Learning to read 4: fluency
Did you know there are five key skills that help children learn to read? The fourth is ‘fluency’. Read on for seven great tips on how to help your child master this important skill.
What is ‘fluency’?
‘Fluency’ is the ability to read a text accurately, quickly and smoothly. When reading aloud, good fluency also means that your expression and pacing sound natural – just like they would when you’re talking.
Children who struggle with reading often have poor fluency – they can’t figure out words quickly, so their reading is stilted and they find it harder to understand what they are reading. When they start to become fluent readers, they spend less time on decoding individual words, more time on understanding what the text means, and find reading more enjoyable.
How can you help your child?
The best way for your child to become a fluent reader is to practise. These seven tips will help you help them to reach this stage.
Read, read, read!
The most important thing is for you to read. Read with your child, read to them and let them see you reading. This will help your child to develop a love of reading and see it as an enjoyable and useful skill. Children also like doing what their parents are doing, so if they see you reading, they will be more likely to pick up a book of their own. The more they do this, the more they are practising reading.
Reinforce classroom learning
Your child’s teacher will probably give your child home readers that they can read comfortably. This makes them ideal for improving your child’s fluency, as they won’t need to stop often to decode new or difficult words. Encourage your child to read with expression – even with funny voices, or silly accents!
Read with expression
When you are reading aloud to your child, show how to read with expression by changing your tone, pace, pitch and volume to add meaning. It makes reading time more enjoyable for both of you, and encourages your child to use expression when they are reading aloud. If you are not a confident reader yourself, try downloading or borrowing audiobooks and listening with your child while you follow the print copy of the book together. (You can find audiobooks online or at your local library.)
Set them up for success
In addition to their home readers, encourage your child to practise reading out loud from other books that they are able to read without too much difficulty. Predictable books with a limited vocabulary, a clear rhythm, rhyming words and repeated phrases are easier for your child to read with expression, making reading more enjoyable and giving them the feeling of reading success. Favourite books that are so familiar they are almost reading from memory can also be very useful.
Repeat tricky bits
If your child has just read a page that they found difficult, praise them for working out the words, and encourage them to read it again. The second time around, they won’t need to focus as much on the tricky words, so their fluency will improve. They’ll also be able to focus more on the meaning, so their comprehension will increase, which makes reading more enjoyable.
Focus on expression and fluency
Sometimes when you are listening to your child read, encourage your child to focus just on expression.
How about you read this time like you’re telling me a story, right through to the end. I’ll help you with any tricky words.
Don’t stop or correct your child if they make a mistake, and help them if they hesitate on a word, so that they can keep reading without losing momentum. When your child gets to the end of the book and is feeling good about their fluency, then you can go back to review individual words – or leave them until another day.
Remember to praise your child for their efforts and improvements in fluency, even if they made mistakes with words, and to make your praise specific.
Your reading is getting really expressive – I loved how you made the giant sound so big and gruff!
Wow, you read that page really fluently! You made it sound so interesting.
Use your home language
If your home language is not English, you can also apply the same ideas in your own language. This will develop your child’s fluency and help them learn to read English (and your own language).
What about the other skills?
For tips on how to help your child master the other four key reading skills, see the other articles in this series.