Are there any whole class fluency routines that are effective?

choral reading echo reading fluency reading instruction repeated readings Nov 07, 2023

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Question: Any whole class fluency routines that are effective? 

What is fluency, and why is it important? 

Fluency is composed of three components.

  1. Accuracy–the ability to decode and or recognize words.
  2. Rate–the speed with which you read
  3. Prosody–intonation, stress, phrasing, etc., that you might use as you read aloud.

All three of these are interrelated. However, some kids can get hyper-focused on rate and think that reading is a race when that's different from the goal. We don’t want kids to read as fast as possible just to get it done. We want them to understand what they read. 

This speed reading is sometimes a consequence of using a fluency assessment like an easy CBM or DIBELS. These tests measure a student’s words correct per minute in oral reading. Some kids really get tuned in with the timing piece and try to race themselves against the clock.  I suggest you set clear expectations for the assessment before you begin.

The relationship between fluency and comprehension 

There is an extensive amount of research that supports the fluency and comprehension connection. When you become more fluent, it frees up your brain for deeper understanding. You do not have to labor over things, so you can more easily make meaning from the text.

The research also shows that if you are a proficient oral reader with good expression, you tend also to be great with comprehension, even when silently reading. So, it can also predict comprehension, not just influence it. 

Active View of Reading Model

In 2021, Nell Duke and Kelly Cartwright released the  Active View of Reading model to expand upon Gough & Tunmer’s Simple View of Reading (1986) and Scarbourgh’s Reading Rope (2001), which are the two models most widely used to guide instructional practice in teaching reading.  They wanted to create a model that better represented three significant research advances in how students learn to read since the release of these previous models.  

While I’m not going to get too far into what this framework details, I will say that it highlights the need for specific executive functioning skills, how the theory of mind plays a role in comprehension, and that some processes are shared across word recognition and language comprehension. Duke and Cartwright call these Bridging Processes–which fluency is included as one of those.  If you want to read the full article on the Active View of Reading, click here

Becoming fluent in any complex skill takes practice

In most reading curricula, fluency is not typically emphasized, even though it has a significant impact on comprehension. We want our students to read with automaticity. Just like learning how to drive a car, learning how to read is a very complex task. But if we're proficient at it, we can do it without much thought. 

In fact, as proficient drivers,  we can have the radio on, and our kids might be talking to us in the back seat, and we can continue to drive safely. We no longer have to stop and think about our hands, our mirrors, how to turn, putting the proper pressure on the gas pedal, etc., like we did during the days of Driver's Ed. Once you're a proficient driver, you do it automatically.

That's what we want for our kids. We want them to be able to read with automaticity. To not even think about how to lift the print off the page, they can focus all that brain power on comprehension.

Tenets to keep in mind

Repeated reading is valuable at any age. That's what the research says. Even if you think your kids are “beyond oral reading,” the research has shown that repeated reading in one text supports their fluency in other texts.

Short bursts of intentional fluency focus are so much better than the on-the-fly fluency instruction once in a while. Doing it randomly has less effectiveness than having it become a regular routine that's done in your classroom. Now, the research says this practice should occur daily, but if you're doing anything more than zero, you're winning. So, even if it can only be three or two days a week, try to build it in.

DO NOT practice fluency with round-robin (or popcorn) reading. Many of you may remember being in an elementary school classroom where the teacher called on students to take turns reading aloud portions of a text. This process, known as round-robin reading or popcorn reading, often leads to anxiety and does nothing to improve fluency or comprehension. 

Whole-class routines

The first routine in promoting fluency is with your read-aloud and shared reading texts. Within these times in your literacy instruction are opportunities to not only model what fluent reading sounds like but also think aloud about why you're using a specific tone of voice, emphasizing a particular word, and paying attention to punctuation and phrasing. However, this typically doesn’t give the students a chance at repeated reading practice. 

The second routine is where the whole class is practicing oral reading fluency.  Here are the steps to implement this routine: 

  1. Model reading a text aloud to the class and then calling out certain things about the text that will impact fluency. It could be a poem, an informational text that supports what you are working on in science, an article, a famous speech for something you're studying in social studies, song lyrics, etc. Choose a wide variety across the year. Also, keep in mind that kids naturally are more fluent in narrative than they are in informational text. And you also want to keep it short. 100 to 200 words is the most (but a lot less for earlier readers).  
  2. Second time through, ask the students to join you in choral reading, where you all read it together as one.
  3. Third time through the text, have students do some echo reading. Echo reading is where you read a line or two, and then students, in unison, immediately read the lines you just read.
  4. Next, put kids in small groups or partnerships where they would be doing some partner reading. There is a bit of choral and echo reading practice happening within the group.
  5. Students should then practice it individually. Students should only practice alone after they have had the opportunity to read it several times with support.
  6. Finally, the students should have an authentic opportunity to perform reading the text. The performance isn’t a memorization activity–just an oral reading. The audience could be parents, a buddy classroom, other school staff like the principal or custodian, or they perform to each other in the classroom.  The performance aspect of this routine increases engagement and gives them a purpose for the rereading practice. 

You can do this whole routine in one lesson that would last 20-25 minutes. Or, if you can't afford 20-25 minutes for it because you already have a hard time getting everything in,  then you could break this up across a week where you introduce a text on a Monday, and then they perform on a Friday. That would be 5 minutes a day of practice in that case. 

Here is some further reading on fluency instruction: 

The Megabook of Fluency by Timothy V. Rasinski, Melissa Cheesman Smith

Artfully Teaching the Science of Reading by Chase Young, David Paige, and Timothy V. Rasinski (Chapter 5)  

7 Mighty Moves: Research-Backed, Classroom-Tested Strategies to Ensure K-to-3 Reading Success by Lindsay Kemeny (Move 6)

Shifting the Balance, Grades 3-5: 6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Upper Elementary Classroom by Katie Cunningham, Jan Burkins, and Kari Yates (Shift 5)


What other thoughts do you have about fluency routines? Share them with me through the contact page, or find me on social media and comment on the thread regarding this post!

Have any other questions about reading or writing instruction? Submit them for the chance to have them answered by me in a future Lit Bits blog post and video segment. 


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