How to Help Kids Who Struggle with Reading Fluency

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Teaching kids to read is one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences in any teacher’s life.  Once a child can actually read, we begin to focus on reading fluency.  However, as with most things, this doesn’t happen overnight.  It requires consistent instruction and practice.

And even then, some children still struggle to become fluent readers.

As teachers and homeschooling mamas, we need to be very careful not to hinder our readers when it comes to fluency.  So, I’m going to share 3 things that you DON’T want to do with your struggling readers and 3 things you can do instead that will actually encourage them.

Reading Fluency Dos and Don’ts

Don’t Make Them Read Out Loud in Front of the Class

One of the most difficult things for a child who struggles with reading fluency to do is read out loud.  They know they’re slow, and everyone in the class knows it, too. This just makes them feel even more frustrated with their inability.

Never make them read out loud in front of a group unless it’s something that you are confident they KNOW or have memorized.  This is probably one of the biggest obstacles that struggling readers have to overcome, and it is even more important if the child already has a tendency to be shy.

This will merely cause them to hate reading and to withdraw from participating in class.

DO Let Them Read in a Small Group or One-on-One

Every child needs to practice reading aloud.  This helps them develop fluency. But, when dealing with children who have difficulty reading, this can be accomplished best in a small group with kids who have similar reading abilities.

This is the premise behind many reading intervention programs.  It provides kids with the opportunity to read in a small group setting with peers at the same reading level.

One-on-One

If a small group isn’t an option, consider allowing them to read one-on-one with a partner.  Choose a child who is compassionate and wants to see others succeed, and this will be a match made in Heaven.

An older student is another great alternative to typical one-on-one reading.  Allowing the older students to come in and read with the struggling reader, will give confidence to both.  This opportunity also allows the older student to be a mentor to the younger reader. 

This is the perfect option for homeschooled kids.  Typically, there are other kiddos around who are older and more experienced readers.  This is an excellent way for struggling readers to have the opportunity to become fluent readers.

Don’t Let Them Pick Their Own Books

Ok.  This may seem counterintuitive, but bear with me.  I am not saying you have to choose every book they read for the rest of their lives.  However, I am saying that you need to teach them how to select books that are appropriate for their reading level.

Many kids will inevitably choose books much too hard for their ability simply to keep up the “appearance” of being able to read them.

In other cases, the child wants so badly to be able to read at that level.  Then, as if they will be able to read it by osmosis, they keep the book with them AT ALL TIMES!  Sadly, when they do have the opportunity to read independently, they can’t even begin to read (or comprehend) the book they have chosen.

Do Teach Them How to Choose “Good Fit” Books

Good fit books are books that are easy enough for the child to read independently, but not so easy as to be boring.  They need to be written on a topic that is intriguing to the child.

After you have helped them figure out which types of books are “good fit” books, allow them a bit of independence.  Give them the opportunity to choose their own book while you oversee.  If they are successful, allow them to complete the task completely independent of you.

Remember, it may take several tries before you and your child have found the “perfect” books, but when it happens, it will be magical!

Don’t Time Them For Every Fluency Read

Any time I know I am going to be timed doing something, my blood pressure rises and I get clammy.  I want to be successful so badly that sometimes I psych myself out before I ever begin. 

The same is true for our struggling readers when it comes to reading fluency.

As soon as they see someone click the stopwatch and hear them say “GO!,” it is as though they forget everything they have ever learned.  They are more concerned about getting to the end of the text that they don’t take the necessary time to read the text.  Instead, they overlook words or mix up words in an effort to be the “fastest” reader.

Do Time Them for Some Fluency Reads

On the flip side of “don’t time them for EVERY fluency read” is “NEVER time them for fluency reads.”  Unfortunately, both of these are extreme instances and neither is helpful to your learners.  Moderation is the key.

Give your kids time to become confident in reading by modeling what a “good” fluency read looks like.  Then provide struggling readers with a text to read over and over at school as well as at home.  This will give them much needed confidence.

Then, the next week do the same thing.  After a couple of weeks, give them a “cold” read (a text they’ve never seen before) and time them reading it to you.  The following day, let them read the text aloud again and try to beat the time they clocked the day before.

This will take the fear and the jitters out of being timed and it will allow them to learn how to set goals for reading fluency.  Then once they become familiar with how the reading and timing works, you can allow them to just read while being timed occasionally.

There are certain things you should do to improve reading fluency and there are things you definitely don't want to do. Find ideas and activities that will encourage your struggling readers and help them become more fluent readers. The second one is perfect for school or home. #readingfluency #reading

Providing children with the opportunity to hear quality literature through teacher read alouds and audiobooks, is essential to improving reading fluency.  Helping parents learn how to improve reading fluency at home and encouraging them to read books with their children will also make a difference.  

And although these strategies are not going to work overnight, continued practice and encouragement will give your struggling readers the courage to keep trying.