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

Through Space and Time

pi in the skyI just finished reading Wendy Mass’ latest book, Pi in the Sky. I have not decided if I like the book or not. Some parts confused me, but other parts about beings who oversee our universe and are responsible for keeping the planets in orbit kept me reading. There is a space/time element in the book as well.

magic halfI started thinking about books I have read where characters travel through time to a different reality, and the character’s world is still running in a parallel universe, so the space-time continuum is disrupted. I kind of like the circular thinking of a person returning to the past, disrupting an event that occurred, and then meeting up again in present day a la Back to the Future. It has the ability to blow your mind if you really concentrate on the whole concept of time. Here are a few book choices that deal with dropping in and out of time.

george washingtons socks

  • Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer– This is for a more sophisticated reader. The language and vocabulary is more difficult, and the story pace can be slow. I like this book, though.
  • Children of the Red King, Charlie Bone and the Time Twister by Jenny Nimmo– Many people list this as a Harry Potter read-alike. This book is the second in the series.
  • The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen– Holocaust alert!
  • George Washington’s Socks by Elvira Woodruff– If you are a fan of Magic Treehouse. This is like a Magic Treehouse for an older reader. Woodruff has companion books too.
  • The Gideon Trilogy, The Time Travelers by Linda Buckley-Archer– I loved the first book; I could not finish the sequel.
  • The Magic Half by Annie Barrows– My favorite time travel book.
  • North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler– Found this because I love the author’s Emily Windsnap series so much.
  • Teddy Powers: The Stone Keepers by Anne Todd– This is a self-published book by a parent at my school. My students (and Mr. Star Wars) love this book. It is available on Amazon.
  • The 13th Reality, The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner– This book can be slow in parts, but the concept of parallel lives existing at the same time held my interest.
  • The Wells Bequest: A Companion to the Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman– I really liked the Grimm Legacy, so you may want to read both books.
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead– This book is so much better if you are familiar with A Wrinkle in Time.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle– One of the originals for this type of science fiction (in my opinion).

teddy powersI am trying to remember the name of a book I read as a child about a character who would walk down a foggy street and be transported back in time. I think the setting of the story was London. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Please help me out with a title if you read this book too!

Topic, Main Idea, and Details

ice cream sundae

The three dreaded pieces of a reading assignment to any student. Most students take a stab at a word in the first sentence to find topic and main idea and then pick something from the middle for a detail. There’s a 50/50 chance they will get partial points using that strategy. Well, hold on to your hats; I have a better way.

I attended another professional development class from my favorite source for good reading strategies– KUCRL. This time, I got some tips for helping students identify topic, main, idea, and detail.

  1. To find the topic of a paragraph or article, use the sentence prompt, “This paragraph/article is about _____.” The one or two words that complete the sentence is the topic. If a student is still lost, the topic will often appear in the title and/or first or last sentence of the paragraph, so look there while using the prompt.
  2. To find a main idea within a paragraph, locate the topic first. Then ask yourself, “What does this paragraph tell me about the topic?” Insert your topic at the end of the question. The answer to your question is the main idea.
  3. To find important details, use the main idea. Ask yourself, “What is specific information about the main idea?” Insert your main idea at the end of the question. The ideas that answer the question are the key details.

Read the paragraph and give it a try.

perfect ice cream sundae paragraphTopic: This paragraph is about ice cream sundaes.

Main Idea: What does this paragraph tell me about ice cream sundaes? This paragraph talks about sundae ingredients. The main idea is ice cream sundae ingredients.

Details: What is specific information about the ingredients? Key details are ice cream flavors, sauces, and different kinds of toppings.

These prompts help with standardized test preparation for reading comprehension. They also work well when looking for the important “stuff” while reading textbooks. Finally, this is a great way to pick out the essential information in any non-fiction reading assignment. It provides a structured way for students to weed out non-important details and zero in on the meat of the text in order to take notes for research projects or preparing for class discussion and tests.

If you are looking for teaching materials that help with these skills, visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store to purchase activities that reinforce reading skills like topic, main idea, details, and paraphrasing.

Sound Cards

sound card popcorn

Miss Priss has a new nightly homework assignment. She brings home sound cards, and we review letter and word sounds with her to practice the phonics instruction she gets at school. Miss Priss thinks it is a little boring since she already knows her letter sounds and has a pretty good reading level for a 6-year old. I am trying to explain the importance of recognizing individual letter sounds at the beginning, middle, and end of words and how letters combine to make specific sound patterns in English. My teacher explanation is lost on her.

TheRoomDad actually saved the day on this one because he started creating word games at the dinner table that take care of the sound practice without making it seem like we are running flashcards (point for TheRoomDad). Any child at the beginning stages of reading needs a good foundation of letter sounds and how sounds combine. This will translate into good reading and spelling skills down the road when kids encounter unfamiliar words. Whether your family has actual sound cards or not, play some sound activities at the dinner table, in the car, during bath time, walking down the aisles at the grocery store, or any random free moment to reinforce good reading skills.

This is a

This is a “giggling pig” and actually represents the short “i” sound. Miss Priss thinks the card should have an igloo rather than the giggling pig.

Name words that have a particular sound at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.

  • Give your child a starting sound/letter and call out any words that begin with that sound. If you call out “M” as in marshmallow, name other words that start with the “M” sound (monkey, mommy, moon). Now move the “M” sound to the end of words. Call out any words where you can hear the “M” at the end (home, lamb, room, clam). Don’t worry if the word is not spelled with an “M” at the end. For this activity, children are listening for the sound only. Now, find words with the “M” sound in the middle. This activity is the hardest (lemon, computer, hammer). If you want to throw a little extra challenge in the mix, try to think of words that have the “M” sound in the beginning AND middle (mummy, mermaid).

sound card letters on back

Create a whole sentence that includes words that all start with the same sound.

  • This is harder than you might think. Throw out a sound and see if your child can create a whole sentence with words that start with the same sound. You could also play a game where each person adds one word going around in a circle. Try making a sentence will all “S” sounds at the beginning, for example (Sally swam speedily). See who can make the longest sentence with words that all start with the same letter.

Find pictures in magazines, catalogs, reading books, etc. that have specific letter sounds at the beginning, middle, or end.

Give a category and name any words that start with a specific letter sound for that category (animals, desserts, jobs, sports, etc.).

sound card lamb

Not only will these simple strategies build sound awareness, they will also build vocabulary. It may seem super easy to a child to list words that match a letter sound, but it will strengthen phonics skills and contribute to better reading skills in later grades. Anyone have suggestions for other simple word games you can play with children that will have a positive impact on reading and spelling skills?


Relax with a Magazine

cricket magazine

Sometimes, no matter what great books we try to coax children into reading, they just can’t get through a chapter book. Struggling readers can be overwhelmed by the length of longer reading selections, and they need materials that can be completed in one session. Picture books work but may give the impression that they are intended for little kids. Magazine subscriptions are a great alternative for school aged kids who are reluctant or struggling readers.

For information about using magazines to encourage struggling readers and improve comprehension, visit my guest blog post at EasyReadSystem. The article also includes a list of children’s magazine subscriptions and links for ordering.

egypt kids discover

And, a little grandparent tip– my parents give each of my children a magazine subscription every year for Christmas. My kids love (1) getting mail and (2) getting new “stories” every month.

Click here to read the full article and get names of magazine titles and ordering information.