According to Reading Rockets, fluency is composed of three features: accuracy, automaticity, and prosody. These features of fluency are regularly assessed in schools. It’s my opinion, however, that ELs can’t be held to the same standards as their English-speaking classmates while they are still learning English. Reading ability is not a predictor of reading comprehension in ELs (Lesaux & Crosson, 2010). Accuracy may not be a realistic goal for many ELs because they may have difficulty correctly pronouncing the words in a passage.
However, I think that activities that improve automaticity and prosody are very helpful to ELs, and it is worth providing explicit instruction to them to improve their fluency. It is my experience that activities that help develop reading fluency also improve oral language. Here are some strategies that help build fluency in ELs.
1. Teacher read-alouds. This activity is an effective strategy to help ELs develop fluency and improve reading comprehension. Although listening to a book on tape may be an effective strategy for native speakers of English, it doesn’t engage ELs. I find it is better to find websites with books that are read aloud as the students turn the pages and see the text and pictures. Read my blog 10 Online Resources to Improve EL Literacy.
2. Choral reading. This is a strategy in which a whole class or groups of students read aloud in unison. This is a great strategy for ELs who may be too shy to read in public by themselves. Teachers should choose materials that are on the EL’s reading level and that have short passages. I find that reader’s theater materials, poems, and short plays are great for ELs. Examples of lessons can be found at Improving Fluency through Group Literary Performance.
3. Echo reading is a strategy in which teachers read a short paragraph a word cluster or sentence at a time and the students echo or imitate the teacher’s intonation and expression. This is an excellent strategy for teaching ELs to read fluently and with expression. Here is a YouTube video that demonstrates how to echo read with children.
4. Partner reading happens when two students work together to read an assigned text. Teachers generally pair emerging readers with good readers. This strategy works with ELs when the teacher pairs them with a partner who is patient and with whom ELs feel comfortable.
5. Performance reading allows young readers to participate in a book that has memorable phrases that are repeated throughout the book and lends itself to gestures and dramatic voices. This is an excellent strategy for classrooms of young students in Grades pre-K–2.
Reading Fluency Resources for Teachers
Here are some resources for further information about reading fluency.
- 11 Alternatives to “Round Robin” (and “Popcorn”) Reading gives teachers multiple strategies that are alternatives to traditional reading aloud.
- No More Robot Reading shows parents how to teach children to read with expression.
- ELLs and Reading Fluency in English is an article from Colorín Colorado that reviews strategies to develop reading fluency.
- Shanahan on Literacy is a blog by Timothy Shanahan that answers the question, “Do I teach fluency to English language learners?”
- Why Prosody Matters: The Importance of Reading Aloud with Expression reviews the research on fluency and reading comprehension.
- Teaching ELLs to Read: Strategies to Meet the Common Core, K–5 has an excellent chapter on teaching ELs to read with expression.
If you have other strategies that you use to improve your ELs’ fluency in English, please leave a comment in the box below.