What Works in Fluency Instruction

Fluency, reading in a fast and fluid manner, is what often distinguishes to observers the reading performance of a good reader from a poor reader. Find out what the research says about the two most common instructional methods for developing fluency: guided oral reading and independent silent reading.

Fluent readers are able to read orally with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. Fluency is one of several critical factors necessary for reading comprehension.

Despite its importance as a component of skilled reading, fluency is often neglected in the classroom. This is unfortunate. If text is read in a laborious and inefficient manner, it will be difficult for the child to remember what has been read and to relate the ideas expressed in the text to his or her background knowledge.

Recent research on the efficacy of certain approaches to teaching fluency has led to increased recognition of its importance in the classroom and to changes in instructional practices.

Two instructional approaches, each of which has several variations, have typically been used to teach reading fluency. One approach, called guided repeated oral reading, encourages students to read passages orally with systematic and explicit guidance and feedback from the teacher. The other approach, called independent silent reading, encourages students to read silently on their own, inside and outside the classroom, with minimal guidance or feedback.

Guided oral reading

The National Reading Panel concluded that repeated oral reading procedures that included guidance from teachers, peers, or parents had a significant and positive impact on word recognition, fluency, and comprehension across a range of grade levels.

These studies were conducted in a variety of classrooms in both regular and special education settings with teachers using widely available instructional materials. These results also apply to all students – good readers as well as those experiencing reading difficulties.

[Editor's note: Here's an article called "What is Guided Oral Reading?" that explains how teachers can use this instructional method.]

Independent silent reading

There has been widespread agreement that encouraging students to engage in wide, independent, silent reading increases reading achievement. Literally hundreds of correlational studies find that the best readers read the most and that poor readers read the least.

These correlational studies suggest that the more that children read, the better their fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. However, these findings are correlational in nature, and correlation does not imply causation. No doubt, it could be that the more that children read, the more their reading skills improve, but it is also possible that better readers simply choose to read more.

In order to address this issue of causation, the panel examined the specific impact that encouraging students to read more has on fluency, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension. The studies that were identified that address this issue were characterized by three major features.

First, the studies emphasized silent reading procedures with students reading on their own with little or no specific feedback. Second, the studies did not directly assess fluency or the actual increase in the amount of reading due to the instructional procedures. Rather, only changes in vocabulary and/or comprehension were typically measured as outcomes rather than increases in fluency that could be expected from the increased reading practice. Third, very few studies that examined the effect of independent silent reading on reading achievement could meet the NRP research review methodology criteria (n = 14), and these studies varied widely in their methodological quality and the reading outcome variables measured. Thus, a meta-analysis could not be conducted. Rather, the 14 studies were examined individually and in detail to identify converging trends and findings in the data.

Findings and determination

With regard to the efficacy of having students engage in independent silent reading with minimal guidance or feedback, the Panel was unable to find a positive relationship between programs and instruction that encourage large amounts of independent reading and improvements in reading achievement, including fluency.

In other words, even though encouraging students to read more is intuitively appealing, there is still not sufficient research evidence obtained from studies of high methodological quality to support the idea that such efforts reliably increase how much students read or that such programs result in improved reading skills. Given the extensive use of these techniques, it is important that such research be conducted.

It should be made clear that these findings do not negate the positive influence that independent silent reading may have on reading fluency, nor do the findings negate the possibility that wide independent reading significantly influences vocabulary development and reading comprehension. Rather, there are simply not sufficient data from well-designed studies capable of testing questions of causation to substantiate causal claims.

The available data do suggest that independent silent reading is not an effective practice when used as the only type of reading instruction to develop fluency and other reading skills, particularly with students who have not yet developed critical alphabetic and word reading skills. In sum, methodologically rigorous research designed to assess the specific influences that independent silent reading practices have on reading fluency and other reading skills and the motivation to read has not yet been conducted.


Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

Cooper, H., & Hedges, L.V. (1994). The handbook of research synthesis. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Durkin, D. (1993). Teaching them to read (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Harris, T., & Hodges, R. (Eds.). (1995). The literacy dictionary (p. 207). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Snow, C. E., Burns, S. M., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Whipple, G. (Ed.). (1925). The Twenty-fourth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education: Report of the National Committee on Reading. Bloomington, IL: Public School Publishing Company.

Excerpted and adapted from the Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (April 2000).


