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!