Many students with dyslexia struggle with reading fluency. Not only does fluency include rate and accuracy, it also encompasses prosody (pacing and pausing) and intonation. A reading apprenticeship provides a way to achieve these elements of oral reading.

Essentially, a reading apprenticeship is pairing an experienced reader with a novice reader. The apprentice learns by observing a fluent model, practicing alongside that person, and then trying it on his own. Reading apprenticeships work because they provide motivation (a captive audience) and feedback (corrections as needed and praise for improvements). They also teach within the student’s zone of proximal development (i.e., instructional level) and work towards mastery. This, in turn, builds the student’s confidence and increases his appetite for reading. Modeling, choral reading, repetition/intensity, and mastery are key tenets of this approach and will be discussed below. This article will also include ideas for doing reading apprenticeships in groups and tracking student progress.



Modeling allows students with dyslexia to hear what fluent reading sounds like. The text that they will be asked to read is modeled by a fluent reader. This does not have to be a teacher; it could be a more fluent reader or classroom volunteer. It could even be a recording of someone reading the text. It is important that the reader use good intonation and prosodic cues to "bring the story to life". This is just as important as accurately decoding the words. The student who struggles with reading fluency will have the opportunity to preview the words as they silently read along. It is critical that the student silently read along with the model to build up his sight word vocabulary. He will also have a meta-narrative or schema (a big picture of what the story is about) to help him with decoding and comprehension. Once the student has silently read along with a fluent model, he is ready for choral reading.

Choral Reading is just what it sounds like—the model and apprentice read chorally together at the same time. It should be noted that the model should actually be a couple of milliseconds ahead of the apprentice. Though it appears that the reading is happening simultaneously, the mentor is actually leading and the apprentice is following. Initially, the model should use a conversational volume (which can be faded to sub-vocalizing in subsequent choral readings). This is necessary to give the feeling of fluency to the apprentice (like training wheels to the novice biker). Choral reading is errorless teaching (i.e., no corrections) and prevents numerous hesitations and miscues. Choral reading allows the student to build up his sight words as he associates the correct pronunciation with each written word. The pace should be slow, yet fluent, for the initial reading. A slightly faster pace can be used in subsequent readings.

The teacher may wish to audio record the first or second choral reading and have the student practice with that model a few times. The length of the passage will depend on the student, but should be relatively short (i.e., anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes long for the initial reading to allow for concentrated practice and repetition.) In addition, the passage should be at the student’s instructional level. One way to determine the student’s instructional level is to have him read a portion of the passage, or one that is at the same level; he should be able to accurately decode at least 80% of the words.

Choral reading is intrinsically motivating to a struggling reader. It gives him the feeling that fluency is within his reach. It sets him up for success through errorless teaching. It allows the model to scaffold the learning from providing maximal support (leading the reading with a conversational volume at a slow pace) to minimal support (sub-vocalizing at a faster pace). Choral reading also helps the student learn to pace himself, rather than reading quickly at the outset and haltingly towards the end of the passage. Just like a "running partner" the mentor sets the pace.

Repetition is key for a reading apprenticeship that leads to greater automaticity. While the number of readings may vary for each student, it is usually anywhere from five to ten (if it is more than this, you may be working beyond the student’s instructional level). Approximately one third to one half of these readings may be choral readings. The student should do the rest independently with immediate feedback on any miscues from the mentor. The feedback can take a number of different forms,  such as, "What’s that word?" or "Look at that word carefully." The mentor may simply point to the word in the text. If necessary, the apprentice may receive cueing for sounding out the word.

Mastery indicates perfect (or near-perfect) decoding with a good rate, prosody, and intonation. Quantifiable goals are necessary to provide motivation, track progress, and determine when the student has reached "mastery" level on a passage or at a specified reading level. The goal should specify the level of the text and the targeted number of words correct per minute. Generally, this is measured for a "cold reading" (a text at the same level that the student has not practiced), since cold scores are used in normative data for grade-level fluency expectations. (It may also be useful to have an additional goal for "hot scores" to guide the student as he practices.) It is recommended that the apprentice reach "mastery" for six and ten texts at the same reading level, before changing the goal. This is not a "hard and fast rule," but it allows for more success and sight word development before increasing the level of difficulty.