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Thank you anonymous March 14, 2014 . I agree 100%. I have taught 4th& now 3rd grade & I can tell you that the difference in text difficulty is huge. If your child can't read well, his math grades won't hold. Today's new common core assessments are so ladden with reading comprehension that if you can't read and comprehend grade level text, you are sunk; no matter how great you are in math. On my last assessment, my highest reader out performed my highest math students because he could read so well( incidentally my highest reader is only a medium /high in math). On the flip side I watched my high math students be frustrated because, they know how to compute& understand math concepts, but can't read & understand the questions. Sad, for me as their teacher which is why I'm on this site right now.

Last year I taught 5th grade. The relationship with being able to read well and the motivation go hand in hand. The students whom could not read very fluently hated to read silently. The ones who were very strong readers, loved reading silently. I agree that fluency is a very important skill that needs to be taught in the classroom.

I work with 8th grade students whose reading abilities range from two-three grade levels below to post-high school. I have noticed that while many of my students are able to read words quickly and accurately, they struggle with prosody. I have found that even readers that I consider average are often not effective readers when it comes to this aspect of fluency. Fluency is definitely an area that we need to devote more time to; I particularly like the idea of having students practice with repeated readings and reader's theater.

Response to AshleyI tutor a 2nd grader in reading and sat in on a conference with his parent, teacher, and principal. We discussed how well he does in other subjects but brought to parent's attention that his reading will impact his success in these areas and if he becomes frustrated at things he currently enjoys, it could have a very negative impact on his learning all around. I agree that sometimes retention can be a good thing to prepare a child. I look at this case as being preventative to future problems that can be far worse.

I believe both,guided reading and independent reading are necessary in success. I think guided reading is good to give students the ability and confidence to read independently silently. I do my reading class through a number of instructional processes. Guided oral reading is included in this. I link lessons from all subjects and use guided oral reading all the time. Even in math I have students read the instructions with me orally. We use AR program and I use their scores on this to assess their silent reading ability. I monitor their comprehension scores and see how they improve. The more guided reading I do in class, the better I hope the silent independent reading scores will become.

I agree with several statements in this article. Fluency instruction is vital to reading comprehension. Several of my focus groups are based on fluency instruction. The most effective teaching strategy I've used is having students orally reread familiar text. After I listen to a student read I immediately give him/her feedback and strategies to try for the next reading. After the second or third reading of the familiar text, the student has improved significantly on the number of accurate words read fluently. I preach to my struggling, non-fluent readers to read, read, read, and reread familiar text. However, naturally, struggling readers are less likey to pick up a book than a fluent reader. I feel that if we are listening to our students read orally and giving them direct feedback/strategies to try then we are doing something to help them.

If a teacher suggests retention is it probably on the basis that without the proper reading skills, your child will continue to fall further behind in reading and that will adversely affect his other subject areas that he is currently doing well in now. A child who is reading on a 18th level in fourth grade is going to have huge obstacles to overcome when it comes to other subject areas. He or she can no longer read those math word problems, or even the directions. Reading affects so much of your child's learning! I question if those focusing on not retenting truly know the role that reading plays in the classroom today in upper grades.

I believe classroom teachers should develop a reading program containing a combination of guided oral reading and independent, silent reading. By including both of these instructional approaches, teachers can support students' reading skills and promote better readers. Also, I agree with the statement that better readers tend to read more books. I struggled with reading comprehension when I was in elementary school. I can remember not liking to read books, because I couldn't remember what I read. Therefore, there is an importance of teaching young children how to read, and fostering the love of reading to them so they can become excellent, successful readers.

I believe classroom teachers should develop a reading program containing a combination of guided oral reading and independent, silent reading. By including both of these instructional approaches, teachers can support students' reading skills and promote better readers. Also, I agree with the statement that better readers tend to read more books. I struggled with reading comprehension when I was in elementary school. I can remember not liking to read books, because I couldn't remember what I read. Therefore, there is an importance of teaching young children how to read, and fostering the love of reading to them so they can become excellent, successful readers.

I agree that better readers red more. I think they chose to read more because they are better readers. I have twins that are 12 and they used to love to read. When they entered 3rd grade it became mandatory for them to test over all books they checked out from the library. This has caused them to detest reading. Although they are very good with fluency, one of them struggles with comprehension. I think if the focus was more on reading for fun and allowing them to read what they choose, then they would like reading better. I know I would hate to have to test over everything I read.

It's pretty obvious that good readers read the most and poor readers read the least. It's hard to be good at something you don't like to do. As teachers, we have a hard job when it comes to helping students be good readers. Some students really enjoy reading, while others its like trying to pull teeth. One thing I try to do is make sure I keep things as fun and interesting as I can. I know fluency is important, but without a solid foundation of basic alphabet knowledge and other reading skills, it's like walking before learning to crawl first.

