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Reading Interventions: Fluency

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Least Intensive Interventions
Moderate/Intensive Interventions

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Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately and quickly. When fluent readers read silently, they recognize words automatically. They group words quickly to help them gain meaning from what they read. Fluent readers read aloud effortlessly and with expression. Their reading sounds natural, as if they are speaking. Readers who have not yet developed fluency read slowly, word by word. Their oral reading is choppy and plodding.

Fluency is important because it provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension. Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate on decoding the words, they can focus their attention on what the text means. They can make connections among the ideas in the text and between the text and their background knowledge. In other words, fluent readers recognize words and comprehend at the same time. Less fluent readers, however, must focus their attention on figuring out the words, leaving them little attention for understanding the text.

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Least Intensive Interventions

Silent Reading

Reading fluency growth is greatest when students are working directly with you. Therefore, you should use most of your allocated reading instruction time for direct teaching of reading skills and strategies. Although silent, independent reading may be a way to increase fluency and reading achievement, it should not be used in place of direct instruction in reading.

Direct instruction is especially important for readers who are struggling. Readers who have not yet attained fluency are not likely to make effective and efficient use of silent, independent reading time. For these students, independent reading takes time away from needed reading instruction.

Rather than allocating instructional time for independent reading in the classroom, encourage your students to read more outside of school. They can read with an adult or other family member. Or, they can read on their own with books at their independent reading level. Of course, students might also read on their own during independent work time in the classroom – for example, as another small group is receiving reading instruction, or after they have completed one activity and are waiting for a new activity to begin.

When should fluency instruction begin? When should it end?

Fluency instruction is useful when students are not automatic at recognizing the words in their texts. How can you tell when students are not automatic? There is a strong indication that a student needs fluency instruction:

  • if you ask the student to read orally from a text that he or she has not practiced; and the student makes more than ten percent word recognition errors;
  • if the student cannot read orally with expression; or
  • if the student’s comprehension is poor for the text that she or he reads orally.

Is increasing word recognition skills sufficient for developing fluency?

Isolated word recognition is a necessary but not sufficient condition for fluent reading. Throughout much of the twentieth century, it was widely assumed that fluency was the result of word recognition proficiency. Instruction, therefore, focused primarily on the development of word recognition. In recent years, however, research has shown that fluency is a separate component of reading that can be developed through instruction.

Having students review and rehearse word lists (for example, by using flash cards) may improve their ability to recognize the words in isolation, but this ability may not transfer to words presented in actual texts. Developing reading fluency in texts must be developed systematically.

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Modeling Fluent Reading

Researchers have found several effective techniques related to repeated oral reading:

  • students read and reread a text a certain number of times or until a certain level of fluency is reached. Four re-readings are sufficient for most students; and
  • oral reading practice is increased through the use of audiotapes, tutors, peer guidance or other means.

In addition, some effective repeated oral reading techniques have carefully designed feedback to guide the reader’s performance.

Model fluent reading, then have students reread the text on their own.

By listening to good models of fluent reading, students learn how a reader’s voice can help written text make sense. Read aloud daily to your students. By reading effortlessly and with expression, you are modeling for your students how a fluent reader sounds during reading.

After you model how to read the text, you must have the students reread it. By doing this, the students are engaging in repeated reading. Usually, having students read a text four times is sufficient to improve fluency. Remember, however, that instructional time is limited, and it is the actual time that students are actively engaged in reading that produces reading gains.

Have other adults read aloud to students. Encourage parents or other family members to read aloud to their children at home. The more models of fluent reading the children hear, the better. Of course, hearing a model of fluent reading is not the only benefit of reading aloud to children. Reading to children also increases their knowledge of the world, their vocabulary, their familiarity with written language (“book language”), and their interest in reading.

Have students repeatedly read passages aloud with guidance. The best strategy for developing reading fluency is to provide your students with many opportunities to read the same passage orally several times. To do this, you should first know what to have your students read. Second, you should know how to have your students read aloud repeatedly.


In the primary grades, you might read aloud from a big book. A big book is an enlarged version of a commercially published book – big enough so that all students can clearly see the text. By pointing to each word as you are reading (using either a pointer or your finger), you can show students where and how you are pausing and how the text shows you when to raise or lower your voice. Occasionally, you can also explain to your students why you are reading in a certain way:

Teacher: Did you hear how I grouped the words “Brown bear/ brown bear”? That’s because the words brown and bear belong together. And then I paused a little before repeating the words.