Examples of fluency goals are listed below:

Violet will obtain a cold reading score of at least 95 words correct per minute (WCPM) for two consecutive texts at the 5.0 grade reading level.

Thomas will orally read a 7.5 grade level text with at least 110 WCPM.

To set a goal, you will want to obtain a baseline of the student’s reading. Ask him to read two or three passages of increasing levels of difficulty. Determine which grade-level is the "best fit" with 80% or more of the words correctly decoded. Calculate the WCPM for this passage (i.e. the total number of words minus the errors, divided by the number of minutes read. Hint: It is easiest to have the student read for one minute.) For a fluency goal, you should use the reading level that was the "best fit" and set the fluency goal 10 WCPM higher than the baseline. You may also decide to keep the fluency level the same and increase the reading level (by one half a grade level). It is not recommended to increase both the reading level and the fluency level at the same time. It is better to have reachable goals and to readjust periodically than to have goals that are too challenging (leading to an additional sense of failure for the student with dyslexia).

Multi-dimensional rating scales allow you and the student to quantify facets of reading fluency ("smoothness," "prosody," "intonation," and "accuracy") that are inherently subjective. Some rating scales already exist such as the Multi-Dimensional Fluency Scale. Alternatively, you can customize a rating scale for your student or group of students.

Rating scales are helpful for goal setting. The therapist may notice that a student is choppy or monotone in his reading, and may write the following goal.

Aaron will increase his smoothness and intonation from a 1 (choppy and monotone) to a 3 (good phrasing and pitch variation most of the time) for reading scripts.

Rating scales are also useful for developing your student’s meta-cognition. You can record your student reading and then play it back. Your student should rate himself and compare his scores to yours. The goal for him is to get his ratings as close to yours as possible to reflect a more accurate self-appraisal of his skills.

Implementation in a Group Setting

Implementation in a group setting is surprisingly easy and fun. Depending on the size of the group, it may be helpful to use timers and audio recordings of the mentor reading the text. The apprentice does a cold reading and places a mark on the page (to indicate how far he read) when the minute timer sounds. Next, the apprentice may practice with the recording several times and then read for the teacher. That frees up the teacher and perhaps a trained aide to float around and provide feedback to the students when they are ready. The teacher or aide may highlight key vocabulary for the student to practice or suggest that he reads it again with the recording. The teacher and student can then have a "final check" and conference to chart his hot and cold scores. The student may then select the next reading passage and tape and begin the process again. This process can be done with computer software. Reading buddies from older grades may also be trained to work with a reading apprentice.

A number of creative activities are listed below which can target reading fluency through repeated readings:

  • Round Robin reading allows the teacher to hear each student read part of the passage. The teacher may highlight errors on her own copy of the text for the students to practice. They should practice that same part of the passage and then re-read the passage the following session.
  • Skits/plays allow the students to use intonation and prosody as they read the parts. They have to repeat the same lines numerous times and then perform the "finished product" for an audience.
  • Poetry Slams are a fun way to improve intonation and prosody for reading fluency. Ask each student to select or write a poem, and then practice it through repeated readings and feedback. They can perform the poem for the group.
  • Oral presentations about topics of interest allow the students to hone their fluency skills while developing a life skill.
  • News cast with notes can be a fun way to get into character while fluently delivering the class news.
  • Interviews in front of the class allow students to use intonation and prosody for historical figures.

Tracking progress should be done in every session. This can be done by the student, yielding greater meta-cognition and motivation. A visual graph is an effective tool to monitor increased WCPM. Both "cold" scores (for never-read before passages) and "hot" scores (for practiced passages) should be color coded and graphed to track progress. Involve the apprentice in setting the goal for the hot score after the cold score has been obtained. You might say, "You read this story with a cold score of 65 WCPM, what goal do you have for your hot score? How many times will you need to read this to get to that score?" When the student comes back for the next session, calculate his fluency again, chart it, and compare it to the goal that he set for himself. Show the student how to graph his cold score (with a blue pencil or pen) and his hot score (with a red pencil or pen) for each story and each date that you meet. An upward trend will begin to develop and the apprentice will visually see the numbers and graph increase. A greater sense of ownership and awareness of goals will be motivating as well.