Before DICK AND JANE was the standard reading program in schools, everyone seemed to be able to read. Do you know very many folks who are 70 or older who can't read? The way reading was taught was by "real phonics" and the text for many years was the Bible because other books were rare. There are many "big" words in the Bible, but if one knows what sounds a letter or combination of letters makes, one can take apart any word and read it. An organization that still teaches "real phonics" and is helpful to schools (public and private), homeschools, and parents is Riggs Institute in Oregon. Their website is helpful and so are the folks who work there and have a passion to make us a nation of readers again. Do you know that there are eight ways to spell the long "a" sound in English? If a child knows that "a", "ai", "ay", "eigh", "ea", "ey", "a consonant e", and "ei" all can spell "a", won't he have a better chance to figure out how a new word spelled with one of those combinations is read? Most schools these days teach "phony phonics" and children are confused, discouraged and rendered hopeless. Riggs (based on the work of Dr. Samuel Orton, neuropathlogist of the post World War I era) has made remarkable changes in the lives of many students, children and adults alike who thought they'd never learn to read. It's never too late to enjoy, or at least, accomplish the ability to read.

In fact there is no research to show that retention helps a student do better. I would not recommend it. Find out what specific skills your child lacks and get advice on how to help improve those skills at home. Reading is a very complex skill and not all students master the skills by 2nd grade. Consult with his 3rd grade teacher frequently.

Retention is not a cop-out for schools-what a ridiculous statement! Teachers are required to recommend retention with certain criteria. While retention does not always work for all students, it has proven successful for many. Take the time to show your child reading is fun. Read other things besides books (magazines, recipes, comics, etc) and make sure your child witnesses you reading for pleasure as well. Tutoring is an excellent option. There are also many phonics games that could be played - your child can have fun playing a game while practicing their skills. Don't jump to blame the teacher and schools. Every child learns at a different pace. There is nothing wrong with a child that needs to be retained, it just means that child needs more time to master the needed skills.

Kaye, Do not hold your child back. There is no actual research backing this practice. It's basically a cop-out for schools. It's consequences are much more likely to harm your child rather than help them. The best piece of advice is "Easy reading makes reading easy." Practice reading with your child. I take turns reading sentences, pages, etc. to encourage the child to read. Do not discourage them after they are finished. Give them positive praise and how they could improve feedback.Also, I have found that some students improve by listening to their voice reading over a passage and another voice reading over the same passage. They need to hear how they sound and have great reading models. Make reading fun with activities. Make sure you do repeated readings of the same book, passage, poem, etc.

I have a 14 year old middle school student who must read aloud in order to understand what has been read. What strategies are there that can help this child. The student is already in a reading class at school - hates it & is already convinced that failure is the only option.

Kaye...they can only retain your child with your permission. If you do not agree, then don't. I would continue to what you are doing. Research the internet for ways to help. You will also have the summer to help him.Good Luck.

My son is in 2nd grade and his teacher has just advised that he is doing great in other subjects (Math is his favorite) however, he has to improve his fluency and phoneme (?) awareness or he is in jeopardy of being retained. He is reading at a level 18 and should be reading at a level 20 (unguided). I need help - I will not see him be retained especially when he has no disabilities and is doing well otherwise. I have to get him up to where he needs to be by end of the year (be here before we know it). I have him working with a tutor on reading and just added an extra day to work on writing as well. On writing, an example of where he needs improvement is, he'll write race correctly and then spell face, fas. Thank you for any help! I'm so desperate and not a lot of time.

To improve fluency at home I suggest books on tape or CD. The local library should have them.Have your child listen to the selection three times and then read along with the recording.Do this for at least three days using the same book. After three days use a timer to time your child reading the selection three times each making sure the time reading the selection without the tape decreases.The goal should be 120 words per minute by third grade. A use of a Whisperphone that you can purchase at a school supply store will allow your child to hear herself along with the recording. At school try to lobby to get your school to purchse the Quickreads program by Pearson or Reading Assistant by Scientific learning. These programs provide daily interactive fluency,vocabulary and comprehension practice that allows the student to read into a microphone and increases the pace as they get better and corrects them or moves them to a different level of insruction if they are having difficulty. There maybe interactive fluency programs out there for home use but you have to look for them.

My nine year old daughter does not like to read. When she does, it is because it is required. When she reads aloud, her fluency, while not awful, can be improved. When I read to her, she loves it, and comprehends very well. I do not want to continue "waiting" for her reading to improve, for fear that it won't. She makes good grades in school, but I'm guessing it is due to great listening skills. I don't feel that I got specific advice or an answer from your article, though it is still helpful. I must continue seeking an answer and solution to this problem.Sincerely, Anita

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