fluency, I'm going to share a quote with you from the book practical fluency, which I will link to in the show notes. "Series books provide students with similar background knowledge. Students learn how a character acts, talks, and reacts while reading a series of texts. Students become comfortable with a writer's style, know the setting and how to follow the plot structure. Students use this background knowledge to read fluently."
Those are my top three tips for improving reading fluency with kids who are struggling. You want to be explicit about what it means to be a fluent reader through your modeling and talking about it. You want to make sure that your students have a chance to read out loud together. Partner reading is ideal. I know if you're listening to this in real time, we are in COVID-19 and this may not be possible, but if your students are learning at home, you can certainly send partner plays home for them to read with a parent or sibling. And it's possible kids could do partner reading over Zoom or FaceTime. Finally, the third tip was that you should make sure that students have books that lend themselves to building fluency when they're reading on their own. Those types of book will vary depending on the reader's level, but emergent readers benefit from pattern books, early readers benefit from books that have repeating phrases. And then our more advanced readers benefit from reading series books.
If you are looking for early chapter books series, I have an amazing blog post. It took me six months to put it together and it's got over 250 early chapter books series with reviews on them, reading levels, it will really help you find the right early chapter book series for your struggling reader. I will provide a link to that post as well in the show notes, which you can find at themeasuredmom.com/episode20.
Thanks so much for listening and I'll be here next week to share with you our final episode for helping struggling readers. It's all about helping kids who don't like to read. I'll talk to you then.
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Resources and links mentioned in this episode
- How to be successful with partner reading from The Measured Mom Plus
- Ultimate guide to early chapter book series
- Reader’s theater scripts
- Practical Fluency, by Max Brand & Gayle Brand
- Great books for partner reading: