What is fluency?

Fluency is the ability to read accurately, effortlessly, at the appropriate pace, and with expression. Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate on figuring out the words, they can focus their attention on what the text means.  Fluency is important because it provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension. Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate on decoding the words, they can focus their attention on what the text means. They can make connections among the ideas in the text and between the text and their background knowledge. In other words, fluent readers recognize words and comprehend at the same time. Less fluent readers, however, must focus their attention on figuring out the words, leaving them little attention for understanding the text.

How do we know when a reader is or is not fluent when they read?

Proficient readers... Struggling readers...
  • sound as if they were talking instead of reading
  • don’t read too fast or too slow
  • group words together while reading (for example: “The pretty house” would be grouped together, as would “is far away”)
  • read laboriously
  • often read very slowly
  • may sound like robots, each word is disconnected from the next (for example: The (pause) house (pause) is (pause) pretty
  • may not change their voice or inflection to reflect the punctuation at then end of the sentence or bold or italic print

Strategies and tools to help struggling readers with fluency:

Here are links to the following strategies and below are suggested ages/grade levels at which they will most likely be effective in tutoring:

  • Readers' theater scripts are tools for turning a part of a book or other text into a script that students and read and reread. They are a fun way to get learners to build fluency through repeated readings.
  • Timed repeated reading is as the name suggests a way to build fluency through timed re-readings of a text.
  • Reading formats are different ways to read with a students. For example, echo reading is a format that has the learner read after the tutor reads a text (the learner echoes the tutor). Other formats are also described.
  • Phrase cued reading  helps teach expressive reading skills to learners.
Strategy Grades K-2 Grades 3-5 Grades 6-8 Grades 9-12
Readers’ theater X X X  
Timed repeated reading X X X X
Reading formats X X X  
Phrase cued reading   X X  

These strategies can be used for one-on-one tutoring as well as in small groups.