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Black high school female teacher helping Latino teen with reading

Key Literacy Component: Fluency

National Institute for Literacy

Fluent readers can read text accurately, smoothly, and with good comprehension. Students who get bogged down in the mechanics of reading have trouble with this skill. With proper instruction, struggling readers can improve their fluency.

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Fluency is the ability to read text accurately and smoothly with little conscious attention to the mechanics of reading [1]. Fluent readers read text with appropriate speed, accuracy, proper intonation, and proper expression [2]. Some researchers have found a relationship between fluency and text comprehension [3], which indicates the importance of fluency. Readers must decode and comprehend to gather information from text. If the speed and accuracy of decoding words are hindered, comprehension of the words is compromised as well.

What do good readers do?

Fluent readers recognize words automatically and are better able to understand text when reading aloud or silently [4]. When good readers read aloud, their reading sounds natural and expressive. Fluent readers no longer struggle with decoding words and are able to focus their attention on the meaning of the text. This allows good readers to gain a deeper knowledge of a text by making connections among the ideas presented [5]. Because fluent readers tend to be more confident about the content and meaning of what they have read, they tend to complete their work faster and with higher quality than less fluent readers [6].

What challenges do adolescent readers face with fluency?

Struggling readers lack fluency, read slowly, and often stop to sound out words. They may reread sections of texts to gain comprehension. Consequently, struggling adolescent readers may spend so much time and cognitive energy decoding individual words that their focus is drawn away from comprehension [7].

Another challenge facing struggling readers, and in fact all readers, is that their fluency varies based on a number of factors: the level of difficulty of the text; the degree of familiarity the reader has with the words, content, and genre of the text; and the amount of practice with the text [8]. As a result, a reader who is considered fluent at one point but does not continue to read regularly and widely could have difficulty with fluency later or in specific situations [9].


How can instruction help adolescent students read fluently?

Researchers support a systematic plan of action when working to improve the fluency of struggling adolescent readers [10]. Practice is the essential component of improving fluency. The more frequently and regularly students practice reading, the more fluent they become [11]. Remember that both decoding and vocabulary affect fluency; as a reader gains mastery over new content vocabulary; fluency is likely improved for that content area. The following suggestions for instruction promote frequent and regular practice for struggling adolescent readers.

Provide models of fluent reading

Struggling readers should witness fluent reading on a regular basis. Teachers who demonstrate fluent reading during instruction give students a standard for which to strive [12]. Model fluent reading for students by reading aloud from class texts frequently and regularly. Teachers should not feel that oral reading in middle and high school classes is no longer necessary.

Engage students in repeated oral reading of texts

Research supports the use of repeated oral reading of texts to help students develop fluency [13]. To establish and improve fluency, the opportunity to read aloud is preferable to silent reading opportunities, especially for struggling adolescent readers. If students are allowed only to read silently, teachers acquire little to no information about the development of fluency [14]. Obviously, requiring struggling readers to read aloud must be done with sensitivity so as not to embarrass students who are less fluent.

Teachers can integrate repeated reading into their instruction in the following ways:

  • Provide students with frequent and regular opportunities to read passages aloud several times. Provide feedback and guidance during these oral readings.
  • Allow students to practice reading aloud by themselves first to avoid the embarrassment that can occur when reading unfamiliar texts aloud. English language learners and struggling readers especially need such opportunities for practice.

Engage students in guided oral reading

Guided oral reading is a useful method of improving the fluency of struggling readers [15]. To use guided oral reading, teachers must work individually with struggling readers on a regular basis. For middle and high school teachers, the use of guided oral reading in classes limited to an hour or less of instructional time requires that teachers target a small group of their most struggling readers and alternate working with one or two of them daily during those times when other students are engaged in group or individual work. Guided oral reading involves:

  1. Asking individual students to read aloud,
  2. Guiding them to self-correct when they mispronounce words, and
  3. Asking questions about content to ensure comprehension.

Choral reading, or having the class read simultaneously, is not often used at the secondary level; however, if used as one of the first strategies for mastering a text, choral reading can provide struggling readers the opportunity to practice and receive support in the group before being required to read on their own [16]. Adolescents may be more accepting of choral reading if it is used with specific key passages that the teacher wants students to remember, poems, or with segments of literary works.

Engage students in partner reading

Partner reading is another instructional strategy that builds fluency [17]. To use partner reading:

  1. Pair more fluent readers with less fluent readers;
  2. Select reading partners carefully considering both compatibility and fluency;
  3. Introduce the reading material by reading aloud the first paragraph or two or
  4. selected passages;
  5. Inform students that partners are to select different passages to read aloud and that they
  6. should both first read each passage silently; and
  7. Have partners take turns reading aloud to one another.

When fluent readers read, they provide a model for less fluent readers. As a listener, the more fluent reader can also provide feedback and support to the less fluent reader. Teachers need to provide guidance to the whole class on how to provide constructive feedback after listening to a partner read [18]. This guidance may include a checklist of fluency criteria for the listener. Classroom teachers can work with the school’s reading specialist, special education teacher, or reading coach to determine an appropriate list of criteria for listeners that is manageable within a content-area classroom context. Engaging students in partner reading, as opposed to asking students to read aloud for the whole class, may reduce the level of embarrassment that is felt by some struggling adolescent readers when they are asked to read aloud for the entire class.


What do we still need to know?

All of the instructional strategies suggested in this section for improving fluency recommend encouraging adolescents to read more often in the presence and with the guidance of a more fluent reader. Research has yet to reveal whether or how much improvement in reading rate is adequate to improve fluency and comprehension. The nature of the relationship between fluency and accuracy in word recognition in struggling adolescent readers also requires further study. Finally, the effects of oral versus silent fluency instruction need to be explored in greater depth [19].


National Institute for Literacy. (2007). Adapted from What Content-Area Teachers Should Know About Adolescent Literacy. Retrieved from