Oral Reading Fluency Instruction for Grades K-3
Timothy G. Weih, Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa, USA
Background: Oral Reading Fluency Defined
When children learn how to read words aloud, they soon are able to read words aloud put together into sentences. Oral reading fluency refers to the ability of children to read aloud at age appropriate speed (reading rate), word accuracy (decoding), and with voice inflection (expression-depending on the context of the text they are reading).
The Role of Oral Reading Fluency
If children are unable to read text aloud fluently, many times their understanding of what they are reading is compromised. Although oral reading is one of the best indicators for teachers to assess how well a child is reading in general, it must be realized that many children feel embarrassed and afraid to read aloud, especially alone, in front of the teacher or peers, so therefore, their true oral reading ability is difficult to actually determine. It is an inappropriate practice to tell children that their reading fluency will never improve, because as they become less afraid, and this may not happen in the child's present classroom, their oral reading could improve dramatically. Research has suggested that language abilities continue to increase as children age.
Create a Safe Environment for Oral Reading
Children need a safe environment in order to achieve success in school. Teachers can help to create a safe environment and safe practices that will contribute to the children feeling more at ease and confident to read aloud in front of the teacher and peers. The following sections will address how to accomplish this, but first, teachers need to develop within themselves an attitude and practice of patience, understanding, love, and caring for their students and demonstrate this everyday in the words they say, tone of voice, and actions they take. Only then, will children feel comfortable to take risks in the classroom such as reading aloud and expressing their thoughts about a reading piece.
Safe Practices for Oral Reading
Most of the reading in the primary grades should be Shared Reading (which is a reading method that includes various strategies) meaning that most of the time, children are reading together from the same piece of literature that they all have in front of them. Since in all of these strategies, children are orally reading together, they can experience safety, security, and success which will serve to build their oral reading confidence and reading efficacy in general. They should NEVER put on the spot to do a cold, oral reading in front of the teacher or peers (think how devastating that sort of practice is for children just learning to speak English and children who might have speech problems). The following sections describe some strategies that are implemented within the Shared Reading Method. Only after a child has multiple, successful experiences with reading a text aloud within Shared Reading strategies, should he or she be asked to read it alone for more formal assessment purposes, and even then, the element of fear needs to be taken into consideration.
During the implementation of this oral reading strategy the teacher reads the main part of a short text aloud and the children read in unison, aloud, with the teacher. It is best for the teacher to first read the whole text aloud to the children so they can see and hear how the piece sounds and for building comprehension. All the children need to be able to see the piece either on the classroom screen or in print, and the children must be able to see the teacher's face so that they can watch how her mouth forms the words, and how her facial expression conveys the meaning about the piece. This procedural practice must be repeated for all of the following strategies.
For the strategy of Echo Reading, the teacher reads a line of a text and then pauses to wait for the children to repeat it. Echo Reading leads children gradually into independent reading. It is best for the teacher to first read the whole text aloud to the children so they can see and hear how the piece sounds and for building comprehension.
The oral reading strategy of Whisper Reading is best implemented by first dividing the children into two or more groups with not more than six children in each group. The teacher reads the whole text aloud to the children so they can see and hear how the piece sounds and for building comprehension. After the teacher reads the piece aloud, the children read it again on their own in a whisper voice done in unison, but in their small groups, not as a whole class as they do for Choral Reading. Whisper Reading leads children gradually into independent reading of a text silently.
To instruct the children in the strategy of Alternate Reading, the teacher first divides the children into two or more groups with not more than six children in each group. Next, the teacher reads the whole text aloud to the children so they can see and hear how the piece sounds and for building comprehension. After the teacher reads the piece aloud, the students read it again on their own, but in their small groups. One child begins by reading a sentence or short passage alone, then stops, and the next child to the right or left takes over where the first child stopped, and this procedure is repeated. It is best not to set too much of a pattern of how much text to read or when to stop, so that the next child is not quite sure where or when the child reading before him will stop-this will serve to keep their attention focused on the text. Alternate Reading leads children gradually into independent reading of a text silently and keeps children's attention on the text in preparation of their own turn for reading.
To implement the oral reading strategy of Buddy Reading, the teacher pairs up each child in the class with an older child from a different class that is at least two years older. The older child begins by first reading the whole text aloud to the younger child so he can see and hear how the piece sounds and for building comprehension. The two children should sit across from each other, face-to-face, so that the younger child can watch the older child's facial expressions and how his mouth forms the words. Both children need to have a copy of the reading piece in front of them. All of the previous Shared Reading strategies will work with this strategy for reading the text aloud. The main benefits of this strategy are that both children hear how the words sound and what the words look like that make the sounds and since the older child first reads it aloud, the younger child will have a grasp of the overall meaning of the piece. Buddy Reading should be implemented only after all the children involved have been taught all of the other strategies, and have had a lot of practice doing them, so that they know what to do.
Reading Materials to use with Shared Reading Strategies
Teachers can use any text (meaning any written material) that they are using in their classrooms for the sake of implementing the Shared Reading Strategies described in this article. Examples of text include textbooks, poetry, picture books, tradebooks, fiction and nonfiction, and digital text online. It is important to remember that whatever the teacher is reading aloud from, the students must either have a print copy in front of them, see the text on the classroom screen, or have a computer in front of them with the text displayed. This practice insures that they will not only hear the words, but also see the words, which is important in learning to read text on their own. It is also crucial for teachers to teach from multiple genres of text and not just fictional stories. This practice will insure that students' wide range of interests will be included in the reading instruction.
Instead of the traditional Round Robin or Popcorn Reading practices, which make many children uncomfortable, implement instruction and practice in the Shared Reading strategies described in this article for any and all reading that takes place in the classroom. Eventually, as children progress in their reading abilities, they will read silently on their own, but this is a developmental process that children reach rather than a practice imposed on them when they do not have the necessary skills of word accuracy, reading rate, and reading expression.
About Author / Additional Info:
Timothy G. Weih is an associate professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, USA, and teaches elementary teaching methods courses.