When fluent readers read silently, they recognize words automatically. They group words quickly to help them gain meaning from what they read. Fluent readers read aloud effortlessly and with expression. Their reading sounds natural, as if they are speaking.
Readers who have not yet developed fluency read slowly, word by word. Their oral reading is choppy.
Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate on decoding the words, they can focus their attention on what the text means. They can make connections among the ideas in the text and their background knowledge. In other words, fluent readers recognize words and comprehend at the same time.
Less fluent readers, however, must focus their attention on figuring out the words, leaving them little attention for understanding the meaning of text.
Reading fluently: what it looks like in K-3
In this milestones series from Great Schools, listen to how fluent readers sound in kindergarten through third grade.