Effectiveness of oral reading practice

iStock_000014442615XSmallResearch on the benefits of oral reading practice is incomplete. Some forms of guided oral reading appear to promote reading growth during the elementary grades. Timothy V. Rasinski, Kent State University, and James V. Hoffman, University of Texas/Austin, explored the implications of current research and theory in oral reading for improving reading instruction.

Research from the 1970s through the 1990s supports the potential positive impact of oral reading in instruction. Students who read orally with the greatest fluency tend to score highest in overall reading achievement, while those who have little fluency have the lowest levels of reading achievement.

Theories suggest that individuals have a limited amount of attention available for cognitive tasks. Reading requires students do two things: decode words and comprehend what they are reading. Thus the attention required for word decoding is not available to be used for comprehension. Fluency refers to the ability to perform a task at a automatic level – with a minimum of attention. Readers need to recognize words not just accurately, but instantly and effortlessly.

One goal of reading instruction is to develop automatic word decoding. In addition, students need to be able to read with appropriate expression and phrasing. Both these skills enhance reading fluency and comprehension.

Researchers have discovered that the amount and frequency of oral reading does not determine the level of fluency achieved. It appears that it is the type of oral reading that makes the difference in student achievement. Rasinski and Hoffman describe several types of oral reading aimed at improving fluency that appear to raise students’ reading achievement.

Types of Oral Reading Practice

“Repeated readings” is the best-known oral reading method for developing fluency.

Although this method appears to increase the skills of students who have difficulty learning to read, comparisons of research studies find somewhat ambiguous results. In some studies, reading difficult material led to greater achievement, while in others, repeated readings of relatively easy material increased achievement more. The age of the students, whether they are experiencing difficulty learning to read, and the type of assistance during repeated readings are factors that affect achievement.

“Paired reading,” in which a struggling reader reads with a more fluent reader, results in significant improvements in word recognition and comprehension.

The fluent reader adjusts her reading to the less fluent reader, correcting the less fluent reader’s decoding errors immediately. Research with students in paired reading demonstrates three times the progress normally expected in word decoding and five times the expected progress in comprehension. Such oral reading with assistance shows promise for helping develop fluency and overall reading achievement among elementary students and students at any grade level who are experiencing difficulty in reading.

Other types of shared reading and fluency instruction include shared book experience, oral recitation lessons, and fluency-oriented reading development.

In all variations, teachers generally introduce a book, read it expressively to the class, discuss it and then have students practice reading it individually and aloud with a partner. Teachers also model self-monitoring of decoding and comprehension. The type of feedback students receive after oral reading affects how much their reading improves. Students who learn to monitor and correct their own decoding and comprehension make better progress.

Oral reading provides a context for teachers to model, assess and respond effectively to students. The procedures used during oral reading in the Reading Recovery program, for example, demonstrate how careful monitoring and responsive teaching can be used to develop effective word-recognition and comprehension strategies.

Rasinski and Hoffman report that while the uses of oral reading are expanding, more research is needed to determine the optimal difficulty level of the text to promote reading fluency, as well as the most effective oral reading strategies for second-language learners. Several questions remain to be answered:

  1. What types of assisted oral reading instruction are most beneficial for students?
  2. What are the most effective ways that teachers can respond to students during and after reading?
  3. Do normally developing fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders benefit from oral reading instruction aimed at fluency?
  4. Why is it that unassisted repeated readings do not appear to improve automatic word recognition but do improve comprehension?


“Oral Reading in the School Literacy Curriculum”, Reading Research Quarterly, Volume 38, Number 4, December 2003, pp. 510-522

Published in ERN December/January 2004 Volume 17 Number 1

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