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Fluency | Mr. Milhoan’s Class
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Posts in category Fluency

Reading Comprehension

I’ve done it so many times: come to the end of a paragraph on the web or in a newspaper when it has dawned on me that I wasn’t sure what I had just read. I’d go back, slow down, and reread the paragraph. Ah! That’s what I just read! Slowing down and thoughtfully rereading the text is the major reading comprehension technique I use on a daily basis. It really is amazing how much you can miss when you aren’t totally engaged in the reading process. You can be whizzing along like a reading champ and encounter a quote where the author only uses the person’s last name. Suddenly you find yourself wondering, “Who is this person? Is she important? Where did I miss reading about her?” I’d have to back up, find the first time the person was mentioned, and figure out what was important to know about her. When you’re doing homework, not paying complete attention can add extra minutes and effort that you just don’t have time to spend.

We’ve talked about vocabulary skills and fluency; two of the most important parts of comprehension. Vocabulary tests have been worrying kids for over a century while the importance of fluency in reading has slowly become a major concern of teachers all over the world. Let’s regroup a little bit and revisit their definitions:

  • Listening Vocabulary: a broad set of words that students can understand on a basic level
  • Speaking vocabulary: words a student uses in regular conversation
  • Reading vocabulary: words a student can understand while reading
  • Written vocabulary: words a student can use correctly in writing
  • Speed: The child reads at an acceptable rate of speed that is not too fast and not too slow,
  • Automatic: The child reads with accuracy so that unknown words do not break the flow, and
  • Expressive: The child reads aloud with the high, medium, and low pitches you would expect to hear.

Helping Your Child at Home

Reading comprehension is the ability to read either silently or out loud and understand what is being read. It isn’t enough to just start reading and plow through. But what can you do to help with comprehension? Edutopia, produced by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is a fantastic web site with the stated mission of “improving the K-12 learning process through innovative, replicable, and evidence-based strategies that prepare students to thrive in their studies, careers, and adult lives.” A case in point is a very rich page full of tips and resources for helping your child become a lifelong reader and learner. You’ll find links to apps designed to build comprehension, articles that give you insight into creating a home library and resources to help you enjoy books with your kids.

One resource I like are the graphic organizers which enable you and your child to put down in writing the thought processes associated with reading comprehension. A little more than halfway down the page you’ll find the KWL Chart. This really useful tool has three columns that you and your child will fill out:

  1. what do I already Know: Help your child discover what s/he already knows about the subject of the text
  2. what do I Want to find out: Help your child ask questions that will provide a focus  while s/he is reading
  3. what did I Learn: After the reading is done, help your child summarize what s/he learned by putting it into their own words

Comprehension Techniques You Can Use

Reread the text: This is my “go-to” technique. You might think it would be obvious to go back and take another swing at the text, right? Well, sometimes students will just keep on reading whether they understand the material or not. Your child needs to be accountable for the material s/he reads. Have your child read and read again. Then, try these techniques:

  • Make Connections:
    • Text-to-Text: Does this story relate to another story you have read? What characters from other stories remind you of X?
    • Text-to-Self: How can you relate to this story? Have you ever felt the way X does?
    • Text-to-World: How does this story relate to ‘a current event’?
  • Summarize: What were the main ideas in this story/chapter? Can you describe what happened in this story/chapter using only three sentences?
  • Predict: What do you think will happen next? What do think X will do next? How do you think this problem will be resolved? Why do you think so? What did you read in the story that lead you to this prediction?
  • Visualize: Close your eyes. Describe the setting. What does X look like? Try sketching a highly descriptive reading passage.
  • Clarify/Ask Questions: Encourage your child to ask questions when confused about a character or the plot. What just happened? Why did X behave that way?

Suggested Books

These books cover a wide range of reading levels but each one of them can be useful primarily because they are so engaging! There is quite a mix of historical fact and historically based fiction here. For instance, would you expect your doctor to hand you a lotion of boiled milk and cow manure? Or offer to rub butter mixed with gunpowder on your jaw? Reading all about the secret, smelly lives of the colonists will really get your child paying attention to what they read. Or what was life like before Columbus? Or what where the lives of the people who settled the lands of the Louisiana Purchase? And do buffalo still roam? These books are sure to get your child asking questions and reading for answers.


Here is a list of the links mentioned in this page:




Fluency in Reading

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.Oliver Goldsmith

As in almost everything anyone tries to do in life, those who prepare well are the ones who will get the most out of the journey. So it is also with reading. People who chose not to read miss just as much as people who are illiterate. Yet, some people, many it would seem, do not choose to read when provided with free time. There are many reasons why this might be so but, as a teacher, I must focus on that which I can influence. Likewise, parents will want to do the same. Together we should focus on certain traits of good readers. This article focuses on a trait that has merited a large amount of research over the last several decades; fluency in reading.

