Strategies to Improve Reading Fluency in Early Elementary

December 03, 2019

Every subject in school centres around the student’s ability to read. Even Math involves a good bit of reading with sometimes complicated instructions and story problems being present on assignments. If a child’s reading ability is on the low side early on, they are already going to find themselves struggling across the board on all subjects because of this.

As a certified Reading Specialist with a Master’s degree in Reading and Literacy, I have worked with thousands of children that have struggled in school and it all stemmed from the inability to read proficiently. Fortunately, once we solved their reading difficulties, their grades would usually increase significantly in all subjects. Still, improving reading skills is often easier said than done. It takes time and patience for not just the student, but the educator and the child’s parents.

Focus on Reading Early and Often

One of the main indicators of academic success, not just in early elementary but throughout all levels of schooling, is the ability to read fluently and accurately. If a student arrives in kindergarten without being able to name letters correctly and a lack of phonics skills, they are already behind the eight ball. As the rest of the students in the kindergarten class proceed on schedule, the child that arrived lacking in reading skills will be constantly playing catch up. This takes a toll on not just their academics, but emotionally as well since they would view themselves as inferior to the rest of the students. Living with a stigma this young can have a snowball effect and complicate their schooling from here on out.

Research-Based Strategies Needed

Whether you are trying to help a student raise their reading levels or simply working with kids that want to strengthen their own literacy skills, it is essential to focus on research-based reading strategies. By being research-based, it means that these activities and strategies have been proven to work through studies and other research conducted in the educational field. After all, why waste your time on using methods that are not guaranteed to work? Listed below are five research-based strategies for improving reading fluency that can be used in the classroom, in small group setting, or in a one-on-one atmosphere.

Fry’s Instant Sight Words

Back in the day, the sight word list that used to be utilised in the classroom most often were the Dolch words. This sight word list was created by Dr. Edward William Dolch mainly in the 1930s and included the most commonly used words in the English language at the time. Since then, other words have arrived in our culture to replace some of the words on the Dolch list. The Fry List, created by Dr. Edward Fry, is an updated version of these words.

The first 100 words on the Fry list make up about half of whatever a child or adult will come across reading in newspapers, books, or any sort of publication. By just teaching a child these 100 words through flashcards or some other approach you are using, they will be able to master 50 percent of whatever they are reading regardless of how difficult it is. The first 300 words make up about two-thirds of all written material. Because of this, even if a child is struggling mightily with phonics and decoding, they can still learn to read a good majority of the basic words by studying Fry’s sight word list.

Systematic and Sequential Phonics and Decoding

The National Reading Panel (NRP), founded in 1997 at the request of the United States government, is one of the authoritative organisations when it comes to developing reading skills. The NRP states that the two main predictors in how well a child will learn to read are letter knowledge and phonemic awareness. Usually taught in small groups, a strong systematic and sequential phonics and decoding problem will teach the students letter knowledge, phonemic awareness, and larger word families.

Repeated Readings

If a child has been a struggling reader for a while, they may have learned to read at a much slower pace than what they can actually accomplish presently. Fluency is all about reading accurately with expression, all while moving at a decent rate of speed. By having the students read shorter books or passages over and over again, they will increase their fluency and this should carry over to some degree while reading completely new material as well.

Reader’s Theatre

Speaking of expression, no one wants to listen to someone read aloud with the inflection of a robot. Reader’s theatre will improve expression, voice control, and phrasing as the students learn how to read in a manner that is conducive to improving overall fluency.

Technology-Assisted Support

Living in the 21st century means that we are able to utilise technology in a way that others in the past have only dreamed of. One of these ways is to increase reading fluency in children through utilising electronic devices. For example, in a classroom full of 20 to 30 students, it can be difficult for the teacher to ensure they are providing one-on-one instruction to all the kids in regards to improving reading achievement. Fortunately, there are now reading apps and websites that read actual children’s books to the child as they follow along. Plus, many of these apps and websites will highlight the word that is being read to them as well so they can start to recognise the words much better while reading on their own.

While there are other research-based strategies that can be used with students for improving fluency, these are five of the activities that have been proven to work the best for all involved. The earlier a child is taught these, the better off they will be. It is much simpler to introduce these skills to very young children rather than wait until a lack of reading achievement is being noted.