Teacher: Did you hear how my voice got louder and more excited right here? That’s because the author put in this exclamation mark (point to it) to show that the speaker was excited or enthusiastic about what she was saying.

Then, have the students practice reading the same text.

Independent level text
Relatively easy text for the reader, with no more than approximately 1 in 20 words difficult for the reader (95% success)

Instructional level text
Challenging but manageable text for the reader, with no more than approximately 1 in 10 words difficult for the reader (90% success)

Frustration level text
Difficult text for the reader, with more than 1 in 10 words difficult for the reader (less than 90% success)

Oral Re-Reading

Fluency develops as a result of many opportunities to practice reading with a high degree of success. Therefore, your students should practice orally rereading text that is reasonably easy for them – that is, text containing mostly words that they know or can decode easily. In other words, the texts should be at the students’ independent reading level. A text is at students’ independent reading level if they can read it with about 95% accuracy, or misread only about 1 of every 20 words. If the text is more difficult, students will focus so much on word recognition that they will not have an opportunity to develop fluency.

The text your students practice rereading orally should also be relatively short – probably 50-200 words, depending on the age of the students. You should also use a variety of reading materials, including stories, nonfiction and poetry. Poetry is especially well suited to fluency practice because poems for children are often short and they contain rhythm, rhyme and meaning, making practice easy, fun and rewarding.

How to have your students read aloud repeatedly. There are several ways that your students can practice orally rereading text, including student-adult reading, choral (or unison) reading, tape-assisted reading, partner reading and readers’ theatre.

  • Student-adult reading. In student-adult reading, the student reads one-on-one with an adult. The adult can be you, a parent, a classroom aide or a tutor. The adult reads the text first, providing the students with a model of fluent reading. Then the student reads the same passage to the adult with the adult providing assistance and encouragement. The student rereads the passage until the reading is quite fluent. This should take approximately three to four re-readings.
  • Choral reading. In choral, or unison, reading, students read along as a group with you (or another fluent adult reader). Of course, to do so, students must be able to see the same text that you are reading. They might follow along as you read from a big book or they might read from their own copy of the book you are reading. For choral reading, choose a book that is not too long and that you think is at the independent reading level of most students. Patterned or predictable books are particularly useful for choral reading, because their repetitious style invites students to join in. Begin by reading the book aloud as you model fluent reading. Then reread the book and invite students to join in as they recognize the words you are reading. Continue rereading the book, encouraging students to read along as they are able. Students should read the book with you three to five times total (though not necessarily on the same day). At this time, students should be able to read the text independently.
  • Tape-assisted reading. In tape-assisted reading, students read along in their books as they hear a fluent reader read the book on an audiotape. For tape-assisted reading, you need a book at a student’s independent reading level and a tape recording of the book read by a fluent reader at about 80–100 words per minute. The tape should not have sound effects or music. For the first reading, the student should follow along with the tape, pointing to each word in her or his book as the reader reads it. Next, the student should try to read aloud along with the tape. Reading along with the tape should continue until the student is able to read the book independently, without the support of the tape.
  • Partner reading. In partner reading, paired students take turns reading aloud to each other. For partner reading, more fluent readers can be paired with less fluent readers. The stronger reader reads a paragraph or page first, providing a model of fluent reading. Then the less fluent reader reads the same text aloud. The stronger student gives help with word recognition and provides feedback and encouragement to the less fluent partner. The less fluent partner rereads the passage until he or she can read it independently. Partner reading need not be done with a more and less fluent reader. In another form of partner reading, children who read at the same level are paired to reread a story that they have received instruction on during a teacher-guided part of the lesson. Two readers of equal ability can practice rereading after hearing the teacher read the passage.
  • Readers’ theatre. In readers’ theatre, students rehearse and perform a play for peers or others. They read from scripts that have been derived from books that are rich in dialogue. Students play characters who speak lines or a narrator who shares necessary background information. Readers’ theatre provides readers with a legitimate reason to reread text and to practice fluency. Readers’ theatre also promotes cooperative interaction with peers and makes the reading task appealing.

Buddy Reading

Familiar Reading. Students reread familiar stories or dictations. This material should be at each student’s independent reading level. This rereading helps support recognition of familiar words that will then be carried over into reading other books and into writing. Familiar reading helps students to improve their fluency and confidence.