Think about the conversations you’ve had with different people. Doesn’t it seem that some people display grace and skill when you listen to them speak? Isn’t it easier for you to understand what they are trying to say when they can speak without starting and stoping and groping for words? Fluency in reading is very similar to this. When a child can do the following, we say s/he is reading with fluency:

  • Speed: The child reads at an acceptable rate of speed that is not too fast and not too slow,
  • Automatic: The child reads with accuracy so that unknown words do not break the flow, and
  • Expressive: The child reads aloud with the high, medium, and low pitches you would expect to hear.

What the research tells us is that a child who is fluent knows the words being read. To know the words is to have grade level vocabulary skills. And, even more exciting, a child who is fluent in reading is very likely to continue reading. Now, we all have hobbies and reading is one type of hobby. However, as students progress in their studies, it becomes more and more necessary to become independent readers and learners. An independent learner will actively take part in classroom learning but is also interested in discovering beyond that which is required of them. This type of learning is what makes a person gifted in tinkering with mechanical things a highly skilled mechanic and problem solver. Independent learning is an attitude prized by employers in all disciplines. But it starts with success in reading.

As I mentioned before, teachers and parents are partners in helping students succeed. I say that because the time spent in my class is significantly shorter than the time your child will spend outside the class. Therefore, we have to be on the same page and approach this as a united front. To that end, let’s talk for a moment about what you can do to provide your student with the reading practice necessary to become a fluent reader.

Enhancing Fluent Reading Skills at Home

  1. Be the reader you want your child to be. Reading is a life-long and life-giving skill that requires practice. The problem is that students will very often practice wrong! Why? Because they are not really sure what a fluent reader looks and sounds like. You can do this for them by spending significant time reading aloud to them. Read books that are comfortable for you and interesting to your child. And don’t spend a lot of time worrying about making mistakes! This is actually a good thing and can show your child that mistakes can be fixed and be a learning experience. Remember – you have to stick to it too – just like they do. Persevere and move forward.
  2. Provide a schedule and a location for reading practice. All the best reading instruction in the world won’t help if the time is not set aside for students to practice reading. Everyday reading can be as simple as 30 minutes or more but it will provide life-long benefits. It takes time to form good reading habits. Taking trips to the library are special gifts to your child. Everything you need to help foster literacy is right there.
  3. Hold your child accountable for reading practice. It’s a good thing for your child to see you silently sitting and enjoying a good book. But, let’s face it, kids are kids and we have to help them to be responsible learners. It’s not a matter of forcing your child to read but perhaps doing simple spot-checks. For instance, ask your child to read out loud to you. You’ll be able to see the difference over time and you’ll be there to provide any type of help with words they don’t know. (see the section about Word Walls on the Vocabulary page)  Also, they should be able to tell you what is going on in their book and will probably love telling you all about it.
  4. Read, re-read, and read again. You probably remember reading the same book over and over to your child when they were very little. You probably wanted to move on to a new book after a while but, no, that special few books were always requested. Now you can use that same technique to provide the practice your child needs to develop fluency. The more you can expose your child to words, the more likely it is that they will be able to read them aloud without issue.
  5. Read from a wide selection of reading material. When you think of oral conversation, how often do you find yourself using casual language? More likely than not you aren’t using the rich language found in literature, magazines, even comics! Research points out that casual conversation uses far fewer unique words than does printed material. Your child will develop a much broader vocabulary from reading and conversation compared to conversation alone.
  6. Remember that you are not alone in this. Fluency is a concern for many people the world over. There is help in many locations including the library and the school. But fluency is all over the web! If you want to have a little bit more definite idea of what leaning supports fluency is and how your can track your child’s growth, take a look at a web page called “Tracking My Fluency Growth”. You’ll find a chart you can use to keep track of successes and issues to work on in an organized manner. There is even a set of guidelines (called a rubric) for how to use a simple point system to for the parts of fluency.
  7. Read from sources that are just challenging enough. In other words, don’t choose books that are too far above your child’s reading level. There are plenty of good sources that students will want to choose from so encourage your child to pick appropriate books that they want to read.

With these guidelines in mind, I’ve selected example science fiction books that your child might find interesting. There are six titles. To view the cover art for a book, click on the image.

Please note: These books have been selected as being grade appropriate. However, as with any book that your child picks, you need to check to make sure it is appropriate for their personal level. For this, you can use the 5 Finger Rule. Instruct your child to read one of the first few pages of the book with you. For each word your child doesn’t know, one finger should be raised up. At the end of the page, count the fingers:

  • 0-1 fingers up: too easy
  • 2-3 fingers up: just right
  • 4-5 fingers up: too hard

If your child isn’t convinced that the book is too hard, you have a couple options. You could try the 5 Finger Rule on a couple more pages, or you could view the book as a project together and not use the book for independent reading. The book might even be used as a “carrot”; a reward for doing well on other books. If s/he is so excited to experience the book, figure out a way to read it together so s/he doesn’t get bogged down or discouraged by reading a more advanced book. All the while, you can be checking for fluency, vocabulary knowledge, and comprehension.

Scholastic Books has an interesting take on this: Read-Alouds, Read-Withs, and Read-Alones. Also, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has a great write-up on what can be done for children of all learning levels: Helping Your Child Learn to Read: Preschool to Grade 3.


Here is a list of all the web links used on this page: