Meyer and Felton (1999) define fluency as "the ability to read connected text rapidly, smoothly, effortlessly, and automatically with little conscious attention to the mechanics of reading, such as decoding" (p. 284).

Fluency combines rate and accuracy along with prosody. It provides "a bridge between word recognition and comprehension" (National Institute for Literacy, 2001, p. 22). A fluent reader does not need to give their attention on decoding the words. Instead, he can concentrate on what the text means and develop his comprehension skills (e.g., making connections, asking questions, etc.).

To build reading fluency there needs to be four essential components:

  1. Focus on a child’s oral reading by being a good model
  2. Give support using various techniques—choral, recorded material, etc.
  3. Provide ample opportunities for practice—repeated readings
  4. Give ongoing, positive, and constructive feedback as the person reads aloud

In order for an individual to be proficient with reading he first must be able to read a word correctly before he can read it fluently. Being able to read fluently usually emerges by the middle of second grade. When a student is first learning he uses substantial effort to decode words; however, as word recognition increases the process of reading becomes easier and more automatic. The ability to read fluently is an important aspect of how the reader plans, directs, and integrates the various cognitive and linguistic strategies needed for accurate comprehension (Gaskins, Satlow, & Pressley, 2007; Wolf, 2007).

Fluency develops gradually over time and through substantial practice. At the earliest stage of reading development, students’ oral reading is slow and labored because students are just learning to “break the code”—to attach sounds to letters and to blend letter sounds into recognizable words. Intervention needs to be systematic and intense. Intensity will provide the student with more exposure to print and therefore, increased opportunities to practice reading words. As skills begin to emerge in therapy they must be practiced and developed with ease. Improving reading fluency is important for improving reading comprehension. Strategies to improve reading fluency may include:

  • determining syllable boundaries in words,
  • improving reading rate by working on automaticity,
  • increasing sight word vocabulary, and
  • self-monitoring while reading.

On this website we have provided a list and brief description of various systematic programs. These can be used as a supplement to direct and systematic instruction.

Best results to improve fluency are through consistent repetition, drill, and practice. It is not difficult to target fluency everyday for short periods of time (i.e., minutes). Repeated oral reading significantly improves word recognition and fluency (i.e., speed and accuracy). Remember to practice at a level that the student is already able to decode easily. The student should feel confident and comfortable with the text selected. A good way to determine the level of material is to be able to read all of the words on a given page with minimal errors (e.g., 1–2). A good way to help motivate your student is to use material that is of interest to the student. A good way to measure progress is to use a graph and have him chart his progress so he is able to visually see improvement. Providing feedback will not only build a student’s skill level, but also his self-confidence.

For more information, check out Reading Rockets' Understanding & Assessing Fluency article.

Video by The Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic at Northern Illinois University.