To not only master reading but also master the curriculum, children need to become fluent readers. With fluent reading comes clearer understanding because mental faculties are spent trying to comprehend the meaning behind the text rather than what the words say.
In their reading toolkit, children need two essential tools:
- The ability to recognise sight words (also known as “high-frequency words”)
- A good grasp of phonics
(You can read this article to learn more about sight words and the different phonics sounds.)
But as a parent, how do you develop reading fluency? What tools do you need to help your child become a fluent reader?
Read on for a qualified teacher’s tips for improving fluency in reading.
What is reading fluency and why is it important?
Reading fluency is not about speed, it’s about comprehension and expression. Anyone who can confidently decode words can read a sentence quickly, but it doesn’t mean they understand what they’ve read. When someone becomes a fluent reader, the cognitive effort that they would have exerted in trying to decipher what the words on the page say can be applied to understanding what those words mean when put together.
Imagine reading a recipe really quickly. By the end of the page, you probably won’t remember the exact ingredients, quantities needed or method. Sure, you read the recipe quickly but did you fully absorb the contents? Unlikely.
To be a fluent reader, a person needs to read with intonation and take note of punctuation (which lends itself to adding expression to parts of speech). Acknowledging punctuation also helps the reader comprehend what they’ve read, particularly if a sentence or paragraph is long or complex.
When a child becomes a fluent reader, their confidence grows which, in turn, makes them more fluent. (In fact, reading confidence and fluency is a little like the chicken and egg conundrum, but let’s not get into that.) As we all know, when we’re confident at something, we tend to do it more so developing reading fluency is an essential way to help your child read more.
How can you develop reading fluency?
There are a number of ways you can develop reading fluency and some are more effective than others. Here are my four recommended ways to help your child become a fluent reader:
1. Model fluent reading
Show your child what it means to be a fluent reader. When you’re reading together, share the reading by reading every other page, for example. Be expressive in character dialogue, and make sure there’s natural intonation in your voice as you progress through the narrative.
Another tip I used to give parents was to model reading behaviour. If you can, have a selection of books at home, put them on a bookshelf or bedside table and don’t just shove them in a pile on the floor. Visit your local library with your children and show them all the exciting books to devour. On a quiet Sunday afternoon as your children are playing sweetly (wishful thinking?) read a chapter of your book in the same room as your kids. Or cook together from a recipe book. Showing the uses of fluent reading will help them value reading and be more inclined to pick up a book.
2. Give them audio recordings to follow along to
Listening to audiobooks is a great way to develop reading fluency as (often famous) voice actors read the story with expression, clear diction and good intonation. If possible, encourage your child to follow along with the text, but even without the text, hearing fluent readers can be inspiration enough.
YouTube has many well-loved children’s books uploaded as videos, inclusive of page-turning and the story being read aloud. It might be an idea to set the video to play out of your child’s sight, however, as they’ll be more inclined to watch the video than to read along with the book!
3. Re-read the same books
All parents know children have their favourite books; the ones they want you to read again and again and again. Encourage your child to join in with repeated phrases (“We’re going on a bear hunt…”) and point to the words as you read them together. When they know a story well, ask them to take over the reading for a page or a few pages.
You might have noticed that teachers will often suggest you read your child’s set guided reading book a few times with them. This isn’t to bore you to tears (although we’re sorry about that), it’s to help your child become more fluent.
4. Understand how your child is taught to read at school
This is the most valuable way you can help your child become a fluent reader. Knowing that the way children are taught to read differs from how we were taught to read is the first step. Next, you’ll want to understand how they’re taught. Put simply: children learn to read through phonics (find out more about phonics in this article).
Speak to your child’s class teacher about the phonics they’re learning. From around the age of 7 years old, children tend to no longer be taught to read via phonics but don’t worry too much if your child still needs phonics support. Your child’s phonics knowledge will help them decode (read) unknown words and it’s helpful if you know the phonics sounds, too, so you can guide them in segmenting (breaking down) words into their component sounds.
It can also be useful to know which words the class teacher terms “tricky words” as these are words that can’t be sounded out using phonics and children “just have to know” (how infuriating for them). Words such as: the, she, are etc.
I know how frustrating it can be to be slogging away at the same phonics book with seemingly no reading progress. In the absence of a learning difficulty, your child will get there but they might need other ways to access the story.
- Read the story to them once or twice, asking them what happened, what might happen next and why something happened at various points in the narrative.
- Have them draw a sequenced picture of the story or act it out. Maybe you could make finger puppets or wooden spoon characters to put on a show.
- Encourage your child to consider how the story could have been different if this character didn’t do this or if the other character didn’t arrive in the nick of time.
Whilst these activities don’t explicitly foster reading fluency, they will help your child to think around the book and develop their comprehension which is the ultimate aim of reading fluency. (You can find more ideas for reading activities at the end of this article.)
Remember that fluency doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a process. Your child might seem to take a step back in their reading but this is completely natural.
Keep reading with them, show reading as a valuable skill and if you’re really stuck, ask their teacher.