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Friday / September 24

Three Engaging Ways to Build Fluency 

One way to build a more equitable and just society is to help students master the foundational skills that beget fluent reading. Once fluent, students are able to access all types of text, especially ones of personal interest. In turn, fluency and text choice motivate older readers, leading to greater reading volume and comprehension of increasingly complex text.  

Fluency is made up of rate, accuracy, and prosody. When children exhibit appropriate amounts of all three, we can say they are fluently reading.  Here’s another definition: Fluency is reading the words of a text accurately, at a reasonable pace, and with expression and phrasing that sounds like talking. 

One effective and practical way to help students build fluency is repeated reading: reading the same piece of text multiple times with guidance from the teacher. Repeated reading gives less skilled readers multiple opportunities to hear a model of fluent reading and then practice their own reading in ways that minimize errors. Additionally, it supports students who feel shy or nervous about reading. 

Since the late 70s, repeated reading has been shown to be especially helpful to children who struggle to read. But according to researchers like Dr. Sally Shaywitz, it is an underutilized classroom practice. So consider increasing the amount you do, especially with students who are at risk of developing reading difficulties. 

The activity of repeated reading comes in many forms. Here are some ideas I particularly like that can help get you started. 

I Read, We Read, You Read 

In this routine, you first provide the model, reading at a modest rate of speed and with prosody. Next, read the text and have your students read along. This is choral reading. The students’ goal is to match your reading accuracy, rate, and prosody. If your students are still inaccurate and/or are not using enough phrasing and inflection (prosody), do another round of choral reading. End with echo reading, whereby the students read the text together but on their own, in effect echoing it back to you. When they finish, provide feedback on what they did well and what they still need to focus on. 

Pick the amount of text carefully. In kindergarten and early first grade, one sentence might be enough. For older students, consider student ability and text demands. If they need lots of support and the text is more complex, use one or two sentences. If sentences are shorter and easier to decode, use three or four sentences for echoing. Otherwise, students with good short term memory will simply “parrot back” a sentence without ever reading it. 

Phones, Brushes, and Walls 

During small group time (guided reading or skill work), whisper phones provide a way for young students to read text one more time. Students quietly read as they hold their phone (nothing more than a curved hollow tube) to their mouth and ear, just like an old timey hand receiver. Remember those? You can buy “Hear Myself” and “Read to Self” phones from your favorite teacher supply store — or you can make your own inexpensive phones. All you need is PVC tubing and elbows, plus a hacksaw for cutting the tube into kid-sized lengths. 

Another engaging activity is paintbrush reading. Fluent reading unfolds smoothly, with colorful expression and in broad brushstrokes of phrasing. To emphasize this, put out a container of small paintbrushes. After picking a brush, students re-read a passage or poem, pulling their brush below each sentence. Paintbrush reading is a kinesthetic trick that keeps kids engaged as they re-read. To encourage reading in smooth phrases say, “Read like a painter, not…like…a…pointer!”   

Finally, read to the wall demands no special tools. After I Read, We Read, You Read and a bit of paintbrush reading, send students with their text out to find an empty classroom wall space. Facing the wall, they independently read their assigned sentences for one minute. The wall provides a private area free of distraction and a reflective acoustic surface. Now readers can focus and easily hear themselves read. Plus, they get to stretch, move, and be in a new area. Variety is the spice of life! 

“Crazy Professor” reading 

We’re all familiar with Reader’s Theater. But what about the Crazy Professor? This activity comes from the team who originated Whole Brain Teaching, and centers on harnessing physical activity, repetition, and wackiness to engage students. To make repeated reading fun, teacher Chris Rekstad encourages kids to become a Crazy Professor. First, they read and re-read their text with “hilarious enthusiasm.” Next, they read it again with hand movements that mirror the words. Then, they re-read again, this time coupling enthusiasm and hand movements. 

(There’s a YouTube video of Rekstad and his class in action that shows the Crazy Professor activity, after a brief commentary on the state of reading in America and. If you want to go right to the activity, skip ahead to minute 1:40.) 

The goal of repeated reading is to build the neural correlates of words through modeling, repetition, feedback, instant error correction, and distributed practice. When you have a variety of ways to do repeated reading, everyone is more likely to enjoy the week. So mix it up, have fun, and read, read, read! 

Sources / For Further Reading 

  • Bogaerds-Hazenberg, S.T.M.,  Evers-Vermeul, J., &  van den Bergh, H. (2021).  A Meta-Analysis on the Effects of Text Structure Instruction on Reading Comprehension in the Upper Elementary Grades. Reading Research Quarterly,  56(3),  415– 434. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.311 
  • Allington, R. (2014). How Reading Volume Affects both Reading Fluency and Reading Achievement. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education. 7(1), 13-26. 
  • Lee, J., & Yoon, S. Y. (2017). The effects of repeated reading on reading fluency for students with reading disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50, 213-224. doi: 10.1177/0022219415605194 
  • Shawitz, S. & Shaywitz, J. (2020). Overcoming Dyslexia: Second Edition, Completely Revised and Updated Revised. Knopf. 
  • https://www.readingrockets.org/blogs/shanahan-literacy/everything-you-wanted-know-about-repeated-reading (2020) Retrieved 4/4/2020 
  • https://wholebrainteaching.com 

Written by

Mark Weakland is a consultant, teacher, writer, and musician living in western Pennsylvania. His recent book, How to Prevent Reading Difficulties, blends the science of reading with the best instructional practices that lead to authentic reading—the ultimate goal of balanced literacy—so teachers can teach foundational reading skills in a way that prevents many reading difficulties in K-3 learners from taking root. In addition to authoring professional books, Mark works with teachers as a consultant, delivers workshops on literacy topics around the U.S., creates award-winning music projects, and has published more than 70 books for children. Visit his website (www.MarkWeaklandLiteracy.com) and YouTube channel (Mark Weakland Literacy); follow him on Twitter @MarkWeakland 

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