New Reading. Students read new books that have a minimum of new learning in
them. New books are read with a good deal of support from the tutor or teacher. New reading also includes a personal dictation about an experience. Here, the student dictates a few sentences to the tutor who writes them down or types them on a computer. The dictation is then reread and the printed version is placed in a folder for further practice.

Write With. Students either write with support or write independently as needed. These writing activities are important, as work done in writing supports reading development just as reading supports writing development.

Word Study. Students learn how to work with letters, sounds and words to discover and reflect upon patterns. Activities include word banks, picture and word sorts and word study games.

Read To. Students are read books that are too difficult for them to read without help. The books read are also of interest to the students and may serve as a point of discussion to be followed by writing or word study activities. This reading also serves to model fluent and expressive reading and helps to develop a love for stories and reading.

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Moderate/Intensive Interventions

Read Naturally

The Read Naturally strategy provides a method to improve reading fluency in struggling readers. Read Naturally combines three powerful strategies to improve fluency: teacher modeling, repeated reading and progress monitoring. The Read Naturally strategy results in significant improvement in the reading fluency of students. Students often experience an increase in their confidence and self-esteem while using the strategy. The Read Naturally strategy is primarily an independent practice for the student and takes about ten minutes after it becomes routine.

Program: Read Naturally From (1991)
Publisher Source: Read Naturally, Inc.
Educational Level: Grades 1 - 8
Authors: Candyce Ihnot & Tom Ihnot

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Dyad or Buddy Reading

In Buddy Reading , a person [or a parent] who knows how to read well reads with a person [or a child] who can’t read as well. Together they choose a book that isn’t too hard and find a good spot to read.

Buddy Reading helps the person who can’t read as well hear the sounds of words when someone else reads with them. When they learn the sounds of the words better, they are able to figure out the pronunciation of the words. The better reader helps the other reader as they read the book together. The readers can take turns reading, or read the words together. The better reader can help with pronunciation, the meaning of words and understanding the story. They can ask questions as they read. The buddy can give clues when the student reader gets stuck on a word.

Questions like:

  1. “What sound does the word start with?”
  2. “What word would make sense there?”
  3. “Does that sound right?”
  4. “Will the picture help you?”

The better reader might ask questions about the story like:

  1. “Who are the characters?”
  2. “Where does the story take place?”
  3. “What problem does the character have?”
  4. “What kind of trouble is in the story?”
  5. “How is the problem fixed?”
  6. “Tell me what is happening in the story so far.”

Anyone can help people who can’t read by reading to them, or reading with them and when they stumble on a word, you can help them sound out the word. A good reader always uses at least two strategies before giving the word to the reader who is learning.

When you read to your buddy:

  1. Practice reading aloud by yourself a few times.
  2. Make your buddy feel comfortable and welcome .
  3. Sit side by side .
  4. Let your buddy hold the book!
  5. Talk about the title and the author.
  6. Look through the pictures – let your buddy predict what will happen.
  7. Encourage your buddy to ask questions and point out details.
  8. Stop and talk about the characters and events from time to time.
  9. When you finish reading, ask about his favorite part or character and tell him your favorite, too!

Reading Buddy Strategies:
These are some things you can try with your little buddy to help them read.

  1. Read Aloud – read to your buddy, but make sure he look at the words while you’re reading!
  2. Echo Reading – First, you read a sentence or paragraph, then let your buddy read the same sentence or paragraph.
  3. Choral Reading – Read at the same time – out loud!
  4. Take Turns Reading – first you read a sentence or paragraph, then let your buddy read the next one.

When Your Buddy Gets Stuck:
Here are some things you should try when your buddy can’t figure out a word.

  1. Wait - give them a chance to figure it out by themselves!
  2. Tell them to look at the pictures for clues about the story.
  3. Ask them what would make sense.
  4. Skip the word, and read the rest of the sentence.
  5. Have them look for words or patterns they recognize.
  6. Have them look for letters or sounds they recognize.
  7. Give them a choice – is it this or that?
  8. Once they know the word, have them reread the sentence.
  9. Never make your buddy feel bad because he can’t figure out the word.
  10. Most of all, praise your buddy! You can say things like:
    • I like the way you read that!
    • I like how you got the first sounds of that word!
    • You’re really smart – you figured it out all by yourself!

