Grab a book of funny poems and try this simple activity to improve reading fluency!
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A number of years ago, when I was much younger (and thinner), I had the privilege of tutoring a struggling reader as part of my work for a graduate course. At over six feet tall, Mike towered over my 5’2″ self. (Size was apparently in the family, as his older brother played professional football for for the Seattle Seahawks.)
Mike was a nice kid, but engaging him was difficult. As a 16-year-old reading at a second grade level, he’d lost his confidence long ago.
That’s why I was thrilled when my co-teacher and I found a reading activity that he actually enjoyed.
One of Mike’s biggest reading problems was his lack of fluency. He stumbled over words and couldn’t quite get that “rhythm” that a good reader has without even thinking about it.
Enter… funny poems.
How to improve reading fluency with poetry
It’s been too many years for me to remember the exact poem, but I pulled out a favorite from Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic. Then we simply took turns reading.
I read a line.
He repeated it, stumbling.
I read the line again.
He repeated it, still stumbling, but not as much.
I read it again.
He was starting to get it now.
I read it one more time.
Hee read it fluently.
Soon I was reading pairs of lines, and he was repeating both of them after me. I will never forget this big, tough teenager and the awe he felt at hearing himself read smoothly and clearly. “This is tight.”
Why this works
This is such a simple strategy – easy to implement in just a short amount of time. Pack a book of poems in your purse and practice partner reading at the restaurant, in the doctor’s office, or waiting for basketball practice to begin.
Here’s why something so simple is so effective:
1- It’s quick. Struggling readers want quick.
2- It’s funny. Get a book of poems by Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutzky, and you’re sure to find one your struggling reader will enjoy. For more books of poetry, check out this list from What Do We Do All Day (I love her lists!).
3- It builds confidence. When kids can read a whole poem with very little stumbling, they have something to show for their work. Reading a whole book with fluency is out of their reach – but a good poem? Sure!
Another way to use this activity
My Six reads very well for a kid entering first grade, but he reads with very little expression. I decided to try this activity to help him add expression to his oral reading.
First, I read a poem from Jack Prelutzky’s New Kid on the Block in a blah, dull tone. Then I read it again with expression. I asked my Six which sounded better, and he chose the second. When I asked why, he said, “Because you read it the way it’s supposed to sound.”
Next, I read each line and asked him to repeat them after me.
I was surprised at how resistant he was to this activity. In fact, we had many stops and starts before he finally (sort of) did as I’d asked. He really wanted to read each poem all by himself without repeating after me.
I was disappointed, but not surprised, as my Six (dear boy that he is) is often my Difficult Child. So please try this activity with your reader despite our lack of success. 😉
More about fluency
Check out these posts from This Reading Mama!
And don’t miss our enter series of tips for struggling readers!
Thank you Anna! I was going to look for funny poems for my adult low-level ESL students today to practice speaking fluency. I’m going to look for the Prelutzski book at the library today.
For resistant young children students I use this method, which sometimes works. I say “now you be the teacher. Tell me if I am doing this right.” then I read partly correctly but I make sure to make some mistakes. The student says “no! that’s wrong!” I ask “why?what’s wrong?” and then they point out the error and they model the right way. I’m sure that they know this is a trick to get them to work, but they really seem to like it anyway, as a kind of competitive game. So you could read the poem with good expression, and then switch to a very flat voice, and see if your child jumps into correct you when your voice gets too flat, and see if he will show you the right way to do it. I don’t know if this will work with him–he’s probably very sharp and on to all the tricks, but it might be worth a try.
My little guy is pretty savvy, and I think he would catch on pretty quickly. But he has a little brother who might do well with this in a few years. 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Clare! I love it!
Thank you for your two tips so far! As a first grade teacher I am always looking for ways to make learning to read fun and painless! I plan to use these, especially Tip #2! A fun way to use more poetry with my struggling readers! Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutzky are my favorite children’s poets!
Thank you, Ruth! I hope you have success with this one. 🙂
Paula Lee Bright
Forgot to say: find some cool videos that show synapses as lights sparkling and it intrigues them. Sorry that I don’t have the URLs at hand right now. When they’re doing something well, tell them that you can really picture those lights flashing in their brains. They like that. 🙂
Paula Lee Bright
Found it! Here’s the URL for a cool brain gif.
Loved that! Thanks, Paula!
I’ve found that if you tell the rebels the cognitive WHY behind reading after you, for fluency, for repetition as a brain builder, to truly “own” the words—they start thinking in terms of their brain growth. It brings most around. But not all! 😉
I show a flashy picture of a brain in action. That gets them pretty excited! But again…NOT all!
Thank you, Paula! I appreciate any tips that will help me convince my Six that an activity is worth doing without a fight. 😉
I taught a fifth-grader who couldn’t read yet, and his family was just used to it. I don’t think they thought he’d learn to read in fifth grade, either. Borrowing the idea from my mom, who used this method to help my brother (and she had been a struggling reader herself), I brought in my Calvin and Hobbes comic books. We did the back-and-forth reading. He glared at me through the first line (just four boxes). The next day we read the first and second lines. The next day we read a few more. And by the end of the week, he laughed. Then he asked if he could take the book home for the weekend. It was so effective, so quickly. His mom came back to me with tears in her eyes, amazed that this had worked. It was the first time he’d enjoyed reading a book.
Such a wonderful story, Kate! I’m going to remember to share this with blog readers who are trying to help their struggling readers.
music works too like a fun christmas song