Improving Reading Fluency

boy reading aloud

As a child, were you in the blue bird reading group, the red bird reading group, or the yellow birds? In case you did not figure it out at the time, the color coding was for the low, middle, and high readers in your class. I am pretty sure the main distinguishing factor was your ability to read aloud fluently. I know my reading group had mostly decent readers and a few halting readers; I was probably the middle level.

Reading aloud fluently is an indicator of comprehension and word attack skills. It is harder to comprehend a story while reading aloud because your brain is doing two jobs– decoding letters in order to pronounce the letters as words and synthesizing ideas that the words relay. When a child reads silently, he can skip the pronunciation part– in fact he can skip entire blocks of words that look unfamiliar, which will impact comprehension. So, while it might seem easier to let your child read alone once he is a (mostly) independent reader, you should still listen to your child read aloud from time to time.

Classroom teachers do not have time to perfect the oral reading skills of each child. This is a skill that has to be practiced at home in conjunction with the reading instruction happening at school. Here are some guidelines I recently gave to the parents of the students in my classroom.

  • Sit where you can see the words on the page as your child reads.
  • Correct any mispronounced words and have the child say the word correctly. This reinforces correct letter patterns in English and will improve spelling and word recognition in the future. Breaking words into syllables will help a child pronounce unfamiliar words.
  • Correct any skipped or changed words and have your child read the words that appear on the page EXACTLY as they are written. This part is important. It may not seem like a big deal when kids paraphrase and adjust words while reading, but if they get in the habit of skipping, inserting or changing words, it will affect a child’s overall reading at some point.
  • Emphasize expression—students should pause appropriately for end punctuation. The voice should go up for excitement, questions, etc. If the reading is monotone or flat, practice reading with emotion. This will help you assess comprehension as well. If a reader does not pause or change his voice appropriately, he probably does not know what is really happening. Move to an easier book for practice.
  • After reading a few pages, pause and ask for a recap to check for comprehension. If the reader is confused or can not recall key facts, find an easier book.
  • If a page is particularly slow, the adult can re-read the page to the child to demonstrate fluent reading.
  • End the reading session by modeling for your child. The adult reads a few pages aloud to the child. Make sure the child is in a place where he/she sees the words on the page.
  • Enjoy this time with your son or daughter!

Print my Parent Note About Reading Aloud with the list of suggestions and a chart for tracking reading time. I know there are times when you would rather hear nails on a chalkboard than listen to a slow, choppy reader, but it will improve and is worth the time!

girl reading aloud

Room Mom Rules

I am a teacher and have held the position of room parent volunteer (aka The RoomMom). After many years of working with parents in my classroom and volunteering to help other teachers, here is the boiler plate of what has worked for me.

  1. Do not abuse the class e-mail list. I think e-mails to the families should be limited to holiday parties and class gifts unless the teacher has asked you to contact families. An example of an “extra” e-mail might be help with drivers for a field trip.
  2. Aside from teacher gift and party e-mails to parent volunteers, only send e-mails when requested by the classroom teacher.
  3. Offer to collect for a group gift at holidays/end of the year, but do not make the contribution mandatory. Suggest an amount for the donation to the gift fund but make it clear that the amount is a guideline. Parents should not feel obligated to contribute. And, if you know you have a community where contributing would be difficult, don’t even ask.
  4. This is an addendum to #3. If you are purchasing a group gift, use a generic but personal policy. In most cases, you probably do not have a personal relationship with the teacher. Generic gift cards are best (Visa, AmEx, etc.). Teachers love when the generic gift card is accompanied by a little something that shows you are aware the teacher works hard with your child every day. For the past several years, I created a Favorite Books Bookmark to go with the gift card at the end of the year, so the teacher has something with which to remember the class.
  5. If you are not the official room mom but want to help, sign up on the class volunteer sheets and wait to be contacted. Too many cooks in the kitchen creates confusion. Teachers can only handle so many parent volunteers.

If you have school aged children, what reminders and information would you like to receive from the room parent, and what information should be the classroom teacher’s domain?

