Reading Fluency: The Bridge to Meaning

What Is It?

Reading Fluency

Reading fluency is the ability to read smoothly, with flow and expression. Children with good fluency read in what sounds like their regular speaking voice and do not repeatedly stumble over words. They pause at appropriate places, vary the sounds of their voice, and divide up the text in ways that make sense. Children without good fluency read in a way that sounds choppy, disjointed, and lacks expression.

What Kids Need to Learn

  1. Read the words quickly, without needing to sound them out.
  2. Connections between sounds and letters must happen automatically.
  3. Instead of reading each word separately, they group meaningful groups of words together when reading, such as "millions of cats", "smart little girl", or "brown bear".
  4. Respond to commas, periods, and other punctuation by pausing and adding expression to their voice.

Putting It In Context

In kindergarten, children learned letter sounds and how to pull these together to form words. The focus was almost entirely on learning to decode written words. In first grade this continues, but children are expected to achieve reading fluency of simpler texts--generally those stories they are very familiar with, or have very easy words. By second grade, children will be moving on to more difficult texts and early chapter books, and should be able to read first grade texts and age-appropriate poems fluently and well.

Why It Is Important

Does it matter if a child can read out loud with expression? Not every child will read with the same flair, but it is important that they be taught to read fluently so that the meaning of the text becomes clear to them. Reading Conversation Slow, plodding reading requires so much attention and effort that there is little energy left over for figuring out the meaning, and comprehension suffers.

In first grade, reading a text just once is often not enough for children to capture what the words mean. Successive readings will become smoother and quicker so that they can shift their attention to the meaning and begin to make sense of the overall text. When reading sounds more like normal speech, their reading comprehension will improve.

Challenges Kids Might Face

  • Struggles to sound out individual words; reading is not automatic.
  • Concentrates so hard on individual words that the text is read in a monotone.
  • There is no phrasing; each word is pronounced as a separate whole: Give. The. Book. To. Me. He. Said.
  • Doesn't understand how to pause or change voice to reflect punctuation: Why said Piglet why what said Pooh why would he fall in Pooh rubbed his nose...
  • New vocabulary gets in the way of reading smoothly.

Achieving reading fluency is difficult. It takes practice, requires many different skills, and may not be an appropriate goal for very early readers. If kids are struggling, it may be necessary to work on more foundational skills for a while, use easier texts, or give more practice with reading fluency.

How to Help Kids Who Are Struggling

  1. Encourage kids to read and re-read their favorite books over and over, out loud.
  2. Read aloud to your kids to model what fluent speech sounds like.
  3. Practice reading fluency with children's poems. These are short, simple, often rhyme, and encourage a natural flow of speech. They are also fun to read over and over.
  4. If your child stumbles over a word, provide it to keep the flow and retain the meaning. You can always help your child practice those difficult sections afterwards.
  5. Try choral reading: read together with your child while moving your finger along the words. This is a great confidence-builder.
  6. Provide books on tape or online stories that let your child read along.
  7. Keep texts simple. If your child is learning to read mid-range first grade books, practice fluency with kindergarten books or simple poems.
  8. Give opportunities for kids to read the same passage several times.
  9. Purchase age-level reader's theater plays. These are meant to read out loud, and practicing their lines gives kids a reason to read them over and over.
  10. Read a sentence with expression, then have your child copy you. They love this.
  11. Tell your child to take a breath whenever there is a period.
  12. Point out why your voice changed: "I made my voice sound excited here because of the exclamation mark."


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“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. ”
~John Dewey