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Reading Buddies Small Group

The small group model uses a combination of whole group and small group activities. Whole group activities include reading aloud providing an interesting writing stimulus, sharing our writing and support activities like choral reading and rereading group experience charts. Small group activities include familiar reading, new reading, writing with and word study. Small group instruction is conducted with approximately three students per teacher or tutor.

A program designed for small group tutoring accommodates approximately 15 children per session. Implementation of this program requires two teacher coordinators, or one teacher coordinator and a school liaison who coordinates activities with the school and families and helps to coordinate instruction. Three tutors and university education students are needed in the small group configuration.

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Reading Buddies One-on-One

Personnel required for this model are one teacher to serve as coordinator and enough tutors to staff one-to-one tutoring. Tutors work with students 30 minutes each day, or for longer periods of time two or three days per week. This model allows for extensive individualized instruction. Activities are similar to those conducted in the small group model. Most tutors pick up a second child and tutor two children individually.

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Ravenscourt Books/Fluency Research
Why Fluency Matters

Reading fluency develops over time and requires practice. For reading practice to be effective, the student should read passages with 85% or better accuracy. Comprehension is highly dependent upon word recognition and fluency skills. When the stories are at the same reading level, comprehension gains on practiced text carry over to new, unpracticed text.

  1. Rereading the same passage significantly increases reading rate and comprehension.
  2. Feedback concerning the accuracy and rate of reading helps students acquire fluency.
  3. Practicing one passage to a set rate of reading speed leads to increases of speed and accuracy in unpracticed passages.
  4. Using a read-along or model approach is appropriate when children are reading with few errors but at a slow rate.
  5. Repeated oral reading with the use of audiotapes, peer or adult assistance or other feedback increases fluency.

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QuickReads is a research-based fluency program that features short, high interest nonfiction texts designed to be read quickly and meaningfully. It is designed for students who read at grade levels 2 – 4. QuickReads can improve fluency, comprehension, background knowledge and vocabulary.

QuickReads has a classroom-validated instructional routine that is done with students daily that takes 15 minutes. QuickReads promotes fluent reading by:

  1. Supporting automaticity through the use of grade level, high frequency words, and phonics/syllabic patterns necessary for success at each grade level.
  2. Developing content-rich vocabulary, consistent comprehension strategies and critical background knowledge.
  3. Helping students learn more about critical curriculum areas with a focus on social studies and science.
  4. Helping students build background knowledge by reading five connected text passages around one topic.
  5. Modeling fluent reading by teacher model.

Evidence of Positive Effects on Reading Achievement: Field testing in classrooms demonstrated significant fluency gains for both native English speakers as well as English language learners. For additional information, see website:

Local evidence of positive effects: Local School districts within Heartland have data available on fluency gains on students.

Program: QuickReads
Source/Publisher: Pearson Learning
Educational Level: 2nd – 4th grade and remedial 5th – 7th
Author: Alfrieda Hiebart

(Reading Excellence: Word Attack and Rate Development Strategies)

The REWARDS method is a flexible strategy to move students from early elementary reading level to on of increased fluency and comprehension. Many student having mastered basic readings skills have difficulty with multisyllabic words. The REWARDS method of decoding words by segmenting their parts is key to this program. It has been field tested with positive results in intensive remedial programs as well as in general and special education classrooms.

Program: REWARDS (Reading Excellence: Word Attack and Rate Development Strategies)
Publisher/Source: Sopris West
Education level: Grades 3-7
Author: Anita Archer

PALS (Peer Assisted Learning Strategies)

Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) is a class-wide peer-tutoring program providing supplemental practice and instruction on key reading skills. K-PALS focuses on phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle and sight word reading. First Grade PALS focuses on alphabetic principle, fluency and sight word reading. Second-Eighth Grade PALS focuses on fluency and accuracy in connected text and reading comprehension strategies of summarization, main idea and predication. High School PALS focuses on Fluency and comprehension skills within the context of a career, job oriented structure. Lessons are provided to train students to be “readers and coaches.” Students are taught correction procedures and instructional cues. K-8 PALS can be used in general or special educational classrooms. High School PALS has only been validated in special education and remedial settings.

Program: PALS (Peer Assisted Learning Strategies)
Publisher/Source: Vanderbilt University
Educational level: K, 1, 2-6, 7-12
Author: Lynn and Doug Fuchs

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Questions? Comments? Please email Scott or Tracey.