Novel Ideas

Gather round readers. I am about to reveal a handful of literature gems. Each year, I teach about six novel studies with the whole class. We complete activities related to the book that hopefully enhance reading comprehension and improve critical thinking and writing skills. I have a wide range of readers, so I have to be careful with my book and activity choices. The plot of the book and writing assignments must be accessible to my lower readers but keep the higher readers engaged.

Below is a list some of my favorite literature activities. I am hoping you educators might see a novel idea (see how I slipped in that play on words?) that you could use in your classroom this year. But, I always need new ideas to keep things interesting. Do you have any suggestions for me?

Point of View Journals

  • After reading the first chapter of a book, each student selects one of the main characters. I ask them to re-tell the chapter from the point of view of the selected character. We share samples with the whole class and compare the differences in the re-telling. Why is one character’s story different from another? The students complete this task for every chapter, writing 4-5 sentences per chapter. The students stick with the same character throughout the book. Once students make their character choice, they may not change.
  • I used this with THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY by Sheila Burnford. We called them “Incredible Journals” and students became one of the three animals throughout the book.  I also used this activity with THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis. Students had to choose Lucy or Edmund.

narnia map and journal sample

Antique Maps

  • Give each student a ledger sized piece of white copy paper (11×17). Legal paper will work too; letter sized is too small. Dip a tea bag in cold water for several minutes, carefully squeeze out excess water, and “paint” the entire piece of paper until it is a tannish color. Let paper dry. When it is dry, it will be this nice crinkly texture and look like parchment paper.
  • The students then create a map of the setting of the novel. For THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis, students have to search for passages in the book that give clues about where key locations are in the story. They use the clues to build a map of Narnia. This is HARD for 4th graders! I have a Narnia Map Handout, and we do the first few locations together. Students are then allowed to work in pairs. In THE WHITE MOUNTAINS by John Christopher, the main characters travel from England to the Swiss Alps, but it is in the future after an alien invasion. Readers must use descriptions in the book and knowledge of maps of Europe to piece together the route the main characters take (used this with 6th graders).
  • I have also used the antique paper with an activity for THE EGYPT GAME by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. After researching pharaohs, students pretended they were a pharaoh. They created a name and wrote a description of their life as a pharaoh on the antique paper. If you have laser printers, you can print the story, then stain it with the tea bags. Ink jet printed papers will smear.

white mountains map cropped


Amazon Book Listing

  • Students design an Amazon book listing for THE LEMONADE WAR by Jacqueline Davies. The students wrote a catchy book summary and included basic book information. They also provided a “star” rating and provided three additional book suggestions in the “Frequently Bought Together” section, so we built a book recommendation list at the same time.

Amazon book listing sample3

Character Resumes

  • We read a few sections of THE MISSING GOLDEN TICKET by Roald Dahl. This is a great book to kick off discussions about the writing process. It includes a chapter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with an additional nasty character that Dahl edited out. My students design their own rotten child with a bad habit (a la the Chocolate Factory characters) and build a CHARACTER RESUME for that character. Not only does it help with characterization, it also is a good way to teach word processing skills.

character resume

Novel Newspaper

  • This will work with any novel. I have used it with DANNY, THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD by Roald Dahl. This is a culminating activity after finishing the book. The students create a DANNY NEWSPAPER with 3 articles. The first article is a feature article with quotes. The students must think like a reporter and write a description of the climax scene of the story. They imagine what the main characters might have said on the scene and incorporate quotes from the characters that fit. The second article is an editorial about whether it is acceptable to poach or not. The third article is a book review. The students create the paper in MS Word and use a variety of word processing skills– section breaks, borders, column changes. All of my students’ finished products are pretty impressive.

danny newspaper sample

  • Look at copies of your local newspaper before starting this assignment. Note common layout details on the newspaper and incorporate those into the assignment– newspaper name, date, volume number, author byline… Also note the writing style in a paper. Important facts are in the first paragraph followed by lesser details.

