Reading Fluency: Addressing the Elephant in the Room

As reading instructors, we have all cringed as we sit and listen to students who stutter and stammer through a reading passage. At the same time, we applaud our students’ deliberate effort as they practice the decoding skills we have taught them. As reading skills develop and decoding skills strengthen, fluency becomes the “elephant in the room”, an obvious problem that everyone hopes will just work itself out.

We all can agree that the goal of reading is to be able to comprehend what we read. A fluent reader who can automatically decode the words on a page is able to give full attention to comprehending the text. Many teachers spend countless instructional hours teaching kids how to explicitly decode words. As students acquire decoding skills, it is vital that we also provide our students ample time to practice speed and smoothness in reading. Fluency is defined as the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. As readers move into upper grades, fluency becomes increasingly important because the volume of reading required escalates dramatically. Furthermore, students who read at a slow or labored rate will have trouble meeting the reading demands of their grade level.

Researchers Stahl and Kuhn (2002) suggest that as soon as students start making good progress with basic decoding, they must be given opportunities to re-read sentences to practice making their reading “sound like talking”. Research has also identified Repeated Reading as the key strategy for improving students’ fluency skills (NICHD, 2000). Repeated Reading gives students the opportunity to read and then re-read the same text, and lets them practice their reading orally with an opportunity to receive corrections and guidance. Repeated Reading is a form of mastery learning. Besides helping students bring words to mastery, repeated reading changes the way students view themselves in relation to the act of reading. This strategy is best to use with small groups or with individual students. The Phonics First® Oral Reading stories work very well with this strategy.

Repeated Reading Steps
1. Teacher: selects a short section of a passage.
2. Student: reads the short section, focusing on decoding.
3. Teacher: reads same section to model fluency.
4. Student: re-reads same section; teacher offers corrective feedback.
5. Student: starts from the beginning and reads the entire passage

To become a confident, successful reader, one must read with fluency. Our students need to be immersed in reading practice, but just asking them to read more often doesn’t work. Fluency will not develop unless we provide opportunity for purposeful practice while also explicitly teach developing readers how to read fluently, step by step.


Samantha Brooks, MSE CDP
Samantha is an Instructor at Brainspring’s Educators Academy.

Brainspring’s Educator Academy helps teachers bring Orton-Gillingham based multisensory instruction to the classroom. Our nationally accredited Phonics First® curriculum helps transform struggling readers into skilled learners with an effective, fun, multisensory approach.
For more information please visit or call 1-8007323211

Are Predictable Books Helpful or Harmful?

crystal-ball-1193817-639x425Hi everyone,

This is a question I found myself asking this week after watching an eye-opening video by Spelfabet called, “What’s wrong with predictable or repetitive texts?” I highly encourage you to watch the video, especially if you teach beginning readers.

What’s wrong with predictable or repetitive texts?

Are Predictable Books the Right Choice for Beginning Readers?

 I like this simple definition for predictable books from the Illinois Early Learning Project: “A predictable book is one that features patterns, sequences, and connections in the illustrations or words that enable children to guess “what comes next” in the story.” 

Spelfabet’s video shows what a simple predictable text looks like to a beginning reader who only knows a handful of letter-sound correspondences. When a student doesn’t know the pattern or correspondence in the text the letters are substituted with WingDings, turning what appears to be a simple book from an adult’s point of view into indecipherable nonsense. The video also makes the point that the book can be “read” without even seeing the text. It can appear that students are reading, when in fact they are simply telling the story based on the pictures.

Watching the video, I felt like someone flipped on the light switch in my brain. “She’s absolutely right,” I thought. “How could a student practice reading when they don’t even need to look at the words or the letters to know what the book says? It must be so frustrating for a beginning reader to look at a book like that and not have the skills to decode the words. I can’t believe predictable stories are so common in classrooms!”

But then I started to think about other predictable stories. I remembered how much my nephew loved filling in the animal sounds when I read him his cardboard book about Old MacDonald’s farm, and how much students in my class loved shouting, “I’ll huff and puff and blow your house down,” when the wolf’s part came up in Little Red Riding Hood. Surely, predictable books have their place, right?

I did some research, and they do. What matters is how and why predictable books are being used.

When Should Predictable Books be Used?

As Spelfabet says in the beginning of her video, predictable books, like the examples she uses, are often sent home with students for extra reading practice. Predictable books are not suited for this purpose because of the reasons her video addresses; the main reason being that they don’t give the student an opportunity to practice decoding words using the skills they have. For the purpose of decoding and reading practice, students should be using controlled readers or decodable books.

Predictable books should be used for shared reading or read-alouds. Used in this way they can help students develop vocabulary, an appreciation for reading and expectations of both spoken and written language. Shared reading done with predictable texts engages students by offering them opportunities to successfully participate in “reading”, even though they can’t yet decode the words. Many predictable books also incorporate skills like rhyming that will help students develop the phonological awareness skills necessary to become successful readers.

Check out these links for more on appropriate uses of predictable texts for pre- and emergent readers:


What are your favorite predictable books to use with your students? Share below!


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Phonics is the Foundation for Comprehension

Hi everyone,

I mentioned on Monday that today’s post would be special.  This is something I have been excited to share with you since I filmed it a few weeks ago.  This video features my colleague, Ingrid.  She taught me everything I know and she knows even more than she taught me!  Not only is she incredibly knowledgeable, she is also incredibly creative and a top-notch instructor.  I hope you enjoy her demonstration as much as I do!


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Multisensory Monday- Add Pizazz to Fluency with Character Voices

charactersHi everyone,

Welcome to Multisensory Monday!  I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend.  Are you on Spring Break this week or did you have last week off?

Today’s activity is a fun way to add some zing to oral reading every once in a while.  The idea came from a neat GoogleSlides presentation on Edutopia: 37 Ways to Help Kids Learn to Love Reading.  Be sure to check out the slideshow for more!

Build Fluency with Voice Cards

Before reading aloud, have students draw a Voice or Character Card that they will try to emote when it is their turn to read.  Simply write voice or character descriptions on notecards or slips of paper.   Pass out the slips or have students draw a card (without looking, of course) and give them a few minutes to prepare before reading begins.

I like using this with the controlled reading stories from the lesson because they are short enough that each student can read the entire text or at least a paragraph.  Whatever text you choose to use, make sure it is one that the students are already familiar with and have read aloud before.  This activity is meant to add a little pizazz to the usual fluency practice, not replace it.

Here is a list of ideas I came up with to get you started.









British accent

Irish accent

Surfer Dude

Business Executive





Loud (but not yelling)

Soft (but not whispering)


Mario (Nintendo character)

Wicked Witch



Please comment with more ideas!

Choose characters or voices that are appropriate for the age.  For example, I probably wouldn’t ask a kindergartner or 1st grader to try a British accent, but that might be great fun for a 5th grader.


wicked witchLast week I used this game with some of my students and they had a suggestion that made this activity even more fun.  After each person was finished reading, we had to guess what their voice or character was supposed to be!  The students had a blast!  (Full disclosure: I had a blast too!  I even took a turn reading as the Wicked Witch.)


Flowers vs Monsters

Dite outdid herself this week!  Her multisensory activity is an educational version of an iPad game her student kept asking to play.  Not only does she give the full instructions on her blog, she also has the gameboard and pieces for free on her TPT store.

This game would be great for tutors to play on days when the lesson is a Spell Check!


After you check it out, be sure to send Dite a “Thank You” comment for all the work she put in for us!


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