8 variations on repeated reading for fluency help keep students engaged

iStock_000016876858XSmallRepeated reading is vital for helping young readers develop reading fluency, but the pitfall of this vanilla exercise is that students become bored and disengaged. They also rarely focus on the meaning of the text they are reading.

In a recent issue of Literacy Research and Instruction, researchers offer 8 other flavors of repeated reading exercises to make fluent reading practices more engaging than independently reading the same passage over and over again. These variations also help students develop reading comprehension.

“Practice without question is essential for acquisition of fluency; however, varied instructional activities have been shown to maintain students’ active engagement in learning tasks and provide stronger connections to reading comprehension,” the researchers write.

“Continual reliance on repeated readings without appropriate guidance and support can lead to diminished student engagement and may not help students recognize that increased fluency provides for more focus on meaning.”

The following 8 variations on repeated reading can help educators support readers’ developing reading fluency while keeping them more engaged.

1. Paired Repeated Reading

Students of similar reading ability are paired and take turns reading and listening to their partners read the same short passage (50-100 words). Each student reads the passage 3 times. The listener can assist with pronunciation and meaning. The students then fill out a short evaluation form on their partner’s reading.

The form emphasizes the positive by asking how the partner’s reading improved (i.e. by reading more smoothly, knowing more words, reading with more expression).

2. Phrase Reading

Phrase reading promotes students’ ability to read in meaningful idea units or phrases and to increase automaticity in word recognition. It reduces word-by-word reading, which is a major roadblock to fluent reading.

The teacher records the student reading aloud a paragraph or a page. Model for the student a word-by-word reading and a reading in meaningful phrases.

Using a pencil, divide the first two sentences into meaningful phrases. Explaining how a sentence should be divided, divide the rest of the sentences with the student. Have the student read the text aloud in meaningful phrases 2 or 3 times and record the final reading. Discuss with the student the benefits of reading sentences in meaningful phrases as opposed to word by word.

3. Assisted reading

A simple yet effective intervention is to have a student read aloud while a teacher or more experienced or accomplished reader follows along silently and corrects the student’s pronunciation and errors.

The reader helper praises the student when he or she is reading fluently, with expression or in a smooth conversational manner. If the student is in an earlier stage of reading development, the student could also take the time to sound out the unknown word, but that would interrupt the flow of reading.

4. Radio Reading

In this exercise, the reader is like a radio announcer who must effectively communicate a message to the listeners. The listeners do not have a copy of the text. The reader reviews and then can edit the message before reading it. He or she may delete or change words or sections and insert words as needed. Historical texts and other content texts work especially well for this purpose. Students can practice the revised passage until they feel ready to perform it.

If the student is unsure of a word while reading, the teacher simply provides it to minimize interruptions so that the listeners can process the meaning. The listeners then discuss, respond and evaluate the message and performance. They can ask the reader to re-read a section if they are confused or the meaning is unclear. If the listeners understand the message, the Radio Reading was a success. If the listeners are confused or provide conflicting information or there are errors during the discussion, then the reader has not communicated clearly.

5. Oral Recitation Lesson

This method can be used with a basal reading program over the course of a week. The goal for students is to perform the text in a readers’ theater at the end of the week. The teacher models the reading of the text and then there is echo reading and student mastery. Passages that contain dialogue work especially well.

Students are introduced to the text with an emphasis on comprehension. The teacher can use comprehension strategies such as a story map to aid in comprehension. The students then practice reading on their own or with a partner with an emphasis on dialogue and prosodic features of the dialogue, on conversational tone, punctuation, characterization and appropriate pausing.

6. Fluency Development Lesson

This exercise uses short reading passages such as poems, rhymes, songs and story segments which typically change every day. Students also do word study activities with words from the brief passages. The teacher introduces a new short text and reads it to students 2-3 times while the students follow along silently.

Teacher and students discuss the passage as well as the quality of the teacher’s reading and how the reading demonstrated comprehension of the text. Teacher and students read the passage aloud several times. Antiphonal reading and other variations are used to add variety and maintain engagement.

Students are organized into pairs or trios and each student practices the passage 3 times while partners listen and provide support and encouragement. The students perform their readings for the class or other audiences, such as another class, a parent visitor, the school principal or another teacher.

The students and teacher then choose 4-5 interesting words that they add to the classroom word wall or students’ word banks. Students engage in 5-10 minutes of word study activities (e.g., word sorts, flash cards, defining words, word games). The students bring the passage home to practice with their families. The next day, students read the passage from the previous day to the teacher or a fellow student for accuracy or fluency, review selected words, and then the process begins again with a new text.

7. Fluency-Oriented Reading Instruction

This is another variation on building fluency as part of class instruction with basal readers. Adjustments can be made in the basal reader text for students who are not reading at grade level. Teachers can also provide additional support with longer modeling period, more echo reading and more repeated readings. Home reading and free-choice reading are also components of this strategy.

The steps in this approach are:

  • Redesigned basal reading lesson
  • Story introduction
  • Partner reading
  • Additional Instruction
  • Home Reading
  • Free-choice reading

The teacher shares the story aloud and discusses the story with the class. Students then partner to practice reading. The partners determine the length of the passage to be read and take turns being reader and monitor. The teacher may use many of the instructional approaches suggested in the basal series, give journal assignments and ask students to develop scripts for performance.

Stories read in class are sent home and instructed to read the story at home and to read at least one other story and to read other books on their own. In class, 20 minutes a day is set aside for independent, self-selected reading.

8. Fast Start

Fast Start is a parental involvement reading program designed to get students off to a good start in word recognition and fluency. Shown to have positive results with 1st-grade populations, Fast Start involves a 10-15 minute daily lesson in which parents repeatedly read a brief text to and with their children. Then, the child reads the text alone with the parent providing backup. The parent and child choose words from the text that are of interest or choose from the word lists in their packets. The words are printed on cards and added to word cards from previous readings to build a word bank.

In summary, the authors write, fluent readers are exposed to fluent reading patterns modeled both at school and at home and have opportunities to apply these fluent reading behaviors. They have time to practice reading texts with expression that enhances the passage’s meaning.

“Finally, and most importantly, fluent readers know that reading is more than just identifying words correctly, but it is also about reading with expression and understanding the meaning of the text,” the authors write.

“Fluency in Learning to Read for Meaning: Going Beyond Repeated Readings,” by William Dee Nichols et al., Literacy Research and Instruction, January 2009, Volume 48, Number 1, pp. 1-13.

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