Teaching reading is incredibly multi-faceted. If your students aren’t literate in their first language, you may have to teach them the basic skills of literacy. Phonics is a major part of reading, as well as pronunciation and grammar, but one of the most overlooked aspects is your students’ general ability to read fluently.
Before we dive into the steps of teaching reading fluency, we have to first define it and make sure we’re all on the same page. Have you ever driven a route that you’ve driven many times before only to arrive at your destination and realize that you weren’t paying attention. It’s like you drove the entire way on autopilot. That’s the same as reading fluency. If you are reading fluently you’re probably not even thinking about the process of reading, which leaves you available to spend more time on comprehension.
On the other hand, have you ever driven in a new location at night in a car that is unfamiliar to you while it’s raining? In those circumstances you’re aware of every single action you take behind the wheel. You’re probably hypersensitive to using your blinker, braking early, etc. You’re so concentrated on the act of driving that you have little-to-no time to pay attention to the directions coming from your GPS. That’s how many non-native English speakers read. Reading isn’t second nature to them, and they spend more time focused on the act of reading and interpreting the lines on the page than they do on understanding what the passage is actually saying.
As you can see, increasing your students’ reading fluency is extremely beneficial for them. It is beneficial for general reading, as well as for students who will have to read large amounts of academic texts or take standardized tests. To put it simply, students who are able to read with fluency can spend more mental energy on comprehending the text.
To clarify, the goal of reading fluency is not to teach students how to speed read. It’s to teach students how to read fluently or as second nature. That being said, reading fluency is often accompanied by an increased reading rate. When students are able to reach a level of reading fluency, their reading rate is sure to increase.
Communicating the Benefits of Reading Fluency
One of the biggest issues with teaching reading fluency, is that it can be hard to convince our students that working on fluency is beneficial to them. Learning to read in a second language can be incredibly slow, and learning to read fluently can be even more so. In many students’ minds fluency activities yield no results, whereas phonetic activities do.
One of the biggest ways to motivate students is to use rate-building activities. They’re easy to track, which, in turn, builds motivation. A note of caution: Be careful that you don’t emphasize rate building as much as you do fluency. The goal is for students to read more easily and comprehend more of the text. Focusing solely on rate-building can result in your students reading faster, but not comprehending as much of the text. They may simply read to read.
Since the goal is to increase both rate and comprehension, the text that you use for your students, when practicing fluency, should be slightly below their level of reading. This will allow your students to focus more on their fluency than on their comprehension of the text.
My final tip for increasing student motivation in regards to reading fluency is to come up with some sort of a test to measure your students’ ability at the beginning and end of your semester, class, or fluency unit. You can include comprehension questions, as well as activities to measure their reading rate. Include a few checkpoints throughout the semester to show your students the progress that they're making.
Reading Fluency for Every Proficiency Level
When described in its most basic terms, reading fluency seems to be a skill for those who are already proficient in English phonics and grammar. However, you can begin to work on reading fluency with any learner, including those who are at a pre-literate or low-literate level.
For pre-to-low literacy students, rapid recognition activities can be used, even for those who cannot read fluently in their native language. These activities require students to quickly recognize objects, beginning with shapes and numbers, before moving onto letters, words, and phrases.
To create a rapid recognition activity, simply come up with a short list of shapes or numbers, and place one at the beginning (see example below). Have students identify the shape that matches the one at the beginning. You can give students a worksheet with 5-10 of these activities and challenge them to complete it within a set time.
7 8 9 2 7 3
While it may not seem to build reading fluency at first (as your students may not even know how to read yet), these activities can help in the long run! If nothing else, it begins to get your students eyes ready for moving left to right and comprehending symbols, something that native speakers don’t often think about.
For students who are more proficient in reading, including activities that work on word recognition, vocabulary building, skimming, and scanning can be a great way to increase reading fluency. Make sure that your students are familiar with the sight words and that the text you’re having your students read is not above their vocabulary level. Teaching skills to help students find, understand, and define vocabulary words can be helpful. Think about the ways that you read!
Activities like skimming and scanning can be really helpful for reading fluency. If your students are going to a university and are going to have a lot of academic reading to do, it’s not likely that they will have time to read every word that is assigned. Teach your students how to find the main message and main points within a text!
Activities to Promote Reading Fluency
There are a few vague activities that are great tools for promoting reading fluency. From these vague activities, you can create a variety of engaging tasks for your students to practice!
Rereading can be a great tool. Rereading allows students to pay less attention on decoding and interpreting the symbols on the page, and more time working on their comprehension and fluidity.
Teach reading strategies that will promote an increased reading rate, such as skimming and scanning. Give your students a text and ask them to quickly identify the topic (through skimming), then have them look for 2 specific details, etc. As mentioned above, these types of activities are great for students who will be reading academic texts, or working in an academic setting.
Rate Buildup Reading: Give students a text and set a timer for 60 seconds. Instruct the students to read as much as they can within the 60 seconds. Continue to do the activity with the same text. Each time they read the text they should be able to read more and more. “The purpose of this activity is to reread ‘old’ material quickly, gliding into the new. As the eyes move quickly over the ‘old’ material, the students actually learn how to get their eyes moving at a faster reading rate," (Neil Anderson, Exploring Second Language Reading).
Class-Paced Reading: As a class, set a reading rate goal. Once established, calculate the average number of words per page of the text. Then, figure out how much material needs to be read in one minute to reach the goal (example: if the class goal is to read 250 words per minute, and each page of the text has, on average, 125 words per page, then the class should be spending 30 seconds per page). Set a timer for the average time the students should be spending per page, when the timer goes off, instruct the students to turn pages. Allow students who are ahead of the goal to continue reading, as long as they are ahead. However, this activity will motivate the struggling students to keep up! The same activity could be done individually.
Reading fluency is such a great skill for second language learners to work on and build, and it isn't just for advanced-level students! It's important to remember that reading fluency is something that is built through a variety of activities. Many times, students don't even realize that they're working on fluency.
Encourage your students to work on their eye movement when reading, introduce them to activities like skimming and scanning in order to increase their rate and comprehension, and involve your students in the learning process. Help them to be aware of their language skills!
I Want to Hear From You!
What kind of activities have you planned to increase your students' reading rate or skimming and scanning skills?
How can you, specifically, increase your students' motivation when it comes to reading fluency?