I have many low prep, high engagement novel units available in my teacher store. Click the bold novel titles above to be linked to the resource listing, or CLICK HERE to see the full list.

Better Than a Brown Bag Lunch

Bring your child’s teacher a really good lunch the first week of school! In fact, this is a great little sirsee for a teacher’s birthday, teacher appreciation week, standardized testing week, or any random day. As mentioned in the Teacher Emergency Kit post, teachers are trapped in the school building all day.  Unless a planning period aligns with the moon on a Tuesday in January, they are not getting out of that building to go pick up a lunch. Most teachers (read: me) hastily pack a half of a peanut butter sandwich along with their kids’ lunches as they are racing out the door in the morning. What a treat it would to receive a good lunch one day.

The Bag: I sewed the bag in the picture above modifying a pattern I had for an art bag. I would not recommend sewing your own lunch tote. After 7 hours at the sewing machine, I decided I do not like my children’s teachers THAT much. Pick up a lunch bag at any store where you purchase school supplies or even your local grocery store.  A cute disposable gift bag would work well too. I really like the neoprene lunch totes if you want to upgrade the gift. Almost all teachers have access to refrigerators, so you should not need an insulated lunch bag.

The Food: I made a really good pesto chicken salad and put it on a squishy roll with arugula. I included pretzel crisps, raw veggies, and a small container of cashews, almonds, and dried fruit. I added a bottle of water too. Teachers usually have a microwave available, so you could send something yummy in a tupperware with re-heating instructions instead of a sandwich.

You can click on Fancy Sandwiches for the pesto chicken salad recipe and a few others. I realized after I decided to post these recipes, they probably have a bad breath factor to them. No problem– include a mint with the lunch OR make sure your child’s teacher has the Emergency Kit, so he/she has a toothbrush.

The Extras: Do not forget to add a paper plate, napkin, and any plasticware that is needed.

Back to School Teacher Emergency Kits

I cannot believe I am already preparing to go back to school, but I know it is right around the corner. I have been thinking about this little gift for awhile. It is something I would like a parent of one of my students to give me on the first day of school. Once teachers arrive at school, it is almost impossible to leave the building until after the students leave. There are days when you need a little something from CVS and there is no way to get there. I thought my children’s teachers might appreciate this little Teacher Emergency Kit; I know I would.

The Box: I purchased a few bead storage boxes from Michael’s. It has ten slots with removable dividers. I removed a few of the dividers to make one section of the box bigger.

The Contents: I chose the contents based on things I need when I am teaching. Below is the suggested list, but I also considered adding things like Band-aids, a good red pen, hair bands or a clippy, Tums, and even a feminine product or two since my children have female teachers this year (but the box was clear, and I thought that might have the potential for an embarrassing situation– although not having that item can create an embarrassing situation too, so you decide).

  • cough drops
  • Advil
  • chocolate
  • Tylenol
  • peppermints
  • soda money (quarters)
  • travel toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Aquaphor (or ChapStick of some kind)
  • emery board
  • travel lotion
  • Sharpie pen (I always need one of these at odd times and never have one in my classroom)

The Labels: I printed a 2″x 4″ label for the lid of the box using the Red Cross logo to make it look like an emergency kit. I created a table for the inside of the box and printed it on cardstock. Using a paper cutter, I cut it down to fit the inside lid and attached it with clear tape. I wanted the “map” on the inside to look like one of those lists they have in the big chocolate candy boxes, so you know what kind of chocolate you are eating. Here is a copy of the teacher emergency kit map.

Footnote: I did a little Pinterest research, and (big gasp) I am not the only one with the Teacher Emergency Kit idea. After analyzing my competition, I noticed a few flaws with the other kits’ contents. They often contain colorful paper clips or Starburst candies or things that make the packaging look better, but these items are not that useful. A Starburst is not going to make my breath better after I eat garlic-y hummus for lunch. I don’t need colorful paper clips; I can get a whole box of paper clips in the supply cabinet next to my school’s copy machine. When you fill your emergency kit, think about items that a teacher would not be able to access in a school building and might desperately need.