Unit 6: Reading Fluency – About This Unit

In the last few units, we’ve discussed the components and skills that make up successful reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, and morphology. This unit will cover what happens when they all come together: fluency. You may recognize this term from when it’s used to describe people learning different languages. In this context, “fluent” means that someone fully understands a language and can speak it with ease in conversations with other fluent speakers.

Fluency is important for reading and reading instruction too. Once a learner can read fluently, it unlocks both deeper comprehension and motivation to read.

Core Concepts

Fluency is the ability to read effortlessly and accurately. It reflects mastery of several skills that make up the reading process: phonemic awareness, decoding, phonics, and morphology. Fluency means the reader understands the text, because he or she can move past the mental work of decoding to focus on understanding.

But how do we observe fluency? When students read aloud, it is easy to notice their speed and style of reading. Oral reading helps us understand both speed and expression.

But students also read silently, to themselves. In fact, the vast majority of overall reading is done silently. How can we notice or measure what happens when a student reads silently? And how can we tell whether a student understands what he or she reads?

Furthermore, since fluency combines several aspects of reading, especially print awareness, decoding, and comprehension, it’s hard to nail down on its own terms. Which aspect should be more important in the way we measure fluency? We will return to these questions later in the unit.

Key Vocabulary

AJAX progress indicator
  • Expression or Expressiveness
    The way readers change their voices to reflect meaning and nuance in the words they're reading aloud. Elements of expressiveness include volume, pace, pitch, and timing.
  • Fluency
    Fluency is the culmination of reading instruction–the ability to read effortlessly and accurately at a normal speed. In most cases, fluency means that a reader also understands what he or she is reading.
  • Guided Oral Reading
    An instructional method that involves helping a student read a passage orally, with the instructor or a peer also participating. The instructor provides feedback and encouragement to help the student read the passage more fluently.
  • Oral Reading
    The act of reading aloud.
  • Prosody
    Patterns of stress, pace, rhythm, and intonation that are especially evident when a text is read aloud.
  • Readers' Theater
    A guided oral reading technique in which a group of students reads a text as if it was a script, "rehearsing" and then "performing" their parts. This technique improves fluency in a fun and collaborative way.