Did you see the movie Zootopia? Well, there’s a famous scene at the DMV where a sloth takes fooooooreeeeever to help the main character, who is in a huge rush! Even the sloth’s laugh is super slow and the whole scene is really very funny.
While it’s hilarious in a cartoon movie, when it happens in person, it’s anything but!
Over the years, I’ve had students who read too fast and make careless errors, read too slow and forget what they were reading, or read at a good pace but in a monotone voice.
All of these problems have to do with fluency.
Fluency is the ability to read text at an appropriate speed, with accuracy and expression.
When kids don’t have fluency, not only do they sound choppy, but their comprehension also suffers. Luckily, I have some fluency practice activities to help your kids increase their fluency and comprehension!
1. Model Robot Reading
This usually gets them giggling. Speak like a robot when introducing your lesson!
Give them directions to come to the carpet or meeting place, but use a monotone, choppy robot voice. When they comment on it, explain that just like our talking should be smooth and not robotic, so should our reading. Tell them sometimes when people read, they may sound like a robot if they are not reading fluently. Let them know they will learn strategies to help them sound smooooooooth!
Often, students read slowly because they are working on decoding the text. Rereading a sentence several times helps to increase fluency, once the hard work of decoding is done. I often tell my students that the first time they read a sentence, it may sound-like-a-robot, but each time they reread it, it sounds smoooooother!
Encourage kids to use expression as they reread. Have them practice with familiar texts. I had our poems around the classroom for a fun read around the room center. I also made small copies of our Poem of the Week and laminated them before placing them in the table book bins. Kids read them during centers or whenever they finished their work early.
TIME-SAVING TIP* You don’t have to type up your poems if you have them on chart paper. Just take a picture of them and print them out before laminating.
3. Echo Read
Model reading fluently with shared text- a big book or text displayed on a screen. Read a sentence, then have kids read the same sentence trying to emulate your fluency and expression. Students can also work with a partner to echo-read books.
4. Reading Contests (against themselves)
My students loved this activity because they were in a race against themselves. I gave students a text (usually a differentiated reading passage, reading warm-up, or sight word fluency passage) and used a 2-minute timer. Students read independently and when the time was up, they circled the last word they read in one color. Then, I’d reset the time and they reread the text, circling the last word in a different color. After a few readings, students were able to notice improvements in their fluency speed.
You can also have partners work together on this. At a fluency center, place different texts as well as sand timers. One student reads while the other is in charge of the timer and helps to monitor accuracy.
4. Record Reading
Sometimes kids don’t even notice that they are reading too slow or without expression. It’s helpful if they can hear themselves reading. Use a voice recording app to let kids record themselves reading a text. Then, have them listen to it while reading the text again. What do they notice? What can they do better?
Seesaw is a great platform for this if you have a subscription. Or, a free voice recording app like Kids Recorder. Or, if you don’t have either, simply use a camera with the lens facing down on the table to just get the audio without the visual distractions.
6. Practice with Punctuation
Often, errors are made when punctuation is disregarded or misplaced. Teach children how to use punctuation as a guide to help with fluency. I always get a kick out of using the phrase, “Let’s eat grandma!” When I read that first, of course kids are appalled, but those shocked looks turn into giggles when I add the comma after the word eat!
Model reading a text with no punctuation, emphasizing awkward parts of the text. It didn’t make sense, did it? Authors include punctuation to help us read and understand, so we have to pay attention to them!
Also, practice reading the same sentence with different punctuation marks. This helps with expression! The skill cards below are included in my Guided Reading Warm-ups.
The book Punctuation Takes a Vacation is a fun way to teach about punctuation too (although it includes advanced punctuation that will likely go over kindergartners and first-graders heads). Here is a link to the book being read on YouTube.
7. Use Silly Voices
Rereading can be boring, right? It’s less so when you use different voices! We love changing our voice to practice fluency. You can have kids read the text in a “Mickey Mouse” voice, monster voice, or any creative voice you can think of.
The picture below shows my Sight Word Pocket Dice cards. I use these to practice sight word fluency.
I also have fluency review slides in my Sight Word Body-Spelling Bundle.
8. Reader’s Theater
Most kids love acting out stories, so why not add a little extra fluency fun with mini-plays? Rehearsing for a class presentation is a great way to practice fluency (and team collaboration).
9. Teach Sight Words
Having a solid sight word vocabulary increases fluency as well. When they don’t have to stop and decode every word, they’ll be able to read faster and with better comprehension. Have your kids practice sight words in context, using multisensory methods when possible.
10. Scoop Phrases
Sometimes kids can decode words, but are used to reading one word at a time. Train the eye to look at several words at once with scooped phrases. They can read each word carefully, then reread and scoop their fingers on the arch to read smoothly.
11. Mini-lesson on Just-right pace
Some kids think that reading super fast is reading fluently. We know that reading too fast is just as bad as reading too slow! Here is an easy activity to demonstrate just-right reading.
Write the following sentence on paper, each word on a separate sheet: We like to play with friends.
Invite student volunteers to come up and hold the papers, one for each word.
Squish all the kids together and read the sentence super fast, so that kids can’t understand what you said.
Then, ask students to stand as far apart as they can around your room. Read the sentence slowly as you walk to each student.
Discuss what made it hard to understand each way. Explain that a just-right pace is neither too fast nor too slow. Place kids just a few inches apart and read at a just-right pace to model.
Have kids point to a text while they listen to it being read with good fluency and expression.
13. Stop the Pointing
What? I just told you to have kids point!
Pointing past a certain level can actually hinder reading. If students are reading one word at a time choppily, it’s time to put the finger away so their eyes can glance across the page at several words.
14. Read a short text with an Assigned Emotion
This can be hard (and silly), but give kids a text and tell them to read it while displaying a certain emotion- sad, happy, shy, afraid… If the emotion doesn’t match the text, it’s extra silly (and therefore more fun!).
Ask them to think about how the characters are feeling in the stories they read, and to use expression accordingly to show that emotion.
15. Watch and Listen to Others
In addition to listening to their own recordings and your modeling, have kids watch short YouTube clips of kids giving reviews. Discuss how kids used their voices to show their emotions, using fluency and expression.
Without fluency, it’s extremely difficult to have good comprehension. In my Reading Strategy Tent Cards, I include teaching cards for fluency and expression with examples you can use to model each. Hopefully, the activities above will also help make teaching these skills fun for your students!
What other activities do you use for teaching fluency? I’d love to hear about them!