If improvement is not noted, do more choral reading and provide more feedback for independent readings. A greater frequency of practice may be needed. These practice sessions will only take three to five minutes and can easily be incorporated into the student’s day. If your student is not following through with homework, ask him to try it this week (as an experiment), just to see if he reaches his goal. Once the initial improvement is noted, it generally leads to greater carryover. However, if your student is not consistent with homework, try to problem solve. Perhaps he could use earphones and sub-vocalize in a study cubby during five minutes of his study hall or could work with another student for a few minutes each day. A reinforcement schedule may also be helpful for students who are reticent to practice.

Above all, find ways to show your student his success and growth. This may involve playing a recording of him when he first started reading a certain passage and comparing it to the hot score. It may be through the visual charting or celebrating when he has met his goal. Continual feedback, as well as scaffolding, make reading apprenticeship an extremely effective way of increasing reading fluency for students with dyslexia.

Case Study

Brian is a 9-year-old in third grade. He has difficulties with reading fluency and comprehension. He has participated in a year-long reading apprenticeship with his speech-language pathologist and parents.

Initially, his reading fluency was monotone and choppy for first grade picture books. His comprehension was impeded by his lack of fluency. Brian’s parents were very supportive and were willing to work with him at home.

The therapist suggested the concept of a reading apprenticeship to give him mastery for both fluency and comprehension. This took approximately 15-minutes each day, six days per week (three times with the speech-language pathologist and three times at home with a parent).

After a year, Brian is fluently reading books at an early third grade level with strong fluency. He now enjoys doing characters’ voices or singing when it is indicated in the text. He regularly reads both narrative and expository (i.e., informational) texts.

Brian works with the speech-language pathologist on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The therapist scaffolds the sessions in the following manner:

On Monday, she provides a model for fluently reading the text, as Brian silently reads along (with a line guide so that the therapist can ensure that he is at the right place in the text). "Think alouds" are provided, in which the therapist verbally mediates her thoughts, "Let’s see, there is a dolphin on the picture and the title mentions the word ‘social’. I bet we will learn about how dolphins talk to each other." The therapist helps Brian connect previous knowledge with the text, by asking questions, "Have you ever seen a dolphin? Where was it? Did you hear it ‘talk’ or make any noises?" As they move through the text, the therapist asks comprehension questions. Key vocabulary is defined in simple terms with a corresponding gesture to increase his retention of the word. Errorless teaching is incorporated (providing Brian with the correct answer right away).

On Tuesday, Brian silently reads along with one of his parents and receives errorless teaching for the questions.

On Wednesday, Brian chorally reads the text with the therapist. The therapist leads him by reading the words slightly ahead of him. He gets the feeling of fluency for the book and answers questions with maximal supports. (The therapist points to the pictures or words in the book that contain the answer and provides choices as needed.) This same level of support is offered at home on Thursday.

On Friday, Brian reads the book aloud to the therapist and answers questions with minimal cues from the therapist (i.e., Where can you find the answer?).

He takes the book home and reads it to his parents and younger brother and answers the questions over the weekend.

The entire process is then repeated the following week.

To improve fluency and comprehension of novel vocabulary, theme-based books are selected. For example, Brian read two narratives and two expository texts (for a month-long unit) on recycling. Hands-on recycling activities were incorporated each week and key vocabulary was repeated each week. In this multi-sensory reading apprenticeship, Brian became an "expert" as he fluently read a variety of texts.


Read Naturally

The core steps of the Read Naturally program incorporate teacher modeling, repeated reading, and progress monitoring to maximize reading proficiency.

The Fluent Reader: Oral Reading Strategies for Building Word Recognition, Fluency, and Comprehension by Timothy V. Rasinski

This book includes research on fluency, teaching strategies based on that research, classroom vignettes, and suggestions for using a variety of texts to teach fluency such as poetry, speeches, and monologues and dialogues. You'll also find background information, assessment tools, step-by-step lessons, and teaching tips.

Multi-Dimensional Fluency Scale (see attachment at the bottom of this page)

Use the following rubric (1-4) to rate reader fluency in the areas of expression and volume, phrasing, smoothness, and pace.

Multi-Dimensional Fluency Scale32 KB