Trying to help an emerging reader get to know letters and words, in and of itself, can be a daunting task – and it’s only the first step to achieving reading fluency.
As you watch your child try to sound out difficult words, slaughter words they should know, get hung up on vocabulary and lose interest in every other sentence, you may be asking yourself “What am I doing wrong?”, “How can I help my child become a good reader?”.
If you’ve asked yourself either of these questions, join the club – you’re not alone.
Do you remember when your child first started speaking? Did they have a difficult time pronouncing their “Ls” and “Ths”? Of course, almost every child does.
But by observing, modeling and practicing, by kindergarten, most children are well on their way to becoming excellent little talkers.
Children learn to read in the same way they learn to speak. It’s your job to provide them the practice and example they need to become as fluent with reading as they are with speaking.
What is reading fluency? And why is it important?
Reading fluency is often confused with reading comprehension. While reading comprehension is the end goal, reading fluency is just as important. Until a child can accurately and rapidly read aloud, without difficulty, they won’t be able to achieve reading comprehension.
Achieving reading fluency is an important step toward achieving reading comprehension. How can you tell if your child is reading fluently? As yourself the following questions:
- Does your child read hesitantly?
- Does his struggle sound out words?
- Does your child read with great effort?
- Does he spend a long time identifying words?
- Does he reach the end of a sentence and have no idea what he’s been reading?
If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, then your child is struggling with reading fluency. At this stage, your child’s reading is simply a function of stringing together a list of disparate words that have little perceived relation to one another.
So what now? Below we’ll explore several tips and strategies for improving your child’s reading fluency.
Teaching Through Modeling
Has your child’s teacher ever told you to spend time reading to your child, and not just having your child read to you? Why? The reason is simple. Children need to hear fluent reading in order to achieve their own reading fluency.
Hearing an adult read smoothly and easily provides a model for how a child should be reading. As your child hears you smoothly and easily pronounce words, pause after commas, and stop when there is a period, they’ll start doing the same.
Reading to your child also exposes them to expressive reading. As you emphasize the emotion of the text you’re reading, your child will catch on and begin doing the same as they read. Being a model reader for your child is key to helping them achieve reading fluency.
Practice Makes Perfect
Fostering reading fluency requires lots of practice. The best readers weren’t born that way. they achieved their ability to read through repeated, consistent practice. The ultimate goal of reading fluency is to be able to read effortlessly. To be able to read effortlessly requires effort over time – until the effort is no longer required.
We recommend practicing the same passage aloud until fluency is achieved. Reading the same passage again and again will provide your child the recognition and repetition needed to reach fluency. Start by reading a short passage (no longer than 100 words) aloud to your child. Then have your child read the same passage back to you until it becomes effortless for them.
Memorization Is Key
As your child works toward reading fluency, have them memorize some short books, poems and passages. Having your child memorize sentences and short passages will achieve three things.
First, memorizing will allow your child to become very familiar with specific words, structures, and meanings that they’ll easily recognize in future readings.
Second, as your child memorizes passages, he will learn the rhythm of written language. Achieving fluency with just a few sentences will empower them to achieve fluency with paragraphs and then larger passages.
Finally, memorization helps beginning readers feel like they’re a success. And success engenders success. Once your child has memorized a few short passages, they’ll immediately begin feeling like a fluent reader.
Identify Trouble Areas
There are three components of reading fluency: rate, accuracy and prosody (how a reader uses timing, phrasing, emphasis, and intonation to communicate meaning). As you listen to your child read, take note of how your child is performing in each of these areas. What is he doing well? What is he struggling with? Focus on the components of fluency where you child needs the most help.
When your aim is fluency, it’s important to make sure your child is reading a text at his level. If a text is too hard for a child, he will spend too much time trying to figure out words, do whole-word guessing, or get stuck sounding out difficult words. Typically, if a child misreads more than one of every 20 words, they will focus more on word recognition than they will on fluency.
Echo reading is a form of modeling (as discussed above) where you read a sentence to your child and have him read it back to you. Echo reading helps children begin to recognize words and anchor important words in their vocabulary.
As your child reads a passage back to you, it may be helpful to have him run his finger under the words as he reads them. This ensures he recognizes the words and isn’t just regurgitating what he heard you say. As your child gets better at reading a sentence back to you, you’ll want to increase the number of sentences you and he echo.
Keep It Fun
While repetition, practice and focus are vital to achieving reading fluency, if reading turns into an arduous, painful experience for your child, they’re likely to rebel. As you work toward improving your child’s reading fluency, don’t stick to a fixed routine.
Mix it up a little and keep it fun and engaging. Incorporating games, activities and a little friendly competition into your reading fluency will make reading something your child relishes. The following are just a few ideas for keeping your child’s reading fluency fun and engaging:
- Have your child pick the story or passage he wants to read.
- Create a reader’s theater script where you and your child are specific characters. Act out your parts as you read using different voices and emotions.
- Help your child write his own story to read.
- Create an award system associated with specific accomplishments.
- Challenge your child to beat his own reading fluency record.
- Do a before and after. Record your child reading a passage for the first time. Then record him again after his reading fluency has improved. He’ll be thrilled to see the difference, and excited to do it read some more.
These are just a few of the ways you can keep reading fluency fun and engaging for your child. We’re sure you can come up with many original ideas tailored to the unique personality and character of your child.