Oct 25, 2011 by Cory Armes, M.Ed.

Oral reading practice Classroom techniques to increase reading comprehension and fluency

In my former work as a teacher, one of the best moments of the day in my classroom took place when I read aloud to my students.  It was a magical time for all of us as the words on the page and the characters in the story seemed to come alive right before us as I used different voices and accents. Sometimes I read very fast and other times I created long pauses that kept my students hanging, wondering what would happen next.  I wanted them to love reading as much as I did – to enjoy that excitement you feel when you solve a mystery, are saved from catastrophe, or discover a wild and wonderful new world.  Sharing this gift with my students was possible only because I am a fluent reader.

In his book The Fluent Reader, Dr. Timothy Rasinski says that fluency is a critical but sometimes ignored link between the basic reading of words and achieving comprehension.  With fluency, the foundational skills of phonics and word recognition have progressed to the point that only a minimal amount of cognitive energy is needed for decoding so that the reader can focus on understanding what is being read.   When you are a fluent reader, you are able to read easily and efficiently with prosody, or meaningful expression, and that enhances your comprehension. 

Students must have some degree of fluency in order to comprehend text, so if you have students who easily understand what is read to them but have difficulty when reading independently, fluency may be the source of that problem.  A study of fourth graders sponsored by the US Department of Education demonstrated that the most fluent readers had the strongest comprehension scores.  In addition, every decline in oral reading fluency in the study had a corresponding decline in reading comprehension. [i]  The study was replicated ten years later with about 1,500 students and had similar results. [ii]  In both studies, close to half of the students who were not adequately fluent in reading also demonstrated significant problems with comprehension.

Practice is essential to learning and mastering any skill – sports, music, cooking, etc. - so it makes sense that this also would apply to the skill of reading.   By including consistent oral reading practice during the school day, the reading process becomes transparent so it can be observed, examined and supported until students become independent readers.   Readers must transition from being tied to the individual words so they can achieve higher levels of comprehension as they read.  A great way to encourage this is through repeated oral practice of the same reading selection, which helps students with word recognition, fluency and prosody as well as general reading and comprehension. 

There is something special about reading aloud regardless of whodoes the reading.  Oral reading is a powerful tool that can help students not only learn to read fluently but also to experience the joy of reading. 

The transition from rote to rapture - that’s what fluency can do for you.

Want to learn more?  Check out Dr. Rasinski’s free on-demand webinar on scilearn.com, Teaching Fluency: The Neglected Goal of the Reading Program.

[i]Gay S. Pinnell et al. Listening to Children Read Aloud: Data From NAEP’s Integrated Reading Performance Record (IRPR) at Grade 4, 1995.  http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/permalinkPopup.jsp?accno=ED3...

[ii]Mary C. Daane, Jay R. Campbell, Wendy S. Grigg, Madeline J. Goodman, and Andreas Oranje. Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud: NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading, October 2005. http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2006469.asp

Related Reading:

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency

How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function